Puerto de pasajeros de Ushuaia
photo by Jorge Gobbi

Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago off the south of South America, separated from the mainland by the Magellan Strait. The 73,753 km² archipelago was divided between Argentina and Chile in 1881. The eastern part belongs to Argentina (the Territory of Tierra del Fuego) and its main towns are Rio Grande and Ushuaia. The western part belongs to Chile (Magallanes province) and its main towns are Porvenir and Puerto Williams. Cape Horn is at the southernmost part of the archipelago, in Chilean land.


"Tierra del Fuego" (Spanish: "Land of Fire") got its name from Ferdinand Magellan who, on passing the archipelago in 1520, spotted a number of fires burning along the coastline. These fires may have been made by the archipelago's aboriginal inhabitants: the Ona, Alakaluf and Yahgan (commonly called Yamana). Four aboriginals were taken from Tierra del Fuego in 1830 by Robert Fitzroy, and were sailed to Britain to meet the King. The three survivors later returned to Tierra del Fuego on the Beagle, with Charles Darwin, who believed the native Fuegans to be "the missing link".

The arrival of missionaries, introduction of sheep farming and the discovery of gold in the 1880s led to European, Argentine, and Chilean immigrants, which gradually killed off the native Fuegans. An excellent book on the history of the Yamana and their demise is The Uttermost Part of the Earth by E. Lucas Bridges, the son of one of the early missionaries. His father, Thomas Bridges, documented what he could of the Yamana language and found that it had a larger vocabulary than the English language.

Today, the economy is based on petroleum, tourism, textiles, electronics and, to a decreasing degree, sheep-farming.

The western parts of the archipelago form the southernmost tip of the Andes range. The eastern parts are an extension of the Patagonian plateau. Based in the south of Patagonia, the climate is cold but warmer than many assume; in winter, the average temperature is -2. In summer, it can climb to 30, although in reality it rarely rises far beyond 10. There are frequent high winds and much rainfall, especially in the coastal areas.


  • Ushuaia (Argentina) - Tourist centre of Tierra del Fuego, and base for most excursions, treks and trips to Antarctica. Arguably the most southerly city in the world.

  • Rio Grande (Argentina) - The economic capital of Argentine Tierra del Fuego, its industries include oil, textiles and cattle breeding.

  • Porvenir (Chile) - A small city and base for crossing the Magellan Strait to the mainland.

  • Puerto Williams (Chile) - The only settlement on Naravino Island, and arguably the most southerly town in the world.

Other destinations

  • Tierra del Fuego National Park - a rugged, mountainous national park with great views of Lapataia Bay.

Getting there

There are regular Aerolineas Argentinas flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and Rio Grande. Air services also link major settlements to Punta Arenas in Chile. Buses from all over Argentina enter Tierra del Fuego via Rio Gallegos. NB Buses running from Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia all pass through Chilean land, so include two border crossings. A regular ship, the ferry Melinka, links Porvenir and Punta Arenas, and naval vessels supply Ushuaia and Isla Navarino, Chile.

Traveling around

Roads are poor in Tierra del Fuego, and, apart from the tourist tour train, there are no railways. There is little public transport. However, tours / transport can be booked through the Tourist Office (on San Martin, Ushuaia) or through many of the hostels. Taxis are another option, costing, for example, Ar$7 to get from the city centre to either the airport or Glaciar Martial. There are also several car / bicycle hire companies in Ushuaia.


  • Museo Marítimo - Located in Ushuaia's old prison, this excellent museum displays a collection of the history of Tierra del Fuego.

  • Estancia Haberton - Open only in the summer months, Estancia Haberton is a worthwhile trip for those interested in the Bridges family and their role in the local history.

Things to do

  • Hike the Glacier Martial - Provided that you wear comfortable shoes and have the patience, a hike up the Glacier Martial will provide a very beautiful view of Ushuaia and the Beagle Chanel. There is also a single ski slope open during the winter months, and ski hire is available from the site. The cheapest way to get there is by taxi from Ushuaia, which costs Ar$7.

  • Catamaran trips - Catamaran trips will take you around the Beagle channel and give you nice views of the mountains, cormorants, sea lions and penguins.

  • Tierra del Fuego National Park - This national park provide some nice day hikes on well marked trails.

  • Cerro Castor - This centre for winter sports offers skiing and snowboarding. Nearby, you can also ride snowcats or husky sleighs during the winter.

  • Kayak the Beagle Channel - Kayaks can be hired near Ushuaia's Aeroparque, on the promontory.

  • The Penguin Rookery

  • Fin del Mundo Train- A steam train running from Ushuaia to the national park.

  • Take a cruises - Several cruises operate from Ushuaia, taking in the Beagle Channel and some islands, eg Los Lobos Island.

  • Hike around Lakes Escondido and Fagnano - Beautiful spots to walk, relax, fish, or ride a horse.

  • Take a trip to Cabo San Pablo, Ojo del Albino or Laguna Esmeralda - These sites offer more stunning and rugged scenery.


A regional specialty is King Crab, called centolla in Spanish, and seafood is usually excellent. Otherwise, local cuisine follows the tendencies of Chile and Argentina in general. Fruit and vegetables have to be transported from thousands of miles away and, as such, are rarely tasty.


Ushuaia has several bars and one nightclub.


Crime rates on Tierra del Fuego are very low. If hiking or trekking, it is important to take warm, waterproof gear.


  • Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego - The main island, with an area of around 48,000 km², is commonly referred to as Tierra del Fuego or as Isla Grande. Shaped like a triangle (with its base at the Beagle Channel), the island's main cities are Ushuaia and Rio Grande, both on the eastern, Argentine side.

The five medium sized islands and numerous small islands, islets and rocks include:

  • The islands to the south of the Beagle Channel - Hoste, Navarin, Gordon, Londonderry, Stewart and Wollaston.

  • The western group of islands - Clarence Island, Desolation Land and Dawson Island.

Flights can be booked from the Aerolineas office in Ushuaia. Buses to Buenos Aires and other destinations (apart from Puerto Natales) all stop at Rio Gallegos. It can be cheaper to just buy a ticket to Rio Gallegos and purchase an onward ticket from there.

Contact & location

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The photos displayed on this page are the property of one of the following authors:

Jorge Gobbi, Nestor Galina, reurinkjan, Douglas F., Geoff Livingston, Ricardo Martins, Leszek Wasilewski, Joel Mann, Tanenhaus

Some photos courtesy of: . The photos provided by Flickr are under the copyright of their owners.

This travel guide also includes text from Wikitravel articles, all available at WikitravelView full credits

HJP, Kai Kranz, Colin Jensen and bexx, Rafcha, Tatatabot, DorganBot, Episteme, Jonboy and Dhum Dhum

This travel guide also includes text from Wikipedia articles, all available at WikipediaView full credits

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