Getting There & Away
By Plane -- Punta Arenas' Aeropuerto Presidente Ibáñez (PUQ; tel. 61/218131) is 20km (12 miles) north of town, and, depending on the season, it's serviced with up to 10 flights per day from Santiago. LAN, Lautaro Navarro 999 (tel. 600/526-2000 or 61/241100; www.lan.com), has the most flights per day to both Santiago and Puerto Montt. They tend to be more expensive, but have been experimenting with rock-bottom prices for flights arriving or leaving in the wee hours of the morning. Sky Airline, Roca 935 (tel. 600/600-2828; www.skyairline.cl), has one flight per day that is a bit of a milk-run, stopping twice en route. There is an ATM on the airport's ground floor.
LAN also offers three flights a week to Ushuaia, Argentina. The regional Aerovías DAP, O'Higgins 891 (tel. 61/223340; www.aeroviasdap.cl), has six weekly flights to Porvenir and six flights a week to Puerto Williams as well. They also have charter flights to such places as Ushuaia and Antarctica, and charter sightseeing flights to Cape Horn and Torres del Paine.
To get to Punta Arenas from the airport, hire a taxi for about $10 (£6.70) or take one of the transfer services there (which can also arrange to take you back to the airport; their booths are at the baggage claim area). Buses Transfer Austral (tel. 61/229673; www.transferaustral.com) has door-to-door service for $6 (£4) per person.
By Bus -- From and to Puerto Natales: Bus Sur, José Menéndez 552 (tel. 61/614224; www.bus-sur.cl), has four daily trips; Buses Fernández, Armando Sanhueza 745 (tel. 61/221812; www.busesfernandez.com), has seven daily trips; and Buses Pacheco, Av. Colón 900 (tel. 61/242174; www.busespacheco.com), has five daily trips. The cost is about $6 (£4), and the trip takes close to 4 hours.
To and from Ushuaia, Argentina: Buses Tecni Austral, Lautaro Navarro 975 (tel. 61/222078), leaves Punta Arenas Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and returns from Ushuaia on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday; the cost for either is $45 (£30). Buses Pacheco, Av. Colón 900 (tel. 61/242174), has direct service to Ushuaia on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and returns on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, via Rio Grande. The direct trip to Ushuaia takes about 12 hours and costs $60 (£40).
By Car -- Rte. 9 is a paved road between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales. Strong winds -- and fog and ice in winter -- often require that you exercise extreme caution when driving this route. To get to Tierra del Fuego, there are two options: Cross by ferry from Punta Arenas to Porvenir, or drive east on Rte. 255 to Rte. 277 and Punta Delgada for the ferry crossing there (for more information, see the section on "Puerto Williams"). I recommend crossing Punta Delgada at least in one direction; the trip is shorter, more frequent, and will allow a detour to Pali Aike National Park and Estancia Lolita.
Car Rental -- International Rental Car, Waldo Seguel 443 (tel. 61/225323; www.international-rac.com), is a helpful and locally owned agency with an office at the airport. You can drop your car off in Puerto Natales or Coyhaique for an extra fee. Another option is Southland Rentacar, General de Canto 010 (tel. 61/241143; www.southlandrentacar.com).
Downtown Punta Arenas is compact enough to explore on foot, but taxis are plentiful and you can hail one off the street -- you'll find many around the Plaza de Armas. Travel anywhere within the city limits will not cost more than $10 (£6.70); always confirm the fare with your driver before getting in the car. Cheap buses are also abundant and run either north-south on calles Bulnes and Noguiera or east-west along Independencia.
Cruising from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia
Crucero Australis runs an unforgettable journey between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia aboard its ships, the M/V Mare Australis and the M/V Via Australis. This cruise takes passengers to remote coves and narrow channels and fjords in Tierra del Fuego, and then heads into the Beagle Channel, ending at Ushuaia, Argentina. There's also a stop at the absolute end of the world, Cape Horn, although the chances that you will be able to get off the boat and touch tierra firma there aren't likely due to notorious winds. The trip can be done as a 4-night one-way from Punta Arenas or a 3-night one-way journey from Ushuaia. I recommend that you take just the one-way journey, ideally departing Punta Arenas, leaving you to explore a new city and then travel by air or land from there. It's a fantastic way to link both countries and turn your Patagonian itinerary into a loop.
What is unique about this cruise is the intimacy of a smaller ship and its solitary route that takes passengers to places in Tierra del Fuego that few have a chance to see. Passengers are shuttled to shore via zodiacs (motorized inflatable boats) for two daily excursions that can include visits to glaciers or a penguin colony, or walks to view elaborate beaver dams and lookouts. There are several excellent bilingual guides who give daily talks about the region's flora, fauna, history, and geology. Service is stiff but professional, and the food is quite good. The accommodations are comfortable, ranging from suites to simple cabins. In 2010, the company will introduce a third ship, the M/V Stella Australis. All-inclusive, per-person prices (excluding cocktails) range from $1,930 to $4,390 (£1,287-£2,927) one-way from Punta Arenas and $1,440 to $3,290 (£960-£2,193) one-way from Ushuaia. It's not really worth it to pay extra for an upper deck; second-floor berths at the front of the ship are the most stable, quiet, and comfortable. This cruise operates from early October to late April. For reservations or information, contact their U.S. offices in Miami, at 4014 Chase Ave., Ste. 215 (tel. 305/695-9615 or 877/678-3772; fax 305/534-9276), or in Santiago, at Av. El Bosque Norte 0440 (tel. 2/442-3110; fax 2/203-5173); or visit www.australis.com.
There's an excellent Oficina de Turismo (tel. 61/200610) inside a glass gazebo in the Plaza de Armas. The staff is helpful, and they sell a wide range of historical and anthropological literature and postcards. The office is open from December to March Monday through Friday from 8am to 5:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 2:30pm. From March through November, it's open weekdays only. Sernatur's office at Lautaro Navarro 999 (tel. 61/225385; www.sernatur.cl), on the other hand, is harried and inattentive; it's open Monday through Friday from 8:15am to 12:45pm and 2:30 to 7pm.