Where the southern cone of South America narrows to a point, fringed with chill islands and glacier-carved granite peaks, lies the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. Though the latitude is seemingly inhospitable, this is a fertile place of lush forests and brilliant blue lakes; the Spanish named it the “Land of Fire” because of the many campsites seen glowing on the rugged shore every evening.
Today, the main island, bounded to the north by the Straits of Magellan, and to the south by stormy Cape Horn, is divided between Chile and Argentina. Punta Arenas, though just across the strait from Tierra del Fuego proper, is considered the gateway to the region; the largest city on the main island is Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s southernmost city and a popular point for embarking on Antarctic excursions. (Puerto Williams, Chile, is a bit farther south and also offers Antarctica access, but isn’t quite a city—just yet.) Both destinations feature prominently on many cold-weather bucket lists.
In between them is a rare and pristine world, much of it preserved as Tierra Del Fuego National Park. Only a fraction of the 630-square-kilometer (243-square-mile) park, convenient to Ushuaia (it is the “southernmost national park in the world), is open to the public, but several trails wend through the wildlife rich subantarctic forest and along the dramatic coast. Take the End of the World Train to the park entrance for an unforgettable excursion. Tolhuin, on the northern edge of the park (and almost exact center of the island, offers access to Lago Fagnano, one of Tierra del Fuego’s most beautiful spots.
Ushuaia also offers access to other impressive attractions, including Glacier Martial, which you can hike or ski at and Cerro Castor Ski Resort, if you end up in Ushuaia during the winter. Or, head across the Beagle Channel to the Penguin Rookery, passing the Isla de los Lobos (Island of the Wolves), Isla de los Pájaros and the Les Eclaireurs lighthouse.
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While most travelers base themselves in Ushuaia (or simply take a day trip from Punta Arenas), Tierra del Fuego’s second city is Rio Grande, a small town known for its monster trout, and as a mecca for fly fisherman from around the world.
There are several other popular spots for trekking scattered around the island, and guides are highly recommended. Remember, even if you’re visiting in the summer, pack for cool weather and survival situations. This truly is the rough and wild edge of the world, worth both your effort and respect.