Tierra del Fuego has all the trappings that Patagonia offers to thrill seekers, nature lovers and adventurers the world over. Looking for natural wonders, pristine glaciers, a taste of the wild and some of the most unique cultural experiences on the planet? Tierra del Fuego has it all – national parks, lakes, rivers and waterways, expansive nothingness and untouched corners that no one has even ventured into. In essence, all of the magic and beauty that Patagonia is renowned for.
Tierra del Fuego shares a border between Chile and Argentina, but this invisible line has been pretty malleable over the years as the two countries have been engaged in turf wars to lay claim to the southern province. It was the last territory in Argentina to be declared a national province, with this status only being bestowed upon it as recently as 1990. Tierra del Fuego was also home to indigenous cultures who controlled the region until the 1870s. And, of course, the notorious Falklands War took place on the Malvinas Islands (Falkland Islands in England) in 1982. Argentina claims that the Malvinas are part of Argentine territory, while they are internationally recognised as belonging to Britain.
History has seen its bravest and best head south over the centuries with a mission to conquer these inhospitable lands. From Ferdinand Magellan to Charles Darwin and Francis Drake, people coming in search of gold, anthropological study and the great unknown have considered Tierra del Fuego one of the most inimitable lands on earth.
Ok, well it may not be the land of fire and ice in the Game of Thrones sense, but it is definitely a literal land of fire and ice. The name Tierra del Fuego literally means ‘Land of Fire’, and was coined by Ferdinand Magellan when he thought he saw fires on land from his ship and that the native Yaghan population was setting about to ambush him. ‘The land of ice’ is because it is rife with ancient glaciers, the iciest of all ice.
Patagonia itself is known for the amazing variety of wildlife that can be seen in this vast region. Tierra del Fuego doesn’t disappoint when it comes to being home to innumerable amounts of species, whether flora or fauna. See the penguin colony at Martillo Island, come across woodpeckers in the forests, and take in eagles soaring over the channel.
Tierra del Fuego is not immune to Patagonia’s ever-changeable weather patterns, and the wind is just one of the climatic factors you have to take into account to survive your journey to the wilderness of the south. But the unpredictability of the weather is half the fun of being at the end of the world, and as temperatures rarely drop below zero even in winter, it’s a great place to go skiing and dog sledding in the chillier months. In summer, you can take advantage of warmer climes to hike and trek through the Tierra del Fuego national park, which affords visitors stunning views over the breathtaking scenery the area is known for.
The town of Ushuaia, as well as being the southernmost town on earth, is also picturesque and quaint. Sail the Beagle Channel and pass by the Lighthouse at the End of the World, take a trip to one of the city’s numerous museums (one even includes a jail), eat some delicious chocolate sold at one of the town’s Alpine-like stores and send your family and friends a postcard from the depths of South America.
Tierra del Fuego is also home to the Southern Fuegian Railway, a steam train that used to transport timber to the jail in Ushuaia, but is now a tourist attraction. Originally known as the “Train of the Prisoners”, the rail carriages now have the name “the Train at the End of the World,” because this is the most southernly railway on earth. Tourists can travel in luxury into the Tierra del Fuego National Park and appreciate beautiful vistas over the landscape, as well as learning about the indigenous peoples of the area and their history.
This amazing natural wonder is located only a few kilometers away from the city of Ushuaia and can be reached by walking up a trail from town and into the park. The Martial glacier can be visited all year round and is a great option for nature lovers who want to stay close to the centre of Ushuaia. Cross rivers and streams and get the chairlift to the top of the mountain where you can see the Beagle Channel in all its glory from high above.
The Pan American Highway is a road that runs through the Americas from Alaska in the very far north to Tierra del Fuego in the very far south, breaking only once in between Panama and Colombia to make way for the small matter of a rainforest. In Tierra del Fuego you can visit the final destination at the end of this world-famous route; you may decide to make it your goal to one day see the start of the route, too.
Tierra del Fuego is just a stone’s throw away from the Antarctic and is often the last port of call for travelers wishing to visit the southern pole. At the Antarctic Coast Reserve Interpretative Centre you can learn all about the Antarctic, its climate, flora and fauna, and the threat it is under as a result of climate change; a good reason to leave the city and head up the coast to the Rio Grande region, where the centre is located.