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Punta Arenas in the spotlight: Chile’s oil-rich gateway city to the Antarctic

It once hosted Captain Scott and serves as a jumping-off point for expeditions to the icy wastes to the south. Global investment lies ahead – and better housing for the city’s indigenous population

When Robert Scott’s frozen remains were recovered 105 years ago this week, Antarctic exploration was a European-only affair. Now it’s a bustling global concern, poised to open up even more as the ice caps recede. Chile’s southernmost city, Punta Arenas, a wind-bitten port of nearly 130,000 on the Strait of Magellan, is jostling for position as gateway city to the Antarctic.

It welcomed Scott himself in July 1904 when the Englishman sent 400 letters announcing the safe return of his Discovery expedition at the post office on Plaza Muñoz Gamero. One of his officers pronounced the city a “wretched-looking place”. Not so much now, with Punta Arenas hosting the national Antarctic programmes of 20 countries and becoming one of Chile’s fastest-growing cities in the process.

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