Discover Punta Arenas With Kids – New for 2024

Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost major city and an essential hub for the region, is situated 4 hours drive south of Torres Del Paine on the mainland side of the Magellan Strait. Although it lacks the picturesque charm and attractions of other Patagonian towns, it is a well-stocked place to refresh and recharge. If you are visiting Punta Arenas with kids, you will find the city has some pleasant residential areas and offers a few enjoyable attractions for families with children, providing a blend of urban convenience and leisure activities.

From Punta Arenas, it is only a short drive to the southernmost contiguous point of South America. The city marks where the mainland transitions into a chain of islands stretching towards Antarctica, and its geographical location offers a unique perspective on the vast, isolated expanses that are further south. Punta Arenas serves not just as a city, but it is a gateway to some of the most untouched and pristine landscapes on Earth.

Beyond stocking up, there is little reason to linger in Punta Arenas, but if you are passing through, you will find enough diversions to fill a day.

Georgia and Eva posing in a large herat monument overlooking the Magellen Strait
Georgia and Eva on the Magellan Straight.

Our Map For Exploring Punta Arenas With Kids

Getting to Punta Arenas With Kids

Due to its unique geography and regional politics, getting to Punta Arenas is not as easy as you would expect for such a major city.

By Road from Puerto Natales

Driving south from Puerto Natales or Torres Del Paine to Punta Arenas is straightforward, with well-maintained tarmac roads all the way, making for a comfortable three-hour journey.

If you prefer to take a coach, BusSur operates multiple daily services between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas, with a journey time of just over three hours for CLP $10,000. However, there’s no child discount for the bus service, and depending on your family size, renting a car might be a more economical option.

By Road from Ushuaia

The drive from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas is a bit more complicated.

Route 3 and Route 257 are tarmacked all the way and are straightforward drives, apart from the border crossing near San Sebastián and occasional suicidal guanaco that you have to keep an eye out for.

Tree guanacos on a small hill on the Patagonian Steppe
Guanacos like to lurk near the roadside just to worry you.

Once you have crossed the border, you then have the choice of two car ferries over the Magellan Straight, either the Porvenir Crossing or Primera Angostura Crossing.

The adventurous option is the Porvenir Crossing. It only sails once a day, and you have to traverse 90km of gravel on the Y-71 to get to it, but you do get to visit the king penguins at Reserva Natural Pingüino Rey on the way! If that is not worth a detour, we don’t know what is! This crossing costs CLP$ 43.500 per car and driver, and each additional passenger costs CLP$ 6.800. You buy your tickets at the port before boarding.

A car ferry in the Punta Arenas port on the Maggelan Strait

If you choose to take the Primera Angostura Crossing, it is unusual because you can’t book in advance, and the timetable is somewhat meaningless; you just turn up and wait your turn. When we crossed over, three ferries were constantly shuttling back and forth over this narrow stretch of the Magellan Straight, and it took about 40 minutes to get on board. The cost for a car was CLP$ 19,000; passengers were free. You purchase your ticket on board when you have boarded the boat.

If you are travelling by bus from Ushuaia, it is a 10-hour journey plus a border crossing. Several companies run the route. BusSur, which covers much of the region, charges CLP$ 48,000 one way.

By Air

From within Chile, flying to Punta Arenas is the easiest way to reach the city, with cheap regular direct flights available in the summer from Santiago, Puerto Williams, and Puerto Montt.

Due to what we can only assume are political reasons, it is surprisingly slow and costly to fly from the Argentine side of Patagonia to the Chilean. At the moment, to fly from anywhere in Argentine Patagonia to Punta Arenas, you have to go via Buenos Aires and Santiago.

By Sea

Apart from the car ferries, the other service that runs to Punta Arenas is the Puerto Williams ferry. This remarkable 32-hour voyage offers stunning views of the Beagle Channel and the less accessible regions of Patagonia. Although it’s a bit too long and intense for young children, it’s an experience we’ve earmarked for the future when our daughters are older!

Getting Around Punta Arenas With Kids

In Punta Arenas, plenty of taxis are available; however, during our visit, there was no Uber service operating in the area.

Several car hire companies are available both at the airport and within the city. Keep in mind if you are planning to hire a car to take to Argentina, you will need some extra paperwork to be able to take the car over the border.

Except inside the Torres Del Paine National Park, all the roads in Punta Arenas and heading north to Puerto Natales are paved and well-maintained, so there is no need to hire anything other than a family saloon. You can drive all the way to El Calafate on easy roads.

The only gravel roads in the area are inside Torres Del Paine, so if you are planning to visit the park, having a vehicle with higher clearance, like an SUV, is worthwhile, although we saw plenty of small cars driving around. Check below for our complete guide to this incredible national park.

If you want to visit the Torres del Paine National Park while in the area, take a look at our complete guide, including how to book tickets and what to pack, to Exploring Torres Del Paine With Kids.

For our full-day road trip that takes you to some of its most famous views of the area, we have a complete guide: Ultimate Torres Del Paine Road Trip With Kids.

People walking on a trail towards Cerro Paine view point in Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park has to be seen to be believed.

Things To Do With Kids in Punta Arenas

As a city to explore with kids, there isn’t much to see beyond the usual, slightly dilapidated civic monuments found in most Patagonian towns.

One common theme here and in Puerto Natales is the local authorities investing a lot in play parks and art installations, then leaving them unmaintained to fight the elements.

Georgia at naval monument 'Al Sur' overlooking the Maggelan Strait
The naval tradition of the area is evident.

Most of the key attractions in Punta Arenas are situated along the seafront, making it a picturesque area to explore.

An interesting aspect of this coastal region is the presence of several shipwrecks. These historic relics, scattered along the coastline, add an element of intrigue and are undoubtedly worth a visit for those interested in maritime history or unique photographic opportunities.

Museo Nao Victoria

One of the town’s highlights was the engaging and educational Museo Nao Victoria, one of those rare attractions we parents enjoyed as much as our kids! This museum has full-sized replicas of some of the most famous ships that have ever visited Punta Arenas and highlights how important this area was to the early explorers.

You can explore three full-sized ships: Magellan’s Ship, Nao Victoria, Fitz Roy and Darwin’s Ship, HMS Beagle, and the Schooner Ancud.

An honourable mention also goes to the replica of the James Caird, the thimble that Shackleton sailed through freezing seas all the way from Elephant Island to South Georgia to save his men.

Girls posing on the replica Nao Victoria on a day out at Museo Nao Victoria in Punta Arenas
The girls on board the Nao Victoria.

Unlike in the UK, where these ships would be fenced off due to health and safety concerns, you can walk the decks and climb below.

The girls loved clambering around the ships and playing captain, and they were also a great educational tool. We discussed Magellan’s (sort of) circumnavigation of the Earth and untimely death as he tried to convert the tribespeople he met to Christianity. We also explored other early explorers, Darwin’s voyages, and what happened to Shackleton’s endurance.

The entrance fee is reasonable CLP$ 5000/£4/USD 5.50 for adults, and CLP$ 2000/£2/USD 2.75 for children. It was cash only when we visited.

There is also a small play area in the centre and several photo spots overlooking the Magellan Strait. As is often the way with Chilean and Argentine attractions, it was starting to look a bit tired and needing a revamp and some repairs. This didn’t overly affect our visit, and there are numerous information boards in Spanish and English explaining the history of famous ships and their crew.

Girls standing at the front deck on the replica HMS Beagle looking out to sea  at Museo Nao Victoria in Punta Arenas
“Let’s do the bit from Titianic!”

Lord Lonsdale Shipwreck

The Lord Lonsdale shipwreck, just a short drive from the city centre, offers a tangible glimpse into the maritime history of the Strait of Magellan. Free and open for careful exploration, it’s a real-life example of sailors’ navigational challenges before the Panama Canal era. The story of this wreck is an interesting one. Built in 1899, it had to be sunk in 1942 to stop an on-board fire during its voyage from Hamburg to Mazatlan. It was then dragged to Punta Arenas by a salvage company who abandoned it where it now rests.

Seeing Penguins around Punta Arenas

While Punta Arenas itself might not offer a wide range of activities, it certainly has a couple of unique, nearby attractions that are a hit with animal-loving kids: penguins. Visiting these charming creatures can be a highlight for families, providing a delightful and educational experience.

Seeing King Penguins

A group of king penguins relaxing on the grass banks at parque Pinguino Rey
King penguins at Parque Pingüino Rey

Punta Arenas is also close to what is considered one of the world’s newest colonies, Parque Pingüino Rey. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit and have a complete guide on how to visit them here:

If you want to visit the Torres del Paine National Park while in the area, take a look at our complete guide, including how to book tickets and what to pack, to Exploring Torres Del Paine With Kids.

Seeing Magellan Penguins

One of the most popular tours from the town is to visit a large colony of Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena.

Maggelanic penguins moving to and from the sea along a pebbled beach
Magellanic Penguins on their way to and from the beach,

There are a couple of choices on how to get there.

The first option is to visit privately. You can take the daily Taba ferry from Punta Arenas which takes 2 hours, and explore the colony yourself.

Please note: The ferry is suspended for the summer of 2023/24, which means the only way to visit the island is on pricey day trips.

The second option is to book a tour. These usually take you there in a speed boat, which takes about 40 minutes, and is priced around CLP$ 115,000/£100/USD 130 per person. These trips often include a visit to the nearby island of Isla Marta, where you can see a colony of sea lions. We were recommended Solo Expeditions by a fellow traveller, who had a great experience with them, and they were one of the cheaper tour operators.

Once you disembark, you can walk amongst around 60,000 breeding pairs of Magellanic penguins who are going about their business. They are incredibly cute, if a bit smelly!

A group of Megellanic penguins swimming in the sea
Magellanic penguins getting ready for the hunt.

As our Patagonian adventure was taking us up the east coast, where Magellan sightings are in abundance, we chose to save ourselves some money and miss this trip. We have met many people who have visited this extraordinary penguin colony and loved it.

Have We Missed Anything To Do In Punta Arenas With Kids?

After the majesty of towns like El Chalten and Torres Del Paine, Punta Arenas is a bit of a disappointment. The city is a vital hub for the region and a useful place to travel through and pick up suppliers, but there is little reason to linger here.

We hope you have found this guide useful; if anything here needs to be updated or you think we need to include anything, please let us know in the comments below.

The Spencer Family

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About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

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