Sociedad Explotadora gave Punta Arenas a reason to exist. European flair of a prosperous port, outsized to the population and remote location was largely the work of one woman, Sarah Braun. Widowed at age thirty-one in 1893, Braun endowed Punta Arenas with a city center, designed by French architects of her choosing, at her expense. She built a school and endowed the cemetery. Braun’s generosity extended to the Red Cross and other civic and charitable institutions of the city. Locals revere the memory of Sara Braun today at the cemetery, where her portrait hangs above the entrance at the closed center door. Her mausoleum is located in a quiet corner, once the most prominent spot.
A statue of Magellan sits at the center of the town square. A bust of José Menéndez is on a short pillar off to the side. Around the square are buildings looking incongruous to the Patagonian landscape. Sara Braun palace has a prime spot. Just off the square is the Braun-Menéndez home of the Mauricio Braun family. A twenty-minute walk from the center of town takes visitors to the cemetery in the best tradition of Buenos Aires. Notable are crypt buildings dedicated to Italian and Croatian societies of Punta Arenas.
In the recent revival of Punta Arenas, cruise ship visits have given cause to update the docks. Business buildings are being restored to house restaurants and shops. Beyond the town square the Catholic Church and homes of the wealthy of nineteenth century Punta Arenas are coming back to their glory days. The twentieth century Sara Braun elementary school has the added distinction as a place where Nobel Laureate Gabriela Mistral taught.
Fortunate cruise travelers experience Punta Arenas effortlessly from ships making the stop a regular port on a South American itinerary. Land travelers can only reach the remote place by air or a lengthy odyssey by land. Locals like it that way. Cruise traffic has brought a bump to the economy without pressure to change the French town in Patagonia. Punta Arenas is a revived gem not likely to spoil.
Other sites close to Punta Arenas are penguin habitats and the ships museum with full size replicas of Magellan’s Nau Victoria, the Beagle and Shackleton’s little boat and the small ship of Captain Pardo, the Chilean who rescued him.