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Punta Arenas Cruises

A voyage to this part of the world is an exhilarating experience. It offers the traveler extraordinary sights of untamed natural beauty. Located on the western side of the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas is the capital of Chile's Magallanes Region and the bustling center of one of the world's largest sheep farming areas. Its free-port facilities have promoted local commerce and encouraged immigration from central Chile. The best and largest port for thousands of miles, it provides a base for South Atlantic fishing boats and Antarctic research vessels.The city center features impressive mansions dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Founded in 1848, Punta Arenas was originally a military garrison and penal settlement. It also provided a convenient stopover for vessels en route to California during the Gold Rush. In the early years, the economy depended on wild animal products, such as sealskins, guanaco hides and feathers from the rhea (South American ostrich).The economy improved when the government authorized the purchase of 300 purebred sheep from the Falkland Islands; the success of this experiment encouraged further investment in sheep. By the turn of the last century, there were nearly two million in the territory.

In 1875 the population of Magallanes Province was barely 1,000; European immigration accelerated as the wool market flourished. Today, Punta Arenas numbers over 100,000 inhabitants. It has the look of a bustling city, with a fine cathedral and an attractive central square. It is also a major base for the Chilean navy. A statue of the explorer Magellan salutes present-day navigators.

Visitors to this most southern part of the world should keep in mind that this is frontier land. The most attractive features are found in the rugged nature, where indigenous fauna and flora try to exist in often harsh and unpredictable weather conditions. Many attractions in this vast region of Patagonia require fairly long drives from Punta Arenas. But recently, trips to the bottom of the world have become increasingly popular by travelers looking for more rustic adventures.