History, geography and weather

Unique features, unique opportunities

Historical Overview:

In 1520, Estrecho de Magallanes (Strait of Magellan) was discovered and named after its discoverer, the Portuguese explorer Hernando de Magallanes.

In 1843, the Chilean government sent a colonizing expedition to the region, which led to the foundation of Fuerte Bulnes in an unsuitable place for an emerging city; therefore, in 1848, the Governor José Santos Mardones moved the facilities and population, founding the city of Punta Arenas in its current location.

Since then, Punta Arenas had a condition of penal colony until 1867, when President José Joaquín Pérez established a colonization policy with foreign immigrants and declared it a free port.

The arrival of European immigrants, mainly Croatian, Spanish, Swiss, English and Italian, has left a cultural signature shown in the architecture and production of the region.

Climate:

Due to its territorial extension, Región de Magallanes (Magallanes Region) presents five main types of climate: Cold-temperate with great humidity, cold steppe, perpetual frost, tundra and polar. The first one being mainly characteristic of more populated areas, like Punta Arenas. 

The annual average temperature of this city, which is located 60mts above sea level, is of 6.4ºC, with an annual accumulated precipitation of 442mm.

January is the warmest month of the year, with an average temperature of 11ºC. The lowest temperatures of the year happen in July, with an average of 2.1ºC.

Extension and relief:

The Región de Magallanes y Antártica Chilena (Magallanes Region and Chilean Antarctica) is the largest of the country, with a surface area of 132,297km2 (equivalent to the size of Greece), and a population of 166,533 (as of 2017), being the second less populated region.

The region presents an irregular topographic situation, quite different from the rest of the country, as the Cordillera de los Andes (Andes Mountains) is located halfway through the territory, while in the rest of the country it is located West, forming a natural border with Argentina. Furthermore, its average heights are greatly inferior to the rest of the country, with 2000mts above sea level.

The Cordillera de los Andes Patagónicos (Patagonian Andes Mountains) also makes the hydrography of the region quite different. Most of the rivers are located East, crossing the Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, and flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.

Indigenous Peoples

The Región de Magallanes and Antártica Chilena (Magallanes Region and Chilean Antarctica) was populated by four indigenous peoples with different languages and based in different areas.

The Aonikenk or Tehuelches, which stood out for their great height, were nomads and hunters. It is said that their great size and highly pronounced footprints gave origin to the name of Patagonia. 

The Onas or Selknam were hunters that inhabited the pampa of Tierra del Fuego. Despite this, they would move around other zones to trade with the Aonikenk people. It is estimated they entered the island about 10,000 years ago, when it was still part of the continent.

The Yamanas or Yaganes lived around the Canal de Beagle (Beagle Channel), down until Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn). They were sea hunters, and their extinction was due to the spread of diseases and pests, alcoholism and introduced diseases.

The Kawasqar or Alacalufes, were of marine nomadic customs and traveled from the surroundings of the Golfo de Penas (Gulf of Penas) in the north of the region, to the Estrecho (Strait) in the south. They endured a very harsh climate with abundant rainfall and stormy winds. Currently there are several communities living in different areas of the region.  

Cities:

Punta Arenas

It is the capital of Provincia de Magallanes (Magallanes Province), Región de Magallanes y Antártica Chilena (Magallanes Region and Chilean Antarctica) and of Patagonia Austral (Southern Patagonia), inhabited by 31,592 people (as of 2017), representing 79.01% of the region’s total population.

The geographical location of the city has turned it into a strategic point, both politically and historically, as well as in terms of tourism, geopolitics, and economy. The city is home to Chile’s military commands of the army, navy, and air force, as well as Asmar, the southernmost shipyard in the world.

The city is positioned as the world’s gateway to the Antarctic continent, as more than 22 countries use the city as their base port and request its Antarctic logistics services.

Punta Arenas is the most populated and cosmopolitan city in Southern Patagonia. Its quality of life stands out as the best of all Chile, which is why it is currently one of the regional capitals with the highest quality of life index and has the second highest per capita income in the country. 

Puerto Natales

It is the capital of the district of Natales and the province of Última Esperanza, inhabited by 21,477 people (as of 2017).

It is located 247 kilometers north of Punta Arenas, the regional capital; 48 kilometers from the Argentine city of Río Turbio (Turbio River) and 256 kilometers from the province of Santa Cruz’s capital in Argentina, Río Gallegos (Gallegos River). It is considered the gateway to the famous Torres del Paine natural park.

Porvenir

It is the capital of Tierra del Fuego province, and the most populated city in the Chilean portion of the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego (Tierra del Fuego Big Island). It has 7,446 inhabitants (as of 2017).

Puerto Williams

It is the capital of the Chilean Antarctic province and of its district, Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn), with a population of 1,868 inhabitants.

Located at a latitude of almost 55º S, it is the southernmost city in the world.