Chile // Southern Patagonia //

Punta Arenas

Seen from the air, PUNTA ARENAS, 3090km south of Santiago, is a sprawling patchwork of galvanized tin roofs struggling up from the shores of the Magellan Strait. On the ground, however, the city looks much more substantial and modern, especially in the centre where glass and concrete office buildings have replaced the ramshackle wooden houses, paid for in part by the oil.

Punta Arenas started life 60km south of where it is today, at a place called Fuerte Bulnes, the first Chilean settlement along the Magellan Strait. It was founded in 1843 by Captain John Williams, a seaman from Bristol in the service of the Chileans, with the aim of forestalling any other country’s attempts at colonization. In 1848 the new settlement moved to a more suitable location to the north, named by an English sailor “Sandy Point”, loosely translated into “Punta Arenas” in Spanish. Punta Arenas blossomed in the nineteenth-century sheep boom, when thriving immigrant communities from Croatia, Germany and elsewhere sprang up and left their marks.

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