Tourism in the Strait of Magellan and nearby areas

Tourism in the Strait of Magellan
Image:  fotonaturaleza.cl
 
The Strait of Magellan is a sea passage located in the southern tip of Chile. It joins the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, on its northern shore extends the southernmost continental region of the Americas, to the South is located the island of Tierra del Fuego, shared between Chile and Argentina. Its length is 560 kilometers from the eastern mouth at Punta Dungenes to the western mouth at the Evangelistas islets.

The bioceanic passage was discovered on November 1, 1520 by the Portuguese navigator and explorer Ferdinand Magellan, during an expedition financed by the Spanish Crown, which on its return, under the command of Juan Sebastian Elcano, completed the first circumnavigation of the globe. It is worth remembering that during the return, Magellan was killed in April 1521 during a battle in the island of Mactan, Philippines.

Those were heroic days, full of great challenges and feats. Even so, for the geographer and chronicler of the expedition, the Italian nobleman  Antonio Alberto Pigafetta the stunning beauty of the surrounding nature did not go unnoticed, when he narrates in his story: "I believe that in the whole World there is no better or more beautiful Strait than this one".


Climate

The regional climate is temperate-cold. The eastern part of the Strait, closer to the Atlantic, is a much drier, less rainy and warmer area than the side closer to the Pacific Ocean, which is much more prone to precipitation, vegetation and low temperatures. 

During the Autumn-Winter season, cloudiness is abundant and conditions can be very harsh, sometimes with several degrees Celsius below zero for days. The wind, sometimes very strong, is more frequent in the Spring-Summer months, when on many occasions it can exceed 100 km/hour. The average annual temperature in this part of the region varies from 6°C to 8°C, with extremes of app. 20°C in summer and -8°C in winter.

How to get to the Strait of Magellan

Air travel is the most common way to reach the region. The main terminal is Carlos Ibañez del Campo International Airport, 22 km. north of Punta Arenas. Important airlines operate there, such as LATAM, Sky Airline, JetSmart, Aerovías DAP, as well as Antarctic Airways, charter flights for tourism and expeditions bound for the Antarctic Continent.  Another important air terminal is Teniente Gallardo Airport in Puerto Natales, where arrive mainly visitors with destination to the Torres del Paine National Park area.

During the high tourist season, another great option to get to Magallanes is by sea. The departure is from the city of Puerto Montt and the arrival is in Puerto Natales. It is a wonderful voyage of 4 nights and 3 days through the intricate Southern fjords, contemplating imposing glaciers and volcanoes, forests never touched by man, enjoying the view of remote National Parks in the distance and a varied wildlife.

Tourist attractions along the Strait of Magellan

Punta Arenas

A street of Punta Arenas, Chile.
Roca Street in Punta Arenas
Image:  Radio Universidad de Chile
  Called "La Perla del Estrecho" (The Pearl of the Strait), is the regional capital and main city of Southern Patagonia. Founded in 1848, the city grew thanks to the efforts of thousands of immigrants from Chile and many European countries. Today it has about 150,000 inhabitants, a great infrastructure to serve tourists, 2 seaports and an international airport. The Magallanes region is very isolated from the rest of the country, however its capital Punta Arenas is the starting point to visit a number of natural attractions that surround it, besides being the gateway to the Antarctic continent. 

The city itself has also several attractions such as the Magallanes Forest Reserve and the Club Andino, only 15 minutes from downtown; Sara Braun Municipal Cemetery; several important museums such as the Museo del Recuerdo, Museo Salesiano Maggiorino Borgatello, Museo Regional de Magallanes, Museo Nao Victoria which is a full-scale replica of the ship of Hernando de Magallanes; a large commercial center like the Free Trade Zone.


Parque del Estrecho de Magallanes

50 km. south of Punta Arenas, is located the small Santa Ana Peninsula, a remote and peaceful place that houses the Parque Estrecho de Magallanes. Within the protected area of almost 250 hectares there is a museum and 2 places of great historical importance that can be visited:

Museo del Estrecho, a must-see visit to the modern gallery that with audiovisual methods, scale models of historic ships and explanations by the guides tells the history of the place and the events linked to the important interoceanic passage.

Monumento Historico Nacional Fuerte Bulnes, reconstruction in detail of the facilities where Chile took possession of the Strait of Magellan in 1843.

Monumento Historico Nacional Rey Don Felipe, place also known as Puerto del Hambre (Port Famine), the first European attempt to settle the northern shore of the Strait in 1584. The effort of Spanish colonization had a tragic end since its protagonists perished of starvation.

Faro San Isidro (San Isidro Lighthouse)

Located 75 km. south of Punta Arenas, at the southern end of the Brunswick Peninsula. The beacon was inaugurated in 1904, during the peak years of maritime traffic in the strait, prior to the construction of the Panama Canal. It is emblematic as it is the southernmost lighthouse of the American continent. 

Although it is not one of the best known circuits in Patagonia, the trek to Faro San Isidro is undoubtedly worthwhile. The walk on sand and rocks is not easy, but knowing that you are covering the last kilometers of the American mainland is overwhelming, surrounded by an admirable nature and accompanied by birds, dolphins and if we are lucky: whales.

Cabo Froward (Cape Froward and Cross of the Seas)

Navigation and climb to the top of the cape. The place, 90 km. southwest of Punta Arenas, was so named in 1587 by the English privateer Thomas Cavendish due to the extremely hostile climate, with strong winds and rain. Even so, today Cabo Froward is one of the most sought-after tourist attractions in the region.

On the cape's summit, a large metallic cross called Cruz de los Mares (Cross of the Seas) was inaugurated in 1987, in homage to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Chile. Other crosses preceded it in 1913 and 1944 and were destroyed due to the harsh weather conditions. In addition to commemorating the visit of the Supreme Pontiff, the structure, located 370 meters above sea level, indicates the last corner of continental South America. One of the tours here.


Francisco Coloane Marine Protected Area

parque-marino-francisco-coloane
Image: esculturasymonumentos.com
   So named in tribute to the Chilean writer who lived and set most of his work in this region, the extreme south of Chile. Created in 2003, it covers an area of sea and coastline of 67,000 hectares. 
Due to its remote location, between the islands of Santa Ines, Riesco and Brunswick Peninsula, access is only by sea from Punta Arenas, where the tours start. 

The sanctuary, dominated by the wonderful environment of the southern channels, is a natural habitat for different species of marine mammals, especially the humpback whale and many others such as killer whales, sea lions, elephant seals and birds like the Magellanic penguin, giant Antarctic petrel, imperial cormorant and others smaller in size. Humpback whale sightings take place between December and April. See location here. 

Magdalena Island Penguin Colony

Isla Magdalena (Magdalena Island) is located in the Strait of Magellan, at a short distance from Punta Arenas (approx. 23 mi.) Together with Marta Island, they form one of the most important penguin colonies in the South American cone, Los Pingüinos Natural Monument. In the early 2000s, a census was carried out recording a Magellanic penguin population of over 60,000 specimens. As a curious fact, the avifauna, as well as the sea lions of the area were already mentioned in the accounts of Magellan's expedition in the 16th century.

Walking along the trails that go from the beach to the highest part of the island, you can observe the birds and their nests just a few meters away. The penguins begin to arrive to the island in mid-October to start their reproduction, nesting and feather change, and then migrate northward in mid-March.


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