The best treks of Punta Arenas

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By Nelson Sanchez       

Editors note: The following is from Issue 6.


Located at the southernmost tip of Chile, Punta Arenas is the only city that looks eastward: the sun rises from the sea and sets in the mountains. Here on the shores of the Strait of Magellan, where the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean meet, the location was originally the subject of much dispute by its founders: some wanted the protection of the southern forest, while others preferred the western pampas that provided more food. Finally, they decided that proximity to Las Minas River, where there was coal, firewood, fresh water and abundant fish, was the place to settle.

Fortunately for those of us who live here, we’re surrounded then by a collage of diverse ecosystems; anyone who visits some of the trails mentioned below will find an immensely rich landscape.

• Monte Fenton trail: located just 9 minutes from Punta Arenas, the trail begins at the Andino Punta Arenas Ski Club Lodge and extends to the highest point of Cerro Fenton (760 m). It's an easy walk that takes about 2 hours, where you can see ancient forests of coigüe and lenga trees; calafate, chaura and michais plants; and interesting birds including woodpeckers, finches and parrots, among others. In addition there are a great variety of mosses and lichens, and one can still find traces of the tunnel entrances to the old Loreto coal mine. Moreover, during the walk there are several lookouts that provide views of the city, the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego.

• Mount Tarn trail: about 65 km to the south of the city, this is a hike of medium-high difficulty that can take between 8 and 14 hours, depending on the hiker’s conditioning. Starting from the shores of the Strait of Magellan, you ascend among rainforests of Magellanic coigüe, canelo and cypress guaitecas, with moments of abundant and lush vegetation dominated by beautiful mosses and lichens. At roughly 600 meters, you arrive at the vegetation’s upper limit. Continue up the incline to 825 meters, and from there we can see the islands bordering the Brunswick Peninsula and the Strait, as well as Darwson Island, Tierra del Fuego and the highest peaks of the Darwin Mountain Range. Mount Tarn was actually summited by the English naturalist Charles Darwin himself in 1836.

• Hike to San Isidro Lighthouse: via the Brunswick Peninsula coast, 75 km south of Punta Arenas, at the end of the road this path begins. It is an easy 2 to 3 hour walk that crosses beaches, bays and forests. You can see beautiful natural flowers like chilcos, cenecios and dandelions, among others. In addition, one shouldn’t miss the seaweed and logs washed up along the shore, which for many appear as if they are works of art. The geology of the rocks -perfect representatives of the passage of time- and traces of ancient whaling add a sense of mysticism. But the lighthouse is close by, so pick up the pace, and upon arrival, its architecture, beauty and energy will not fail to impress. It was built in 1904, and in 2004 it was completely renovated and converted into a museum and inn.

• Hiking Magallanes National Reserve: west of Punta Arenas, about 9 minutes by car, there are some well developed and maintained trails in this reserve which together take about 3 to 4 hours of low difficulty walking. They are ideal for the whole family. You can find a great variety of wildlife and birds in a lenga and coigue forest. There are also lookouts where you can view Las Minas River, the city, the Strait of Magellan and adjacent islands.