Punta Arenas, Chile

Living in Punta Arenas

Iyna Bort Caruso

More than 500 years after Ferdinand Magellan sailed by what is now Punta Arenas, Chile, becoming the first European to reach the Pacific from the Atlantic Ocean, a statue of the explorer stands in the main square. The statue also features a Tehuelche Indian. As the legend goes, touch his toes and you’re destined to return.

Reaching the city, however, takes some time. Punta Arenas is located at the bottom of South America in Patagonia on the channel Magellan once navigated and now named after him: the Strait of Magellan. Despite its location, Punta Arenas is surprisingly easy to access. It is a transportation hub and jumping-off point for adventures including those to Antarctica, 882 miles away.

This windswept provincial capital of Chile’s Magallanes and Antarctica Chilena region is the most populous southernmost city in the Americas with around 125,000 residents.

The area had its start as a penal colony in 1848, but the city grew and evolved with maritime trade and a sheep-farming boom, which attracted large numbers of European immigrants. Punta Arenas went on to become a major wool production center and the wealth of wool barons was reflected in the city’s architecture.

Today, agriculture and tourism are major economic drivers. The seaport is not only the gateway to Antarctica but to abundant wildlife like penguin colonies and elephant seals as well as outdoor sea adventures like rafting, kayaking and whale-watching.

Some of the 19th century wool-baron mansions remain though many have been converted into monuments, hotels, private clubs and museums. Newer homes feature colorful tin roofs. In fact, it’s sometimes called the City of Red Roofs for the painted metal corrugated rooftops that part of Punta Arenas’ architectural heritage. In addition, the region is known for its farms and ranches. International property buyers can generally invest with few restrictions.