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Published: February 2nd 2019
Punta Arenas, Falklands, South Georgia, Antarctica and Southern Patagonia 28 January to 2 March 2019 Tuesday 28 January to 2 February 2019
In an excited state at 5.00am we caught an Uber to the airport to catch the 8.15am Qantas/LAN flight to Punta Arenas via Auckland and Santiago. There is no quick and easy way to get to the southern tip of Chile. We had 3 hours wait in Auckland and 1 ½ hours in Santiago.
After lots of movies and a few hours sleep, we arrived safely at the Punta Arena Airport at around 7.00pm. This is 29kms out of town, so we caught a taxi and arrived at the Plaza Hotel which was just next to the Plaza de Armas.
Dropping our bags and after a quick shower, we walked towards the coast (3 blocks) used the ATM to get some local money and found the Beagle Restaurant for the biggest meat pizza we had ever been served. Not doubt we got a ‘doggy bag’ for the next day’s lunch. Their local beer is Austral so we made sure we tried that.
After an incredible 10 hours sleep, we were ready to hit the streets after a hearty breakfast at the Hotel Plaza.
Punta Arenas is located in the extreme south of Chile. Its history and economic growth are based on maritime commerce, oil extraction, and sheep breeding.
Punta Arenas is the largest settlement on the Strait of Magellan and the capital of Chile's Magallanes Antártica Region. Founded on 18 December, 1848, it has a population of around 140,000.
We quickly saw that the city has all kind of facilities, in particular an abundance of banks, shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, hiking gear shops, a mall and a duty free zone called "Zona Franca".
We were told not to trust the weather forecast, and to even expect a hail storm in summer. Usually you can get rain, wind, and sun all within the same day. If it's winter, then snow is always expected to fall. We were also told that we needed to use plenty of sunscreen, even if its cloudy, since this geographical area is usually under the hole of ozone layer. It is on Brunswick Peninsula, 1418 km
from the coast of Antarctica.
The city, like all Spanish influenced settlements, is built around its main square "Plaza de Armas" where the imposing monument of Fernando de Magallanes is located looking towards the strait. At the base of the monument there is a figure of a Patagonian aborigine, specifically an Ona (or Selk'nam), that according to local legend if you kiss its toe you will return once again to the city. Another local legend to come back to the city is to eat "calafate", a fruit similar to blueberries. Many of the city’s main public buildings such as the town hall (Alcaldía) or the Union Club (Club de la Unión) are found around Plaza de Armas, and were the houses and palaces of the local founders.
In general, Punta Arenas is compact and walk-able. Although it can get really windy. Sometimes during the most windy days of the year (September - October) they set a rope line tied to the city lampposts for people to hang on.
We visited the Port area in the eastern part of the city, right next to the city centre. It is not a touristic
place per se, but it’s surrounded by cyber cafe, souvenir stores and travel agencies. Over the next few days we enjoyed visiting the following sites and places:
La Cruz Hill Viewpoint (Mirador Cerro de la Cruz) was on our list as it gave a panoramic view of the city and the strait, it was especially beautiful at night. It’s a 10 minute walk from Plaza de Armas and is one of the most iconic places in the city. We also visited the Mirador (lookout) De Los Sonadores which was close by. At this point, a shower of rain and strong winds beat us for about 5 minutes and then disappeared and then the sun came out!!
We visited the Austral Brewery twice as the first time we found that the only way you could see the brewery is by attending a tour. We came back 2 days later to participate in the 3.30pm tour in English. As the southernmost brewery in the world, we enjoyed revising our knowledge on the traditional production process as well as a beer tasting session. Because of its quality and prices (being local) Austral is the most popular beer
this part of the country. Our guide was excellent and he coped very well with 4 English speaking people (the other were French-speaking Canadians who we exchanged contact details. They were doing the 4-day ‘B’ or ‘W’ hike in Torres del Paine.
Braun-Menéndez Museum, commonly known as Regional Museum of Magallanes was located one block north from Plaza de Armas. It is meant to represent the lifestyle of the founders and most wealthy men of the historical period. The house was donated to the city by Braun-Menéndez descendants (now all living in Argentina), and the first half of it is preserved the exact same way their owners left it. The second half holds a permanent archaeological exhibition regarding the region history, from its prehistory, passing through all the discovery expeditions and finally the city founding and first years. The museum is usually holding itinerant art exhibits in its basement or cultural activities in its central hall, such as book presentations or documentary premieres.
The Shepherd's monument is a traditional monument located in Bulnes Av. 11 blocks away from Plaza de Armas. It is one of the many iconic places of the city.
Maggiorino Borgatello Museum, a Salesian Society museum of natural history and pre-Hispanic ethnic groups. This was really interesting and very well presented. It was next to the Maria Auxliadora Sanctuary.
Punta Arenas Cemetery. Dates back to 1840's, with many local aristocratic families and European immigrants, particularly English and Croatians. It is internationally famous for its magnificent mausoleums, European architecture and shaped cypress trees. Sara Braun, the woman who donated the terrain, asked in her last will to be the last person who ever passed through the main door, and so the door remains sealed until today. Every person who wishes to visit the cemetery must access through a lateral entrance.
While we were there, the weather was so varied during each day; sunshine, very short showers of rain, windy, sunny, around 9 degrees during the day, heated rooms so who knows how cold it was, long days with the sun setting at around 10.30pm. People were really friendly and the level of English was very mixed.
The town had plenty of cafes which we visited many for great coffee, lunch and dinner. Streets were wide and organised and mostly
laid out in a grid system.
One night we went to the Olijoe Pub which was a traditional local venue with a large bar made of wood from the signature regional tree called "lenga".
Another evening we went to the 1900 Pub, Bulnes St and Colon Av. in the centre of the city. The sun was streaming through the windows, the Austral beer was cold, and we had a light dinner. It’s a small place next to the Tierra Del Fuego Hotel and with friendly staff who helped us with our Spanish.
On the evening of 1 February, we went to the Hotel Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn Hotel) Bar/Lounge & Restaurant near the Main Square St. This was where we collected our baggage labels for the ship as we were flying to the Falklands the next day to board our ship.
We also visited the "La Chocolatta" a grandma-style café, very cozy and was very full due to its populatity. It served a big variety of homemade chocolates, ice-creams, tea, and coffee. This is where we had a very big banana split with 3 different ice-creams. It
was ‘nice and naughty’.
Also on our last day, we stopped at Shackelton’s Bar for a coffee which was full of period furniture as it used to be Sara Baun’s palace connected to the Bar where Shackelton came to get help for his ice-stranded ship and men in the Antarctica.
We certainly enjoyed Punta Arenas with its neat tidy street, friendly people and not-so-bad weather.
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