Only 30 nautical miles east of Punta Arenas, Porvenir (population 4,734) occupies a protected site at the east end of Bahía Porvenir, an inlet of the Strait of Magellan.
On a sheltered harbor across the Strait from Punta Arenas, Chilean Tierra del Fuego’s main town dates from the 1880s, when the area experienced a brief gold rush, but stabilized with the establishment of wool estancias around the turn of the century. After the wool boom fizzled in the 1920s, it settled into an economic torpor that left it a remarkable assortment of corroding metal-clad Magellanic buildings. Construction of a salmon-processing plant has jump-started the economy, and it’s a much more presentable place than in the recent past.
Porvenir’s inner harbor is a great place for spotting cormorants, gulls, kelp geese, steamer ducks, and other seabirds, but the lack of transportation to the Argentine border has marginalized the tourist sector—all buses from the mainland to Argentine Tierra del Fuego take the longer Primera Angostura route, which involves a shorter and more frequent ferry crossing. Small local enterprises have begun to provide access to parts of the archipelago that, up to now, have only been accessible through expensive cruises.
Porvenir has regular connections to the mainland but none to the San Sebastián border crossing; those with their own vehicles (including bicyclists) will still find this a shorter route from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia.
Aerovías DAP (Manuel Señoret s/n and Muñoz Gamero, tel. 061/580089) operates air-taxi service to Punta Arenas (US$31) at least daily, often more frequently.
Tuesday and Friday at 4 p.m., there’s a municipal bus from the DAP offices on Señoret to Camerón and Timaukel (US$2, 2.5 hours), in the southwestern corner of the island; another goes to Cerro Sombrero (US$4.50, 1.5 hours) at 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from Zavattaro 432.
In the same office as DAP, Transbordadora Broom (Señoret s/n, tel. 061/580089) sails the car-passenger ferry Melinka to Punta Arenas (2.5 hours) daily except Monday, seas permitting. The ferry leaves from Bahía Chilote, about three kilometers west of town. Adult passengers pay US$7 per person except for drivers, whose own fare is included in the US$45 charge per vehicle (motorcycles pay US$14). Children cost US$3.50 each.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition