The southern Patagonian city of Punta Arenas has led a varied existence since its foundation in 1848. At one time or other it has served as a whaling station, penal colony, military base and a centre for sheep farming. Today, Punta Arenas is a charming and peaceful city, which makes a good stopping-off point on the way to or from Tierra del Fuego, across the Magellan Strait.
A statue of Magellan, with a mermaid and two Fuegian Indians at his feet, stands prominently in the Plaza Munoz Gamero. There are also several good museums in the city, with exhibits on Patagonia's fascinating maritime and natural histories. Punta Arenas is a regular stop-off on the Patagonia luxury cruise route - with nearby attractions including a colony of 150,000 Magellanic penguins at Isla Magdalena and scenic look-outs for whale watching.