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Punta Arenas, Chile

Punta Arenas, the capital of the Magallanes region, sits alongside the Straits of Magellan at a southern latitude of approximately 54º south. J. Byron discovered this location on the Brunswick Peninsula in the 17th century and named it "Punta Arenosa" (Sandy Point). The city of Punta Arenas, founded in the mid-1800s, grew into a center for commerce, culture and society that spread its influence over the entire region.


Center City

Around the Plaza de Armas are government buildings; the Club de la Union (Union Club); and mansions with turrets, beautiful roofs, glassed-in sunrooms and well-kept gardens with huge "araucaria" trees (slow-growing native trees revered by the indigenous people of the region).

The plaza itself is full of huge, old trees, and in the center is the Monumento a Hernando de Magallanes (Monument to Ferdinand Magellan). Note that the toes of one of the bronze indians is polished and shiny. Local legend states that everyone who touches these toes will return to Punta Arenas someday, making the statue a favorite with tourists and locals alike.

Mount of the Cross

There is a wonderful panoramic view from the top of this hill of the entire city, with its red, blue and yellow roofs and streets sloping toward the Strait. On the horizon Tierra del Fuego can be seen, as well as Monte Sarmiento (Sarmiento Mount) and the southern part of the Brunswick Peninsula. The wrecks of old sailing ships that have remained where they ran aground also can be seen in the distance.

To see the other side of the city, go to the northern peak of Cerro de la Cruz. Follow Señoret street to Colón avenue, turn left and walk uphill for two blocks on this cobblestoned street dating from colonial times. This peak offers a different view of the area - the city's industrial section, the Barrio Hortícola (Horticulture Neighborhood), the Zona Franca (Duty Free Zone), and a lake used for ice skating to the left. Eight kilometers in the distance are the ski slopes of Cerro Mirador (Lookout Mountain), lines of open clearings slashing through the forested slope of the hill.

The Salesian Churches

Among the city's Salesian churches are the Cathedral and the Santuario María Auxiliadora (María Auxiliadora Sanctuary). The Salesians built their first church out of wood, but it was completely destroyed on June 17, 1892, only four months after being inaugurated. Nine years later, the Salesians constructed a brick church and dedicated it to the Sacred Heart. This church, the first brick building in Punta Arenas, today is the city's cathedral. The María Auxiliadora Sanctuary is a much larger church, and next door to it is the Salesian Museum.

Braun-menendez Regional Museum

This museum, officially the Historical Museum of Magallanes, is located within the Braun-Menéndez Mansion, a national monument. The museum, inaugurated in February, 1983, traces the discovery, colonization and development of the Magallanes region through historical objects, illustrations and photographs.

The Patagonian Institute

This research center for various scientific and technological fields is an interesting place for the visitor. There is a library, a botanical garden, a handicraft store, and the Museo del Recuerdo (Old Time Museum), with its collection of restored carriages, machines and tools used in pioneering times. There is also a maritime exhibit, a preserved garage and an example of a typical house from colonial times. The institute is located on the edge of town at kilometer 3.5 north of Route 9.

Duty Free Zone

The stores in this tax-free zone sell articles of every sort at good prices. This zone has helped stimulate the commercial development of the region.

Municipal Theater

This theater sits on the site where the first fort in Punta Arenas was built in 1848. The building was donated to the city by José Menéndez, one of the important pioneering businessman in Magallanes

The Cemetery

This cemetery is interesting because of the huge mausoleums built years ago by the area's wealthy families. José Menéndez, an important pioneering businessman, has one of the most imposing mausoleums. It is a smaller copy of the Victor Manuel monument in Rome. The cemetery also contains a memorial to the fallen indigenous people of the region.

Fort Bulnes and Port Famine

Both of these sites are located approximately 60 Kms. south of Punta Arenas. They are interesting primarily for their historical significance. Puerto del Hambre was an early Spanish settlement along the Strait of Magellan, and Fuerte Bulnes established Chilean authority over the region. To reach these sites, travel south on Route 9. The road winds along the edge of the Strait, and along the way can be seen the remains of shipwrecked boats.