You can find real bargains on electronic goods, from digital cameras and laptops to thumb drives and USB devices, at the Zona Franca, a free-trade zone about 3 mi out of town along Bulnes. The first few barn-size stores near the entrance are the only ones of interest; the empty storefronts farther back indicate that the zone hasn't been a roaring success.
Palacio Sara Braun
This resplendent 1895 mansion, a national landmark and architectural showpiece of southern Patagonia, was designed by French architect Numa Meyer at the behest of Sara Braun (the wealthy widow of wool baron José Nogueira). Materials and craftsmen were imported from Europe during the home's four years of construction. The city's central plaza and surrounding buildings soon followed, ushering in the region's golden era. The Club de la Unión, a social organization that now owns the building, opens its doors to nonmembers for tours of some of the rooms and salons, which have magnificent parquet floors, marble fireplaces, and hand-painted ceilings. Unfortunately, the staff aren't all that friendly or enthusiastic. After touring the rooms, head to the cellar tavern for a drink or snack.
Museo Regional de Magallanes
Housed in what was once the mansion of the powerful Braun-Menéndez family, the Regional Museum of Magallanes is an intriguing glimpse into the daily life of a wealthy provincial family in the early 1900s. Lavish Carrara marble hearths, English bath fixtures, a billiard room that was a social hub in the city's glory days, and cordovan leather walls are all kept in immaculate condition, helped by the sockettes you wear over your shoes. The museum has an excellent group of displays depicting Punta Arenas's past, from prehistoric animals to European contact to its decline with the opening of the Panama Canal. The museum is half a block north of the main square.
Museo Salesiano de Maggiorino Borgatello
Commonly referred to simply as "El Salesiano," this museum is operated by Italian missionaries whose order arrived in Punta Arenas in the 19th century. The Salesians, most of whom spoke no Spanish, proved to be daring explorers. Traveling throughout the region, they collected the artifacts made by indigenous tribes that are currently on display. They also relocated many of the indigenous people to nearby Dawson Island, where they died by the hundreds (from diseases like influenza and pneumonia). The museum contains an extraordinary collection of everything from skulls and native crafts to stuffed animals.
Punta Arenas is the launching point for a boat trip to see the more than 120,000 Magellanic penguins at the Monumento Natural Los Pingüinos on this island. Visitors walk a single trail, marked off by rope, and penguins are everywhere—wandering across your path, sitting in burrows, skipping along just off the shore, strutting around in packs. The trip to the island, in the middle of the Estrecho de Magallanes, takes about two hours. To get here, you must take a tour boat. If you haven't booked in advance, you can stop at any of the local travel agencies and try to get on a trip at the last minute, which is often possible. You can go only from December to the end of March; the penguin population peaks in January and February. The Melinka, the ferry that crosses the strait to Porvenir, runs an afternoon service to the island every afternoon at 3 pm, returning around 8 pm (25,000 pesos). Almost all cruise ships that stop at Punta Arenas visit the colony. However you get here, bring warm clothing, even in summer; the island can be chilly, and it's definitely windy, which helps with the odor. If you like penguins, you'll have a blast. If you don't like penguins, what are you doing in Patagonia?
Museo Naval y Marítimo
The Naval and Maritime Museum extols Chile's high-seas prowess, particularly where Antarctica's concerned. In fact, a large chunk of ice from the great white continent is kept just below freezing point in a glass case. The exhibits are worth a visit by anyone with an interest in merchant or military ships and sailing, but the real highlight is in the screening room, where you can watch Irving Johnson's incredible film Around Cape Horn—his account of the hardship faced by crews in frigid southern waters in the early 20th century. His astounding black-and-white footage of daredevil crew members and mountainous seas is accompanied by a gruff and often hilarious voiceover, reminiscing about a perilous and adventurous way of life.
Reserva Nacional Laguna Parrillar
The 47,000-acre Reserva Nacional Laguna Parrillar, west of Puerto Hambre, stretches around a shimmering lake in a valley flanked by hills. It's a great place for a picnic, if the weather cooperates. A number of well-marked paths lead to sweeping vistas over the Estrecho de Magallanes.
Pingüinera de Seno Otway
Magellanic penguins, which live up to 20 years in the wild, return repeatedly to their birthplace to mate with the same partner. For about 2,000 penguin couples—no singles make the trip—home is this desolate and windswept land off the Otway Sound. In late September the penguins begin to arrive from the southern coast of Brazil and the Falkland Islands. They mate and lay their eggs in early October, and brood their eggs in November. Offspring are hatched mid-November through early December. If you're lucky, you'll see downy gray chicks stick their heads out of the burrows when their parents return to feed them. Otherwise you might see scores of the adult penguins waddling to the ocean from their nesting burrows. They swim for food every eight hours and dive up to 30 meters (100 feet) deep. The penguins depart from the sound in late March.The road to the sanctuary begins 30 km (18 mi) north of Punta Arenas, where the main road, Ruta 9, diverges near a checkpoint booth. A gravel road then traverses another fierce and winding 30 km (18 mi), but the rough trip should reward you with the sight of hundreds of sheep, cows, and birds, including, if you're lucky, rheas and flamingos. The sanctuary is a 1-km (½-mi) walk from the parking lot. It gets chilly, so bring a windbreaker.The best time to appreciate the penguins is in the morning before 10 am, or the evening after 5 pm, when they are not out fishing. If you don't have a car, Comapa, like many other tour companies based in Punta Arenas, offers tours to the Pingüinera. The tours generally leave from Punta Arenas and return about 3½ hours later; most charge 20,000 pesos (sometimes including $2,000 park entrance fee).