Ushuaia/Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
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Did You Know … ?
- The train to Tierra del Fuego’s park is the world’s southernmost railway and Ushuaia the southernmost town.
- The so-called killer whale (the orca) is really the world’s largest dolphin.
- The Beagle Channel is named for the boat that Charles Darwin traveled on in 1831-36.
- Argentina once established a penal colony at Ushuaia to increase the tiny settlement’s population.
- The world’s largest shearing shed, at Estancia Maria Behety, accommodates 7,000 sheep and 40 shearers.
At the end of the world
Tierra del Fuego is the name of a cluster of islands encompassing 28,434 square miles of land, just off the southern tip of South America and separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan.
The Argentine province of the same name accounts for less than a third of the archipelago at 8,210 square miles — almost precisely the same size as Massachusetts. The bulk of Argentina’s province is a triangular-shaped piece of land on the largest island, which is called the Great Island, and the provincial capital Ushuaia sits at the bottom of the triangle facing the Beagle Channel.
Many travelers come to Ushuaia to begin their cruises to Antarctica. However, the province of Tierra del Fuego has attractions of its own. The prime draws for North Americans are the wildlife, the trout fishing and the sheer grandeur of nature observed at the edge of human settlement.
A number of Tierra del Fuego’s islands near the Great Island also belong to Argentina, Travelers take boat trips from Ushuaia to those islands to observe penguins, sea lions, fur seals and various seabirds, and to spot dolphins and whales in the water along the way.
Perhaps surprisingly, part of the Great Island is ranch country. Today, ranchers around the city of Rio Grande on the east coast maintain quality lodges that play host to visiting anglers.
The Tierra del Fuego terrain varies from barren, windswept grasslands in the north to a rolling landscape and eventually densely wooded mountains in the south.
In the southwest, almost 160,000 acres comprise the Tierra del Fuego National Park, home to pristine lakes, rivers and glacial valleys, snowcapped mountains plus wildlife — beavers, guanacos, red foxes and birds. The island’s mountains also host the Cerro Castor ski resort, offering the country’s longest ski season.
Temperatures are more moderate than might be expected but never warm. In the province’s south, they may range from freezing to something above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and conditions are frequently misty and foggy. Also, in the south, there is no dry season. The province is windy year-round, making it feel colder.
Things to do for Venturers
- Overnight in the guesthouse at the Estancia Harberton, a 50,000-acre farm still owned by members of the 19th century founder and open from mid-October to mid-April. Camp on the property’s grounds if you prefer. Enjoy a homestead tour and self-guided walks.
- Kayak in the Beagle Channel, and head to Gable and Penguin islands.
- Hike in the Tierra del Fuego National Park.
- Or, if you are feeling ambitious, trek to the top of Glacier Martial, an exercise that will yield sweeping views of the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia.
- Join a guided hike or horseback tour to follow (roughly) the late-19th century Lucas Bridges Trail between Estancia Harberton and Lake Fagnano.
- Try your luck with fly-fishing for trout at the rivers around the town of Rio Grande in the north of Tierra del Fuego province. Overnight at a lodge at one of the area’s historic ranches.
Things to do for Centrics
- Ski at Cerro Castor, a modern ski center that has snow until October. Choose cross-country or downhill skiing. Register for skiing or snowboarding lessons if appropriate.
- Take any of a number of boat excursions to see wildlife such as dolphins (including orcas), penguins, sea lions, fur seals, whales, plus cormorants and other seabirds.
- If penguins are a special interest, join a catamaran trip from Ushuaia to Martillo Island to see the Magellanic penguins that nest here. Or, take a walk among the penguins (Martillo Island is part of Estancia Harberton, and tours depart from the homestead). There are limits to the number of people allowed to visit each day and rules about where you can walk — and only with a guide — for the protection of both humans and penguins.
- Ride a dogsled pulled by Siberian huskies.
- For bird-watchers, choose a ferry from Ushuaia to Isla de Pajaros (Bird Island) or Bridges Islands, for seals and birds. Or, look for migratory birds in the Costa Atlantica Reserve on the eastern part of the island. Also, see Andean condors on your must-do trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park.
- Take a day trip to Escondido and Fagnano lakes, traveling from Ushuaia in a 4X4 and then, with your guide, hike the trails to the lakes.
Things to do for Authentics
- Take a guided tour of Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost urban area.
- Shop for beech wood carvings in Ushuaia. Also, look for products hand-knitted with yarn that was colored with dyes made from local plants.
- Take a walk on snowshoes in the woods at Cerro Castor.
- Visit the Maritime Museum, housed in Ushuaia’s old prison, to learn about the history of Tierra del Fuego. Also, see the Museum of the End of the World for the same reason.
- Eat locally caught seafood, especially the king crabs.
- Ride a tourist train — the End of the World Train — from near Ushuaia into the Tierra del Fuego National Park. It uses steam locomotives.
For more information, consult Argentina Tourist Information at www.turismo.gov.ar/eng/menu.htm