Torres del Paine National Park

Sightseeing around the Strait of Magellan

The Strait of Magellan is a sea passage located at the southern tip of Chile. It connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, on its northern shore extends the southernmost continental region of the Americas, to the south is 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 Islands.

The bio-oceanic 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 Magellan was killed on his return in April 1521 during a battle on the island of Mactan in the 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 tells in his story: "I believe that there is no better or more beautiful strait in the world than this one."


The regional climate is temperate cold. The eastern part of the Strait, closer to the Atlantic Ocean, 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 fall and winter seasons, clouds are abundant and conditions can be very harsh, sometimes several degrees below zero for days at a time. Winds, sometimes very strong, are more frequent in the spring-summer months, when they can exceed 100 km/hour on many occasions. 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

City of Punta Arenas

Roca Street
 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. Since its beginnings in the 19th century, the city has had an active commercial movement: Free Port, Free Trade Zone and important commercial centers. 

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 Zona Franca. Here you can learn more about the city of Punta Arenas.

Museo Nao Victoria

Nao Victoria Museum is an exposition site located in Punta Arenas which exhibits full-scale replicas of ships of great historical significance for the Magellan and Chilean Antarctica region. These include the nao Victoria, the first ship to circumnavigate the globe and explore today's Strait of Magellan; the James Caird, the boat that saved Ernest Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica; the HMS Beagle, the vessel that brought Charles Darwin to study the flora and fauna of the area; and the schooner Ancud, which took possession of the Strait of Magellan on behalf of Chile. The museum offers an interactive and educational experience, where visitors can board the ships and learn about the history, culture and navigation during past centuries. It is easily accessible as it is located about 8 km. north of the city.

Zodiac Boat and Kayak Tours

The Strait of Magellan is an ideal place for a Zodiac or kayak tour, if you hire the services of a specialized company. This activity allows you to explore the harsh nature and history of the region, with the advantage of being able to get close to places that are inaccessible by other means, such as islands, glaciers or colonies of marine animals.

There are several options for adventurers, from a calm navigation along the coast to more demanding expeditions through the intrincate channels and fjords.

It is very important to take into account some precautions to avoid risks and mishaps, such as getting information about the weather and sea conditions of the place where you are going to sail. The Strait of Magellan is an area with strong winds, variable currents and large waves, so it is recommended to have previous experience and have the proper equipment. It is also important that you respect safety regulations and that you do not go too far from the coast. 

Some of the most outstanding places you can visit are Agua Fresca Bay; Cape Froward (the southernmost point of the American continent on land); San Isidro Lighthouse; bird watching and marine fauna including the intelligent and friendly dolphins, seals and if you are lucky the great whales; exploration of glaciers and waterfalls camouflaged among hidden fjords; Magdalena Island, where there is a large colony of penguins.


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.

Other tours include the navigation of this part of the strait with small vessels such as Kayaks to explore much of the coast of the city of Punta Arenas, observe seabirds and spot some dolphins and sea lions. Other variants include a visit to the San Isidro Lighthouse area and a tour around Bahía el Águila. 

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
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 protected area 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 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.

Touring the channels of Chilean-Argentine Patagonia

Australis Cruises is a Chilean company specialized in navigation through the southernmost channels of Patagonia, including the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel in 4 and 8-night programs that travel different routes between the cities of Punta Arenas and Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego Island. The trips take place during the high season, between September and April of the following year.

With landings and tours in zodiac boats, the different routes allow to know the main attractions of Tierra del Fuego, Strait of Magellan and the mythical Cape Horn. All expeditions include a first class service, led by expert guides in geography, glaciology, regional flora and fauna.