Once a lonely outpost in the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas, Chile, is the world’s southernmost city with more than 100,000 inhabitants. Most people wind up in Punta Arenas on their way to somewhere else in southern Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, or Antarctica. Despite – or perhaps because of – its “bottom-of-the-globe” map coordinates, it has more than you might expect and is worth a day spent strolling and exploring.
Case in point: the José Nogueira Hotel. Constructed in 1890 by José Nogueira and his wife, Sara Braun, this blue-tipped architectural jewel anchors and adorns the city’s Plaza Munoz Gamero, the central city square. Declared a National Monument in 1982, the Nogueira has since become a luxury hotel where luminaries such as Juan Carlos de Borbón, King of Spain, and Princess Anne of England have stayed. Constructed in neoclassical fashion, the hotel has 22 rooms ($170 to $290). No two are identical, but all have bathrooms en suite, cable TV, and an internet connection. The largest suites feature such niceties as walk-in closets, bidets, 14-foot ceilings, and windows that you can actually open to the fresh air.
The best parts of the hotel may be the public rooms: The richly dark Bar Shackleton and the glass-roofed dining room that occupy much of the hotel’s ground floor. While enjoying international cuisine in the light-splashed, foliage-lined dining room, one could find it hard to imagine any hardship nearby. But the story of Ernest Shackleton’s endangered Endurance is intertwined with the home/hotel’s history.
In 1916 the intrepid Shackleton called in at the then still private home of Don José, seeking help in rescuing Shackleton’s men marooned with his ice-bound ship off the coast of Antarctica. Shackleton found the help he needed. Little more than a month later, the Chilean naval vessel Yelcho rescued the entire crew, bringing inestimable relief to the sailors who had been shipwrecked for two years.
Appointed with leather chairs, dark wood paneling, and a classic, grand bar, Bar Shackleton’s walls are hung with watercolor paintings depicting in compelling detail the story of Shackleton and the Endurance. It is the kind of place fit for men and women with stories to tell of adventures beheld and dreams of travels yet to unfold.