Let me guess. You booked a trip to Patagonia, and your flight arrives in Punta Arenas. You do a bit of research and think, “Meh, doesn’t look like much, maybe I should skip it altogether”. But I say wait, give it a chance. Punta Arenas is a charming little town and has some fabulous photo locations that are well worth exploring.
Look, I get it. There are mountains and glaciers out there, incredible hikes you dreamed about for so long. Patagonia is waiting, calling your name! But trust me, Punta Arenas is also Patagonia. Perhaps not the one you imagined, but one that you might want to experience nonetheless.
Here, let me prove it. Get your camera ready — we are going on a tour. I will take you to the 5 amazing photo locations in Punta Arenas that you should know about.
The History of Punta Arenas
But before we get into the photography locations in Punta Arenas, let’s dive into its history for a moment. It is, after all, pretty fascinating. More importantly, knowing it helps to understand the city a little better.
Today, Punta Arenas is the capital of the Magallanes region in Chile and one of the largest cities this far south. It is also a common gateway for visitors to Patagonia. If you are traveling to Chilean Patagonia, Punta Arenas will likely be your first stop.
Punta Arenas is a Spanish translation of the original name “Sandy Point”. The area was first called that by the English naval commander John Nargorough in the 17th century. Yet many years would pass before it finally gets inhabited.
Only in 1848, in an attempt to claim the Strait of Magellan, would the Chilean government establish a town here.
Interestingly, Punta Arenas was not the first village on the Strait of Magellan. In the 16th century, Spain had tried twice to start a settlement on its shores. Yet both failed because of the harsh conditions of this remote and unforgiving land.
One of those villages was later even renamed “Port Famine”. The Spanish translation, Puerto del Hambre, is still used today to mark the historic site where it once stood.
Punta Arenas, however, survived. Initially a colony for criminals, it lived through several mutinies and periods of unrest. Later, the sheep farming boom and the gold rush brought waves of immigrants from the Old World, cementing its success.
The remnants of this turbulent history can still be seen throughout the city. In fact, we will encounter many of them as we explore what I think are the most notable spots for photography in Punta Arenas.
Punta Arenas promenade runs along the shores of the Strait of Magellan. It is fantastic for a pleasant afternoon stroll and a very decent photography location as well.
While the beach itself is somewhat uneventful (you won’t stumble upon fancy rock formations or dramatic wave action here), there are other things to photograph. There are monuments, art installations, wall murals, and a giant city sign to give you just a few ideas.
My personal favorite, however, is an old pier ruin. Actually, there are several of those nearby. A nod to Punta Arenas days of old, these piers can serve as a nice foreground element in a photo.
From what I have seen, the Strait of Magellan tends to have some of the best sunsets in Patagonia. Together with the above, this means you can often come away with a killer image from here.
But more than anything, I love the promenade in Punta Arenas because of the vibe of remoteness and isolation. I remember the first time I stood here, breathing fresh air and looking across the Strait of Magellan. It really feels as if you are at the edge of the world.
Nao Victoria Museum
Another site reminiscent of the past is the Nao Victoria Museum on the outskirts of Punta Arenas. I reckon it is well worth a visit on that merit alone. However, it doubles as a photography location with some very unusual subjects.
Nao Victoria is an open-air museum that features full-size replicas of the historic ships that sailed in Patagonia. The most intriguing of those is a copy of the Victoria carrack. The ship was part of the Magellan’s fleet and became the first vessel to sail around the globe.
There are other smaller boats and items on display too. Each has a tale to tell, and some are utterly thrilling. My own favorite is that of the James Caird lifeboat.
What really blew my mind though, was a more recent bit of history — a shipwreck of Magallanes III. This fishing vessel was built in 1970 and has now apparently found its final resting ground in Punta Arenas.
The shipwreck is a prominent and unique subject that offers plenty of compositions. You can even walk right up to it if you want — how cool is that!?
Sara Braun Cemetery
We continue our photography tour of Punta Arenas by heading back to the center and the Sara Braun Cemetery. Now, a cemetery may sound like a strange choice for photography. Trust me, this is exactly what I thought myself when I first heard about it.
And yet, Sara Braun Cemetery is definitely a noteworthy photo location in Punta Arenas, and rightfully so. Ranked by CNN as one of the most beautiful cemeteries worldwide, it is a lovely and serene place.
As you stroll through its quaint passages, charming gardens, and impressive monuments, you will no doubt notice plenty of fabulous compositions to capture.
Many of Punta Arenas’ prominent historic figures are buried in Sara Braun Cemetery. With some background and curiosity, you could take your photography a step further and reflect on the region’s rich past through your images.
And then, of course, there is always a mystical appeal to a place like this. You could use it to your advantage in moody or overcast conditions.
The Strait of Magellan
We have already touched upon the Strait of Magellan while talking about the photo locations on the Punta Arenas promenade. However, the strait is much more than just a short stretch of the coast within the city limits.
The Strait of Magellan is miles upon miles of wilderness and desolation. But of course, we people tend to leave traces everywhere, and occasionally there are mind-boggling discoveries to be made.
My favorites are the shipwrecks. These can be found in abundance all along the Strait of Magellan. Some are very close to Punta Arenas, others much more remote. But all of them equally fascinating.
Perhaps, that is just me, but I adore photographing these old schooners, steamers, and cargo boats. Each one is unique, and each one hides a story that just waits to be told.
In our Sunset Obsession Photography Guide to Patagonia, we go deep into the details of every photo location, both in Punta Arenas and elsewhere in Patagonia. With exact coordinates, profound descriptions, and tons of photography advice, it has everything you need to capture stunning images in Patagonia.
Sunset Obsession Photography Guide to Patagonia
While not technically in Punta Arenas, Isla Magdalena is a destination that I wholeheartedly recommend as one of photo locations. The small island in the middle of the Strait of Magellan is famous for its resident colony of Magellanic penguins.
As you disembark, you will find yourself surrounded by these amusing little creatures. The visitor path takes you around the island and through their habitat. It is a funny and unusual experience and one that will undoubtedly land you some lovely images.
Note that the penguins are only present on Isla Magdalena between September and March. During this period, there are several travel companies in Punta Arenas that can get you there.
The two that I personally used are Fiordos del Sur and Comapa. Both are perfectly fine and will get you there and back safe and sound. Fiordos del Sur was somewhat posher and therefore more expensive, but otherwise, the service was essentially the same.
As you get to the island, you have about an hour to walk around it and take photos without disturbing the penguins. It may not sound like much, and frankly, I would have preferred a little longer, but these are the rules. At any rate, it should be enough to capture a handful of good shots.
A note of caution — if you suffer from sea-sickness, keep an eye on the weather. If possible, go on a calmer day. The journey to Isla Magdalena takes around two hours, and the waters of the Strait of Magellan can be pretty rough.
Where to stay in Punta Arenas
When it comes to accommodation, Punta Arenas has a wide selection of properties for almost any taste and budget. What I learned is that even inexpensive options are usually very adequate. Therefore, I would simply look for something in the center that does not break the bank.
For a couple of quick recommendations, I have stayed in both Hostal Fernando de Magalhaes and Apart Hotel Quillango (not affiliated with either). Both were great, and if the prices are within your range, I can safely vouch for them. Honestly, though, there are countless other offers.
One thing to mention is that, like elsewhere in Patagonia, reserving well in advance is usually a good decision. Punta Arenas is somewhat less affected by this because of its size, but as a general rule of thumb, the earlier you book — the better.
I hope you enjoyed this short journey through Punta Arenas, its past, and the photo locations it hides. While often overlooked by visitors rushing to see more famous sights in Patagonia, Punta Arenas certainly has its charm.
What it lacks in epic mountains and awe-inspiring glaciers, Punta Arenas more than makes up for in atmosphere, vibe, and history.
I have personally visited Punta Arenas twice and thoroughly enjoyed it on every occasion. I urge you to try and do the same. Give it a chance, and Punta Arenas might just open up for you.
And, if you are interested in more photography locations in both Chile and Argentina, be sure to check out our Landscape Photography Guide to Patagonia.
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