Tierra del Fuego: exploring the land of fire

Fishing boats across the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego

Dec, 2015: Tierra del Fuego is an exceptionally rugged part of the world beset with crazy weather but a stunning landscape. While waiting for our expedition to Antarctica, we had the pleasure of exploring the Argentinean side of it. Tierra del Fuego was named after the local indigenous tribes’ fires which were burning when the Portuguese explorer Magellan sailed around the bottom of South America in 1520. Today the name refers to the Chilean and Argentinean islands which form the southern most tip of south america and which are separated from the rest of the continent by the Straights of Magellan. We were based in Ushuaia.

View down the Beagle Channel from the southern most city in the world

View down the Beagle Channel from the southern most city in the world

Exploring in and around Ushuaia

At first we found Ushuaia to be a fairly uninspiring place but gradually the ramshackle port/tourist town and the stunning Tierra del Fuego scenery definitely grew on us. The little settlement sits in a slightly sheltered bay and looks across the Beagle channel to the much smaller Chilean outpost of Puerto Navarino. In one or two days we had pretty much explored the length and breadth of the town enjoying the original corrugated iron clad houses and the whole lambs grilling over open coals in the windows. While we didn’t eat out a whole lot there due to cost (we found Patagonia to be one of the most expensive areas in Latin America) we did have an amazing lunch perched at the bar of a local greasy spoon feasting on huge steak sandwiches. We loved watching the grill man smashing out huge milanesas and hamburgers while carving off juicy chunks of grilled beef for the hungry hoards of lumberjack looking locals.

Outside of Ushuaia we got to enjoying the beautiful scenery with a couple of easy day hikes. We spent a lovely day hiking the tranquil yet stunning trails of the Tierra del Fuego National Park and I found myself reminded of my ever-increasing fear of heights when we climbed to the top of Martial Glacier above Ushuaia.  On another day we headed out to the milky green Laguna Esmeralda, took a wrong turn and got mildly lost on the Patagonian bogs which surround the stunning little lake. At one point, the trail we were on petered out into nothing and we were left standing at the end of a small ridge which gradually melted away into a seemingly never ending expanse of marshy swampland and more bogs. After a bit of a Davey Crockett moment where I thought we may need to build a lean-to and start a fire for smoke signals we managed to find our way back to the path and get on with enjoying the stunning views around us.

Exploring the Tierra del Fuego National Park

Exploring the Tierra del Fuego National Park

Exploring further afield

Next we hired a little car and headed further afield to take in a loop out to Lago Escondido and back via Estancia Harberton.  As always it was great to hire a car and the drive out through the towering glacial valleys and windswept mountain passes to visit the glassy stillness of Lago Escondido was pretty special.  We spent the night in a cosy little cabin at Hosteria Kaiken overlooking the massive Lago Fagnano and splurged on patagonian lamb and bottles of cheap red.  The next day we came back via Estancia Harberton (original sheep station of the area) for a bit of history on the original inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego and the challenges faced by sheep farmers in the late 1800’s and first half of the1900’s. Finally, before returning our little wheels to Ushuaia we stopped in at the scruffy little fishing village of Almanza to feast on King Crab ‘volcano’ and Cazuela de Mariscos (seafood stew) at the cosy La Mesita del Almanza. The super friendly husband and wife team brought us craft beers and steaming plates of rich, delicious seafood, while just outside the Beagle channel came and went behind churning squalls of mist and cloud. As we sat in the tiny, light filled dining room we couldn’t have been more content with the end of our road trip.

Looking out over Estancia Barberton, the original sheep station of Tierra del Fuego

Looking out over Estancia Harberton

Tierra del Fuego travel and feasting tips:

  • Before our Antarctica trip we stayed at La Posta Hostel in Ushuaia (~USD80/night/double room*, 864 Peron Sur, which was a great, family run place with a good kitchen albeit a good 20 minutes walk out of town towards the airport. After our trip we had one final night in the cute little La Casa en Ushuaia (USD90/night/twin room*,1380 Gobernador Paz,
  • A two day car hire from Ushuaia set us back around USD40 per day* (plus fuel) but was well worth it to explore Lago Escondido, Lago Fagnano, Estancia Harberton and Almanza not to mention all the stunning countryside in between
  • Hosteria Kaiken, just outside of Tolhuin has great little cabins looking out over Lago Fagnano (USD98/night/twin cabin*, Km 2958 Ruta No. 3, Tolhuin, Highly recommend perching up in the lounge / bar with a bottle of red watching the crazy Patagonian weather blow over the lake.
  • Head out to Estancia Harberton for a glimpse into Patagonia’s pastoral history. The daily tour of the old sheep station and the bird and marine mammal museum are well worth it. (
  • If you’re heading to Estancia Harberton, then it’s definitely worth making a detour to Almanza for a seafood feast and a few craft beers at La Mesita del Almanza. It’s a tiny little place on the right of the only road into town so keep your eyes peeled as you drive into town. (

*Exchange rate: keep in mind that the Argentinean Peso exchange rate was changing a lot when we were there so prices will have changed somewhat since.

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