Travelling to the Chilean Antarctic and Straits of Magellan during the coldest months of the year can turn into a real adventure. It’s hard to imagine that there could be so many attractions when snow has taken over the streets, and parkas, hats and gloves are a closet’s mainstay.
Nonetheless, wintertime takes on its own life in Chilean Patagonia, because it’s then that the scenery is especially beautiful, mostly because of the snow. Visitors can appreciate colors, sounds and sensations unperceived at any other time of the year. Imagine yourself gazing at the stunning snow-topped mountains next to the warmth of a fireplace while sipping a Calafate Sour.
To see the snowy landscape of the Torres del Paine National Park, is really moving. You can get to know unusual wildlife that becomes more visible during this time of year when there are fewer tourists; coming down from the snowed over mountains in search of avaliable places to graze.
In the winter, the whiteness dominates in various places and in spite of the cold and the fact that there are fewer hours of light, there is a fairer climate here because the wind calms, benefiting tourism, and keeping hotels up and running as usual.
It’s not only the scenic landscape that is ever changing, but also new options open up for entertainment. Winter sports, such as ice skating on frozen over lakes in Punta Arenas, snow shoe hiking, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, or a day at the ski center located only 15 minutes away in the region’s capital are all on offer.
The little ones can also take part in entertaining classes for winter sports beginners, participating in “snow sculpture” and “snow castle” contests or joining in a treasure hunt.
And now is a great time for a great deal, with a number of special all inclusive packages up for grabs. “As a National Tourism Service we are working hard together with prívate companies in order to provide a wider array of activities for our visitors, therefore we invite you to visit the Chilean Patagonia that without a doubt is a safe destination”, affirmed Andrea Téllez, the Director of Sernatur in Magallanes.
Hibernation in Patagonia
Another of the region’s tourist attractions are the so called Patagonian Hibernations, “Invernadas en la Patagonia”, organized by the Municipality of Punta Arenas for the past 15 years. These include cultural fairs, music, art exhibitions, an outdoor fashion show, artisan fairs, literary fairs and sporting events; all culminating with the reigning of a Queen, who dons the “Carnival de Invierno” crown.
The carnival lasts two days and includes themed floats, street musicians, choreographed dancers, percussionists, and costumed individuals.
Year after year, tourists and magellanic families gather to enjoy the different activities that happen in the month of July when the snow blankets the city in white. The city party ends in fireworks put on by the “Costanera del Estrecho”.
Cities at the world’s end
Punta Arenas is the port of entrance to the Chilean Magellanic and Antarctic region, a destination of cosmopolitan origin that has preserved its historic center of grand homes and buildings. This together with the city’s recreational attractions, make it a must-see for travellers.
With a location on the outskirts of the mythic Straits of Magellan, you can visit a limitless number of amazingly beautiful and culturally rich places such as homesteads, antique light houses and Magellanic penguin colonies. It is at the southern most tip of our continent and has a long list of activities available to do during any time of the year.
Home to a large quantity of pubs and restaurants as well as shopping in all directions and numerous casinos, Punta Arenas has a whole round of distractions for visitors at various hours, as well as high quality culinary enjoyment and ethnic arts fairs native to the area.
Among the quaint places in Punta Arenas is Cerro de la Cruz, a hill top vantage point from where the city’s center and southern side can be admired as well as the Straits of Magellan and even the Tierra del Fuego coastline, on a clear day.
The Municipal Cemetary “Sara Braun” is another commonly visited tourist site. Founded in 1894 and currently integrated with urban heritage, it tells the silent story of Punta Arenas, through the tombs and mausoleums of the prominent families that gave life to the region. It was named in honor of Sara Braun, a pioneer who donated the cemetary’s gate and fences.
At about 250 kilometers to the north is Puerto Natales, the region’s capital that lies at the foot of the Seno de Última Esperanza, and maintains a peaceful atmosphere. Restaurants and cafés welcome the thousands of travellers that arrive there yearly to visit the zone’s National Parks and to tour world renowned places, such as the Cueva del Milodón, Laguna Sofía and the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers.
Puerto Natales’ coastline lets the visitor marvel at the mountainous chain that surrounds the city, one as outstanding as the next, the Cerro Tenerife, Mocho, Benítez, Ballena, Paine Grande, and the Monte Balmaceda, among others. Winter covers them in a blanket of white giving the landscape a mystic and striking touch.
Torres del Paine National Park
From Puerto Natales, you can access the Torres del Paine National Park, one of the primary landmarks of the Patagonia and of Chile. It was created in 1959 and declared a Biospheric Reserve by UNESCO in 1978.
In this place, nature bursts with mountains dominated by horns and slender granite towers, a mind-boggling spectacle that promises to leave even the biggest skeptics breathless. The massif is crowned in glaciers and surrounded by aqua-marine, emerald and turquoise colored lakes, such as the Grey, Nordenskjold, Pehoé and Sarmiento, among others.
Torres del Paine has the peculiarity of reuniting different eco-systems all together in one place which results in an extreme biodiversity. The topography and climate also are very particular in the area which makes it an ideal nook for wildly rich flora and fuana to thrive. All together there are 166 different species in the park; 25 mammal, 126 bird species, 6 fish, 6 reptile and three amphibian species. Among the parks’ main attractions is the Macizo del Paine, Salto Grande, Cascada Río Paine and the Laguna Azul.
How to get there:
There are three ways to access the Chilean Antarctic and Straits of Magellan: by land, by air or by sea. By land there are five border passes that connect the region to Argentina: Dorotea, Casas Viejas, el paso Don Guillermo, Monte Aymond and el paso San Sebastián.
There are two airlines that go from Santiago to Punta Arenas in 4 hours, each offering several daily flights available at various hours.
Sea access to the area is through the Straits of Magellan by way of the Punta Arenas port. From Puerto Natales, transportation is available to Puerto Montt by way of a ferry that sets sail every week. Finally in Puerto Williams, similar to Punta Arenas, transatlantic boats touch land and later continue onto the Antarctic.
6 Patagonian Must-Dos
- Visit a glacier
- Give a toast with whisky chilled on a thousand year old ice
- Navigate through the Patagonian channel in a Zodiac boat
- Taste a king crab and eat a magellanic lamb roast
- Cross the Straits of Magellan and visit the Cape Horn
- Dolphin-watching in the Straits of Magellan.
- Visit the King Penguin Park in Tierra del Fuego
Artículo creado por Sernatur Magallanes