There’s nothing quite like a 5:00am bus ride on a cold morning to make you feel alive – and grumpy. Our destination, Punta Arenas, was 10 hours away, so we had a long journey ahead. Luckily the landscape of Tierra Del Fuego, the archipelago of South America, is sparse and stunning. We saw so much wildlife from the bus – including our first nañdú and guanacos, and there were rainbows around every corner.
We officially crossed into Chile, another new country for us, on the car ferry across the Straight of Magellan, a beautiful stretch of green water.
When we reached Punta Arenas 15 hours later at 8pm (10 hours, yeah right!), we were very happy to be off the bus and walked across town to our hostel.
We came to Punta Arenas for one thing, to visit a King penguin colony. But it wasn’t meant to be. Unfortunately the only tours available for the next day were way, WAY too expensive and after Ushuaia didn’t seem worth the expense. And while we were disappointed to miss the King penguins, we were pleasantly surprised by Punta Arenas. With perfect blue skies, we wandered the streets and were charmed by one of Chile’s southernmost towns.
After wandering around the colourful town for a couple of hours, it was time for lunch at the local fish market. Located downtown near the water, it was a good spot to enjoy some ceviche and try the local beer. It was Kristen’s first (and she says far from last) ceviche in South America.
My love of Cementerio de la Recoleta is well known, so when the Lonely Planet claimed that the cemetery in Punta Arenas was the ‘most impressive cemetery in South America’, of course we had to visit. I’m not sure what we were expecting, but as we walked through the gates, we both stopped in surprise. The cemetery was huge, spanning blocks in all directions, with huge sculptured trees lining the walkways. But what made this cemetery special was the colour. There were graves painted different colours, covered in grass or overflowing with colourful plastic flowers.
It was also a great place to see how culturally diverse this small town was. As well as Spanish names and messages on the gravestones, we also saw Croatian, German, Hebrew, British and even Chinese names, each in their own little ‘country’ areas within the cemetery.
The next morning as we walked to the bus stop to get our bus to Puerto Natales, we experienced the huge winds the town is famous for. We were so lucky we’d had good weather the day before. Winds in town can reach up to 130kms an hour and we’d read that during summer, when the winds are strongest, officials put up ropes between the buildings to help pedestrians move around. It was a struggle with our backpacks to get to the bus station, and we finally worked out why there were so many shelters throughout the town – not for the rain as we’d initially thought, but for the crazy wind!
Punta Arenas surprised us and was the perfect place to start our Chilean journey.
A bit more:
When we visited: 2 nights mid March 2014.
How we got here: 15 hour bus from Ushuaia
Where we stayed: Hostel Keoken. Highly recommend it. It was quiet when we were there, as we were towards the end of the season, but has a nice common area and great rooms.
Food & Drink recommendations: Mercado Central – fresh and cheap seafood and La Marmita – One of the best meals we’ve had on this trip. Hearty, warming food, reasonably priced and great quality.