We ended up spending a few more days in Punta Arenas because, well, we missed our bus. There’s a longer version of that story, but it ends with the fact that we missed out bus.
The next bus out was three days later, so we stayed in Punta Arenas for the time. We wanted to go to Ushuaia, but it is a 12 hour bus ride away and buses only leave in the mornings. So Punta Arenas it was!
We found a cheap, kind of dirty, hostel that was just 7.000 pesos a night per person and stayed there. The next two days we spent most indoors, away from the wind and the cold, or looking at museums. Most museums in the city are free(!) so we had a good time.
Near Plaza de Armas are mansions, most built between 1899-1910, from wealthy Europeans and Chileans that moved there for the growing economy at the port. One is now Museo Regional de Magallenes. Much of the furniture are decor are original to the time of construction. As we walked through the museum we learned how the wealthy and their servants lived at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a pretty nice mansion. Some of the bedrooms have been converted to small exhibitions about the discovery of the area, the native inhabitants of Patagonia, and how Punta Arenas grew into a good-sized small city. We spent probably 45 minutes to an hour there and enjoyed our time.
The second museum we visited was Museo del Recuerdo, which is further away. We took a cheap taxi, and it only took 800 pesos to get there. This is partially funded by the university in town and has the largest display of steam-powered technology either of us had seen. Jordan adored all the trains and tractors in the field.
Walking around the yard in free, I think, but getting into the old houses, where some of the more interesting artifacts are, costs 2.000 pesos a person. The museum is all about the development of Punta Arenas and the southern region of Patagonia, from the pioneers to almost present-day. Much of the wagons, shops, and kitchen appliances looked very similar to the United States pioneer experience–so much so that when looking at the recreation of a kitchen ranch I almost thought I was in Texas or Oklahoma. The old technology (like the tractors) was used longer than in the States, until the 1960s, I think. It was fascinating to see the first drawing and photos of the town, from when it was a penal colony and fort in the 1870s to its colorful plazas and thoroughly modern cars in the 1950s.
If you have time to kill in Punta Arenas, we do recommend visiting these museums. There are several others, all with cheap entrance fees or free, and it’s a good way to get to know the culture and history of the area. While not as exciting as seeing the penguins on Isla Magdalena, it is (a lot) cheaper and a way to learn about the people of Punta Arenas and the tip of Patagonia.