Punta Arenas (loosely translated as Sands Point) is the largest city in Southern Patagonia and is described as a spiralling metropolis, although it didn’t actually seem that large when approaching it. My bus ride from Ushuaia took 12 hours including a stop at Rio Grande for Argentinian customs. We stopped again at the Chilean customs before crossing the Magallenes Strait from Isla Grande to the South American mainland by ferry.
Collage of Punta Arenas care of Wikipedia
My primary reason for coming to Punta Arenas was as a stop off on the way to Puerto Natales, as there was not direct bus route. While I was only there for two days and only got to see a small amount of the city, it felt like a typical western city except everyone spoke in spanish. Thankfully english speakers are more common in Chile than in Argentina.
My hostel – Hospedaje Costanera – was near the city centre and once I’d settled in, I walked the eight blocks back into the centre. The city wasn’t a mad rush like Buenos Aires and was easy to get around.
The collectivo system in Punta Arenas – and Chile in general – is something different. While there are traditional taxis and the occasional bus, collectivos are level between. Occasionally they are mini-vans, but usually just normal cars that travel a set route, back and forth. All you do is stand on its route, wave it down and if there’s room they’ll stop. Then, jump in with whoever is already in the car, pay 450 Chilean pesos (about 90 AU cents) and off you go. When close to where you want to go, yell and they’ll stop. It’s knowing where the routes go is the difficult thing.
The city is also in the tax-free zone of Patagonia and has a vast tax-free shopping centre – Zona Franca. I went to check it out and it was the size of a large mall. It contained many electronics stores, all with cheaper prices that Ushuaia, but still more expensive than Australia. It was interesting to walk around but I didn’t buy anything, although I was tempted by some SLR cameras.
Punta Arenas has some touristy things to do as well, access to penguin colonies and glaciers, but having only just returned from Antarctica this week I’d seen plenty, so I saved my money. Some of these sights are:
- Cape Froward, the southernmost tip of mainland South America
- Isla Magdalena and it’s penguin colonies
- Alberto de Agostini National Park, a land of mountains, lakes and glaciers
- Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, another penguin colony
On the morning of my departure I simply went to the bus station, booked a bus and within a couple of hours was on my way to north Puerto Natales.
The Lone Trail Wanderer