Punta Arenas (historically Sandy Point in English) is the capital city of Chile’s southernmost region, Magallanes and Antartica Chilena. The city was officially renamed as Magallanes in 1927, but in 1938 it was changed back to “Punta Arenas”. It is the largest city south of the 46th parallel south, and at the same time the most populous southernmost city in Chile and in the Americas, and due to its location, the coldest coastal city with more than 100,000 inhabitants in Latin America. It is also one of the most populous sites so far south in the world.
As of 1977 Punta Arenas has been one of only two free ports in Chile, the other one being Iquique, in the country’s far north. (Punta Arenas itself is not a “free port”: Outside the city there is a “zona franca” where certain products can be imported into the country under a reduced-tax regimen.)
Located on the Brunswick Peninsula north of the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas was originally established by the Chilean government in 1848 as a tiny penal colony to assert sovereignty over the Strait. During the remainder of the 1800s, Punta Arenas grew in size and importance due to the increasing maritime traffic and trade travelling to the west coasts of South and North America. This period of growth also resulted from the waves of European immigrants, mainly from Croatia and Russia attracted to the gold rush and sheep farming boom in the 1880s and early 1900s. The largest sheep company, controlling 10,000 square kilometres in Chile and Argentina, was based in Punta Arenas, and its owners lived there.
Since its founding Chile has used Punta Arenas as a base to defend its sovereignty claims in the southernmost part of South America. This led, among other things, to the Strait of Magellan being recognized as Chilean territory in the Boundary treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina. The geopolitical importance of Punta Arenas has remained high in the 20th and 21st centuries because of its logistic importance in accessing the Antarctic Peninsula.
Since 2017, the city and its region have their own time zone: they use summer time during the whole year (UTC−3).
- The city is often a base for Antarctic expeditions; Ushuaia (Argentina) and Christchurch (New Zealand) are also common starting points.
- By sea, several cruises and ferries can take visitors to the city.
1 – 2 Days: Fly into Punta Arenas and then onwards for trekking in Torres del Paine National Park, or further north to the Bernard O’Higgins National Park