Punta Arenas is the southernmost city on Earth, overlooking the Straits of Magellan. Situated astride one of the world's historic trade routes, its prosperity has risen and fallen with that trade. Punta Arenas enjoyed its first great boom during the California Gold Rush, when it served as a haven for great clipper ships. Although the port's importance diminished after the opening of the Panama Canal, the city reached even greater prosperity early in this century as the center of Chile's international wool trade. Today, Punto Arenas reflects a great mix of cultures, from English sheep ranchers to Portuguese sailors, and it remains an utterly fascinating testament to the Chile's rich history. Punta Arenas is also the starting point for excursions to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
The best spot to gain an introduction to Punta Arenas is the Cerro La Cruz promontory, which provides breathtaking views of the city's orderly streets, colorful tin roofs, and the strait beyond. Among the city's most interesting attractions are the Museo Salesiano de Mayonino Borgatello, started by an order of Italian missionaries, and the Centro Cultural Braun-Menendèz, housed in the mansion of one of the city's most prosperous families. The museum provides visitors with an extraordinary and eclectic introduction to virtually every aspect of the region. Its collection, accumulated by the missionaries during their extensive travels in the area, is composed of artifacts of all sorts-from ceramics to rare animal species The Centro Cultural is equally engaging, offering an intimate glimpse of the life of a prosperous Punto Arenas trading family. Furnished with fine European antiques, Italian marble floors, and grand ceiling frescos, this grand mansion gives a good indication of the economic stature of Punto Arenas before the Panama Canal was completed.
From Punta Arenas, it is an easy day trip to the pinguineros, the nearby penguin settlements and the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, which provides the perfect introduction to Chilean Antarctica.
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