A trip to the end of the earth, 4 days in the Tierra del Fuego

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
7
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
5
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
7
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
6
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
4
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
7
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
67 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
South America
country
Argentina
Length of time
3-4 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 650
Time of year visited
January
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
141st/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 40% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

You typically read about Patagonia in its extremes  – how far south, how remote, how windswept and desolate.  The Tierra del Fuego is the extreme of Patagonia as the southernmost tip of the Americas and is as strange as it is alluring.  Mountains and volcanoes surround you as you arrive in Ushuaia, the southern most city on earth, and you find yourself in the centre of a big playground of glacial lakes, channels and echoes of past culture of the original Fuegian natives.  All giving you a chance to explore and feel what it must have been like for the first explorers, like Magellan and Captain Fitzroy, as they passed through this otherworldly place

Many only arrive in Ushuaia as their departure point for the Antarctic, yet find this little-known to be the highlight.  We opted for doing a combination of taking a tour company for their 4x4s etc as well as doing parts on our own and found that to be the right mix

highlights

#1 Hiking up to the bright blues and greens of Lake Esmeralda - like everything in the Tierra del Fuego, the brightness (and muddiness) can be weather dependant. But, if its a bright day, the colours from the glacial lake and the hike over the soft mosses, rivers and mountains, are stunning

#2 Boat trip around the Beagle Channel - surrounded on all sides by the steep slopes of the Tierra del Fuego mountains, the seals and penguins living on the islands really make you imagine what it must have been like for the explorers as they first made their way through this new world

#3 Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego - whilst fairly small and compact, its fun to explore the ancient Fuegian forests of this coastal national park

#4 - Sampling some of the surprisingly good food, made from fresh local produce and typically with glorious views over the Beagle Channel

#5 Canoeing across some of the crystal clear lakes

#6 4x4 trips to Lake Fagnano and Lake Escondido - going off-road and seeing some of the isolated parts of the lakes, the surrounding breathtaking landscapes and stopping for some lunch by Lake Fagnano

#7 Seeing what life was like back in the time of the pioneers (and even earlier in the times of the native Fuegians) at the Maritime Museum of Ushuaia and the old prison

#8 Getting a chance just to walk around this rather unusual part of the world with its distinct wildlife, cross-cross steams and slow-paced landscapes

Background

Tierra del Fuego – while distant and isolated, Tierra del Fuego is by no means cut off from the mainland as ports buzz with commerce and oil refineries prosper, while adventure seekers descend in droves to fly fish, hike and begin Antarctic cruises. Shared with Chile, this archipelago features one large island, Isla Grande, Chile’s Isla Navarino and many smaller uninhabited isles.

Ushuaia – a busy port and adventure hub, Ushuaia is a sliver of steep streets and jumbled buildings below the snowcapped Martial Range. Here the Andes meets the famed Beagle Channel in a sharp skid, making way for the city before reaching a sea of lapping currents. Ushuaia takes full advantage of its end-of-the-world status, and an increasing number of Antarctica-bound vessels call into its port.  Tierra del Fuego’s comparatively high wages draw Argentines from all over, and some locals lament the lack of urban planning and loss of small-town culture

History – in 1870 the British-based South American Missionary Society set its sights on the Yahgan (or Yámana), a nomadic tribe whose members thrived in brutal weather conditions almost entirely naked–they didn’t have any permanent shelter to keep clothing dry, and they believed that the natural oil of their skin was better protection than soaking-wet animal fur. Charles Darwin branded them ‘the lowest form of humanity on earth.’ Missionary Thomas Bridges didn’t agree. After years among them, he created a Yahgan-English dictionary in the late 19th century, deeming their language complex and subtle. The mission made Ushuaia its first permanent Fuegian outpost, but the Yahgan, who had survived 6000 years without contact, were vulnerable to foreign-brought illnesses and faced increasing infringement by sealers, settlers and gold prospectors. Four Yahgan, including a teenager dubbed ‘Jimmy Button,’ were kidnapped by the naval captain Robert FitzRoy and shipped back to England to be educated and paraded around as examples of gentrified savages. One died of disease. After months of public criticism, FitzRoy agreed to return the others to their homeland. The tribe’s legacy is now reduced to shell mounds, Thomas Bridges’ famous dictionary and Jimmy Button souvenirs

Between 1884 and 1947 the city became a penal colony, incarcerating many notorious criminals and political prisoners, both here and on remote Isla de los Estados. Since 1950 the town has been an important naval base

Heading out into the wilderness, you’ll see a lot of what appear to be inland lakes or bogs which in fact are beaver lakes.  Beavers were introduced from Canada in the 40s for commercial fur trading, but couldn’t be used because the winters in the Tierra del Fuego aren’t as harsh as those in Canada so the furs aren’t as thick.  Further problem was that once the beavers were introduced they were very difficult to remove.  Many parts of the Tierra del Fuego represent a mini beaver paradise with no natural predators for them, but a disaster for the local environment

Rough itinerary

  • Base yourself in Ushuaia or just outside, as many of the activities will naturally focus immediately near the town, and 3 days
  • Give yourself:
    • A day for the hike up to Lake Esmralda and the 4×4/canoeing trip
    • Half a day for the boat trip around the Beagle Channel and the trip over to the Tierra del Fuego National Park
    • The extra day gives you a bit of flexibility to adapt to the weather and have a wander around Ushuaia

Travel Tips

  • For the half day trip hiking around the Tierra del Fuego National Park, the half day boat trip around the Beagle Channel, and the 4×4 / canoeing full day trip we went with the tour company Tierra Tourismo.  Couldn’t recommend them more and the guides were fantastic.  Prices below
    • Boat trip on the Beagle Channel.    Leaves 9am or 3pm.  4 hours trip total.  Boat trip, visit to the light house, sea lion island, bird island and hike on bridges island.  USD55 per person + port tax.  For further details see Boat trip around the Beagle Channel in the Tierra del Fuego
    • Half day trip hiking around the Tierra del Fuego National Park.  Tour around the national park with a Landrover Defender (4×4).  USD63 per person
    • 4×4 & Canoeing.  Landrover Defender (4×4) to Escondido and Fagnano Lakes, 4×4 circuits, trekking through the forest, lunch at a shelter, and a canoe trip on Escondido Lake.  8 hours.  USD127 per person.   See more details here – 4x4s around the Tierra del Fuego
  • Doing it yourself – that being said, you could easily arrange the Beagle Channel boat trip yourself and likely get a taxi for a hike over to the Tierra del Fuego National Park (but wouldn’t be able to see some of the spots as easily as with a 4×4)
  • For Lake Esmeralda – it’s simple to get a taxi from Ushuaia to the starting point of the hike.  Basically the Parking Laguna Esmeralda on google maps and the taxi driver will know.  But you’ll also want to ask if the driver fancies picking you up at the end of the hike as it could be a bit isolating waiting for a taxi / a ride from the Lake back to Ushuaia.  Takes around 4 hours for the 10km / 20,000 steps hike.  Not overly difficult, but obviously keep an eye on the weather.  See more details in the Hiking Lake Esmeralda in the Tierra del Fuego experience
  • Restaurants – we were pleasantly surprised at local restaurants and would highly recommend:
    • Kaupe
    • Kalma
    • Paso Garibaldi
    • Maria Lola
  • Ushuaia itself is actually quite a cool town.  We expected either a small village or some big industrialised port and its kind of both, in a nice way!  You have a lot of the ferries coming through, but you also have an adventure outpost feel in the main part of town with ski shops, outdoor gear, backpackers and general excitement for those about to head off into the wilderness / Antarctica
  • Accommodation – we stayed in the Los Yamanas hotel just outside of town.  Wouldn’t overly recommend it
  • Books
    • I couldn’t more highly recommend This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson, one of my favourite books.  This charts, in historical fiction-style, the true story of Captain Fitzoy’s journey to chart the Tierra del Fuego, meeting the native Fuegians and bringing the young Charles Darwin with him
    • In Patagonia.  Bruce Chatwin’s account of his journey through Patagonia to see the windswept landscapes, descendants of Welsh immigrants, forgotten legends and a feeling of adventure in seeing “the uttermost part of the earth”
  • Wish I’d seen – some spots, looking back, I wish we’d have taken the time to check out were the Hikes Around Fort Williams on Isla Navarino; and biting the bullet for a cruise over too Antarctica – I wasn’t that fussed before I went, but now can see the awesome appeal

Experiences nearby

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone