17 Exciting Things to do in Punta Arenas, Chile
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Punta Arenas, Chile is most famous among tourists for penguins. And yes, you should see penguins while you’re there – I mean, they are soooo cute! But what many people don’t realize is that there are actually tons of other fun and exciting things to do in Punta Arenas, Chile.
I’ve been to Punta Arenas on three different occasions now and in all of that time, I’ve come across a wide range of unique activities and things to see in and around Punta Arenas.
So in this blog, not only am I going to tell you about seeing penguins (and the two best places for that), but I’ll also let in on some of the lesser-known things to do in Punta Arenas as well as the best places to stay and how to get around!
Punta Arenas, Chile
Punta Arenas is a small city located on the southern coast of Chile in the world-famous region of Patagonia. It is home to approximately 120,000 people making it the largest inhabitant site so far south!
For many, Punta Arenas, Chile is their starting and/or finishing point for an adventure in Patagonia or Antarctica.
The airport is very accessible offering multiple flights each day from places like Santiago at a very cheap price. There are also plenty of buses and flights out of Punta Arenas to reach popular tourist destinations like the Torres del Paine or Antarctica. Therefore, Punta Arenas has become somewhat of a tourist hub.
Unfortunately, many people simply transit through Punta Arenas spending a maximum of one or two nights.
To me, this is a little disappointing as I personally really love the city and found tons of interesting ways to keep myself busy for several days! If you take your time and spend a few days in Punta Areas, Chile I’m sure it’ll grow on you too!
17 Exciting Things to do in Punta Arenas, Chile
1. See Penguins on Isla Magdelena
This has to be first on my list of things to do in Punta Arenas because it is what Punta Arenas is most famous for – penguins!
Isla Magdalena is a small island 35 kilometers off the coast of Punta Arenas. This island is said to be home to over 150,000 Small Magellan Penguins!
In such a small space with so many penguins, it is almost impossible not to see any penguins which makes visiting Isla Magdalena such a popular activity for tourists.
You can either visit Isla Magelena on your own taking the public ferry, or you can opt to go on an organized tour.
Most of the time, I recommend doing activities on your own when possible simply because you have more freedom, time, and it’s generally cheaper.
But not this time.
The public ferry you must take if you go on your own is slow. It takes over three hours to get to Isla Magdelena! And then once you’re there, you only have one hour on the island before you must catch it back to Punta Arenas. To me, that sounds like a lot of time on a rocky boat for only a short amount of time on the island…not ideal.
Plus, the ferry is pretty expensive at 55,000 CLP per person considering it is only a means of transport and you will need to make your own way to the port and won’t have a tour guide.
An organized tour is a little bit pricier, but to me, it is worth it. Tour company boats will get you to the island faster and they give you much more time to explore. Having a guide is also a great bonus as you can learn about the penguins and the area at the same time too!
I recommend booking this particular tour as not only do you visit Isla Magdalena, but you also go to Isla Santa Marta where you can see sea lions and cormorants too!
2. See King Penguins
Many people have no idea that there are different penguins you can see from Punta Arenas and they are the king penguins!
These penguins are the second-largest penguin species in the world (after the emperor) and let me tell you, they are magnificent to see!
I recently went to visit the king penguin colony for myself and I had a fantastic time. I saw dozens of penguins and watched them for nearly an hour (from a respectful distance of about 20 meters with the help of binoculars.) These rare penguins are so entertaining as they waddle and swim about.
I even saw a fluffy brown chick!
It is a little bit of a mission to visit the king penguins from Punta Arenas. You must first take a ferry across to the island of Tierra del Fuego and then drive approximately 1.5 hours to reach Parque Pinguino Rey (where the king penguins are.)
You can do it on your own if you rent a car, or you can do what I did and go on an organized tour. I really loved the tour as my guide was amazing and provided a ton of info. Plus, we also had a few other stops along the way (including the next thing on my list!)
For more detailed information, check out my blog all about penguins in Punta Arenas and the best tours!
3. Take the Ferry to the town of Porvenir on Tierra del Fuego Island
Taking the ferry over to Tierra del Fuego is a thing to do on its own. I mean, if you do choose to visit the king penguins then you’ll ride on it anyways, but overall it is a fun thing to do from Punta Arenas! From the ferry, you even have the opportunity to spot dolphins or whales.
The ferry docks in a town called Porvenir which is the capital of Tierra del Fuego Island. While there isn’t much to do in Porvenir, I do recommend visiting the town museum. Here, you can learn about the local wildlife and indigenous people, the Selk’nam.
Not to mention, there is actually a really mummified Selk’nam person named “Kela” in the museum! She is on display in a thin glass case. To see a real mummy just in a little glass case is really rare (most are protected in a world-class museum behind bullet-proof glass in temperature-controlled rooms these days.)
So ya, I’d say it’s worth a visit (especially since they want to send Kela to Santiago so she may not always be at this museum.)
Book a full day tour to Tierra del Fuego including a stop at Porvenir, the museum, the king penguin colony, and ferry ride (the same as I did) online in advance!
4. Visit Craft Breweries and Drink Locally Made Beers
Patagonia has really put itself on the map for craft beers and microbreweries in recent years, and that’s really no surprise.
One of the biggest influences of the taste of beer is water. So, it’s no wonder this region (with some of the cleanest water in the world) makes some of the best beer!
Some of the best places to go for a craft beer in town include Cerveceria Hernando de Magallanes or Bar Bulnes. Both places brew their own beer and have a range of craft beers on tap to offer.
Alternatively, you can buy the local beers from the supermarket to just enjoy at your hotel.
5. Walk the Waterfront Promenade
The main waterfront promenade in Punta Arenas is a lovely place to go for a stroll. With views of the ocean and numerous monuments, it’s the perfect place to spend an hour or two and an ideal free thing to do in Punta Arenas.
The Maritime Monument is the largest monument in town representing the first settlers who arrived in this area. It is a common place for tourists to check out.
Or if you want, you can even stop in at the massive ocean-side casino inside the Dreams Hotel (a beautiful hotel to stay in with an amazing view!)
6. Visit a Museum
There are a few different museums in Punta Arenas. I myself, am not particularly a huge “museum lover” so I typically limit my visits to one museum per city.
In Punta Arenas, some of the museums include Centro Cultural Braun-Menendez, Museo Salesiano, and Museo Regional De Magallanes, with the most popular being the Nao Victoria Museum. Here, you can find large ship replicas and information about the history on Punta Arenas and trade along the Strait of Magellan.
It is open from 9am to 7pm and costs $6 USD or 4,500 CLP for the entrance fee.
The museum is located just outside of Punta Arenas so you will need a taxi to get there. However, if you do go on a city tour (see more info below) a stop at the maritime museum is often included.
7. Go Souvenir Shopping
Daniel will cringe at the fact that I am including shopping on this list of things to do in Punta Arenas, but the truth is that Punta Arenas, Chile is one of the best places in Chilean Patagonia to go souvenir shopping!
Why? Well, it is considerably cheaper than other places like Puerto Natales or the Torres del Paine.
So, if you want a few souvenirs you might as well get them here! Around the main plaza there are plenty of places to go to buy souvenirs. Or, along the main waterfront boardwalk, there is a lovely shop called Puerto del Estrecho Tourist Center that has some really high-quality souvenirs for sale.
8. Eat at Kiosko Roca
You simply must visit Kiosko Roca for lunch one day. This tiny little restaurant is famous among both locals and tourists (just look at how busy it was when we were there) and for good reason – it’s delicious!
Their menu is very simple, they sell choripan and banana milkshakes. Choripan is a chorizo-type meat served on a flatbread grilled sandwich and it’s very popular in Chile. At Kiosko Roca can also get it with cheese (choriqueso) which I highly recommend!
Expect to pay between 600-700 CLP per choripan depending on whether you get it with cheese or not, and 800 CLP for the banana milk (so lunch for less than $2 USD!)
Since this place is often very busy don’t expect to go for a sit-down lunch. I recommend going in, ordering your choirpan and milk to go, and then going to eat elsewhere. The seating in the restaurant is only bar-style and it is very limited.
With that said, you simply have to eat here – it is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Punta Arenas!
This food and city tour actually includes a stop at Kiosko Roca!
9. Explore a Historic Shipwreck
There are a couple of different historic shipwrecks near Punta Arenas. The shipwrecks serve as a reminder of how treacherous the seas can be in this area and the problems they had back in the day using the Strait of Magellan as the main transport route before the Panama Canal was opened.
While there are a couple around, the closest is just on the edge of Punta Arenas called Lord Lonsdale.
There is no entrance fee or fence, you can just walk right up to the shipwreck and explore it for yourself. Although the wreck is a couple of kilometers outside of Punta Arenas but still worth checking out!
10. Go on Punta Arenas City Tour
There is no better way to get to know a city than with a local. Going on a city tour with a local guide to the best way to see all of the most popular sights and learn a ton in a short amount of time.
City tours vary in price depending on the length of time and whether they include transport or not. This particular walking city tour is really affordable at only $45 USD. It is a quick tour hitting all of the city highlights in 3 hours.
If you want something more in-depth, you can opt for this full-day tour which includes a stop at the cemetery, viewpoint, maritime museum, and more!
11. Walk up to Mirador Cerro de la Cruz
Only a short 15-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas is the Mirador de la Cruz. Here, you get a view above the colorful town. It is a short walk, perfect for doing at sunset!
The location of the lookout is on Google Maps, just search “Cerro de la Cruz.”
12. Day trip to the Torres del Paine National Park
The Torres del Paine is a very famous National Park about a 3-hour drive from Punta Arenas.
I love the Torres del Paine National Park! Three years ago I hiked the 5-day “W Trek” in the park, and then most recently I completed the 8-day “O Circuit.” Since I like the park so much, I really think you should spend more time there if your itinerary allows.
But, if you are very short on time and it is either you visit on a day trip or not at all…then you need to go! From Punta Arenas there are a few different tours that will take you to the Torres del Paine for a day. Just be prepared for a long day, but it was be beautiful and totally worth it!
This Torres del Paine tour from Punta Arenas comes highly rated and visits some very beautiful spots!
13. Go Mountain Biking
Near Punta Arenas there are some great trails for mountain biking! From riding downhill through the forest to at the ski club, it is all quite the adventure and a unique experience in Punta Arenas.
In order to go mountain biking you must book a tour. This tour is a full-day experience that drives you to three different areas where you’ll be about to go downhill mountain biking!
14. Experience the Punta Arenas Ghost Walk Tour
This is a really alternative city tour that is actually quite famous in Punta Arenas. First of all, it is very affordable at only $25 USD per person. Second of all, it adds a spooky touch to a historic walking tour.
With candlelight in hand, you’ll learn all about mythologies as well as a bit about the darker side to Punta Arenas’ history. The tour also takes place at sundown, just to add to the “spooky” theme.
With its affordable price tag and interesting concept, the Ghost tour is one of the top activities in Punta Arenas!
15. Try “Patagonian-style” Lamb
Chilean and Argentinians love their meat, that’s no secret. So, if you’re not a vegetarian, I recommend trying some of it!
The “Patagonian-style Lamb” is a traditional way to cook lamb on a stick over hot coals for several hours. Many restaurants around town will offer this option for dinner. Even if you don’t try this specifically in Punta Arenas, it is a must-do while you’re in Patagonia at some stage!
If you’re simply after some steak, a restaurant called Parilla San Telmo is amazing and also very affordable!
16. Go Whale & Dolphin Watching
Getting out on the water to try and spot the local wildlife is always an adventure! From Punta Arenas on a whale watching tour you could spot various species of whales including humpback whales and sei whales.
But whale watching tours aren’t just about whales in this part of the world. Expect to see dolphins (like we did!), sea lions, various birds, and even glaciers!
The most famous place to go whale watching in Patagonia is Puerto Madryn, Argentina! If you have the chance, be sure to visit!
17. Take a Trip to Antarctica!
You’re already so far south, if you have the time and money, you might as well zip on down to Antarctica!
Now, I’m not going to lie to you, this is one thing on this list I personally have not done – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t on my bucket list! One day, I will fork out the big bucks and venture to Antarctica, but for now I will only dream.
But if you can, you should go! In fact, you can fly to Antarctica from Punta Arenas and back in a full one-day tour! It is pricey, but I’m sure it is worth it!
This tour includes four nights of accommodation in Punta Arenas to allow for multiple departure dates in case of bad weather. So, although it is only one day in Antarctica, you need to allow for four nights (3 days) for this once in a lifetime experience!
Going to Antarctica is definitely one of the most exciting things to do in Punta Arenas!
Plan your visit to Punta Arenas, Chile
Getting in/out of Punta Arenas, Chile
The international airport in Punta Arenas is the most common way people arrive and leave, specifically on flight to and from Santiago.
Bus transport is also very common in Chile as the buses are safe and comfortable. You can book reliable buses online in advance on the website BusBud (what we always use) that depart from either the town center or the airport. Common bus routes include going to Puerto Natales (to visit the Torres del Paine) or Ushuaia, or Rio Gallegos in Argentina.
In addition, people can reach Punta Arenas from Tierra del Fuego Island on a ferry.
Cruise ships also frequently dock in Punta Arenas.
Getting Around Punta Arenas, Chile
Taxis and Ubers are the easiest way to get around long distances in Punta Arenas. However, if you book a centrally located hotel you will be able to walk almost everywhere!
Driving in Chile and Patagonia in general is also very easy and safe. Just book a rental car and you’re off! We rented a car for nearly two weeks and loved it!
Where to Stay in Punta Arenas
There are tons of different places to stay in Punta Arenas! Here are a few of the best hotels for every budget based on customer service, location, and value for money!
Budget Hotels and Hostels in Punta Arenas, Chile
Paradise Backpackers – This is small locally owned hotels offering some of the cheapest dorm beds in town. Although it’s nothing fancy, the beds are comfortable, they have a full kitchen, hot showers, and the owners and staff are friendly. We actually stayed here for a couple of nights and thought it was a good budget option (less than $15 USD per night!)
Samarce House – This one was recommended to us by Daniel’s brother who loved his stay here. They have both affordable dorm beds as well as private beds available. Breakfast is included and the family that runs the place are incredibly kind and helpful. Daniel’s brother was actually invited to join them for lunch one day!
Mid-Range Budget Hotels in Punta Arenas
Cabañas Valenti – We also stayed here and it was beautiful. The rooms are decorated nicely and very clean. Our room had a kitchen as well which was handy for cooking our own meals and saving from having to eat out. They have great family rooms too and the location is ideal. Rooms are affordable at less than $75 USD per night.
Hostal Boutique Patagonia Mística – This small hotel doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to comfort. The rooms are spacious, modern, and spotlessly clean. The staff here are known for being very helpful and providing top-notch recommendations to visitors. And yet, rooms are less than $100 USD per night.
Luxury Hotels in Punta Arenas
Hotel Dreams del Estrecho – I’ve already mentioned the Dreams Hotel right on the water in Punta Arenas, it is the most luxurious hotel in the area! The hotel has a pool (with a sea view), hot tub, gym, sauna, and included breakfast. The onsite bar and restaurant is the perfect place to relax at sunset. This location is central too. Really, it is the ultimate hotel in Punta Arenas if you ask me! Rooms are about $150 per night.
Hotel Isla Rey Jorge – This hotel is set in a mansion-style building with a homey feel while not sacrificing luxury. It is very central and there in an onsite restaurant and pub. Rooms include a delicious breakfast and the staff are said to be amazing! Rooms are also very affordable at less than $100 USD per night!
The Best Time to Visit Punta Arenas, Chile
The best time of year to visit Punta Arenas, Chile (or Patagonia in general) is mid-November to mid-March. This is the summer months meaning the weather is warmer and more ideal for the great outdoors – which is what this part of the world is all about! During the summer, you will have the largest selection of activities to do in Punta Arenas.
Money and ATM’s
In Punta Arenas, USD are widely accepted in addition to the local currency of Chilean Pesos. However, if you do pay with USD expect to get a worse rate than at the “cambios” money exchange places. There are plenty of money exchanges in town around the plaza, but oddly enough, there are none at the airport! So, it’s best to change money at the Santiago airport before arriving in Punta Arenas.
Most ATMs will charge about 6,000 CLP to withdraw cash at a maximum amount of 200,000 CLP. Many places will accept credit or debit card.
Never travel without it! Be sure to plan in advance and buy travel insurance before you leave for your trip. Personally, I use SafetyWing because it is very cheap for long term travelers or ex-pats. However, Daniel prefers World Nomads which covers all of his adventure sports without a worry!
Before you go….
I hope my blog has helped you discover what to do in Punta Arenas as well as everything you need to plan your trip! I truly enjoyed Punta Arenas, Chile (way more than I thought I would) and I hope you do too!
If you’re traveling more in Patagonia be sure to check out our range of Patagonia blogs – they are sure to be helpful too!
January 16, 2020