Tierra del Fuego

Separated from the mainland by the Magellan Straits, the windswept archipelago of Tierra del Fuego is the end of the world, the final stretch of land that man has tamed before the frozen continent of Antarctica.

Cut off from the rest of the world and facing the angry waters of the Drake Passage, Tierra del Fuego is where the Andes slide into the sea. A land whittled by icy waterways and marbled glaciers, where thick forests stand before granite spires. 400 years ago, as Megellan battled the tempestuous southern seas, he cast his eyes ashore and saw a glowing coastline with smoke drifting into the skies. These were the bonfires of the Yámana tribe and thus inspired, named the region Land of Smoke. The name was later changed by Charles V who rightly reasoned that no smoke could exist without fire.

Isla Grande is the largest and only developed island among the many that make up Tierra del Fuego, of which one third is Argentinian. The island can be separated into three different landscape zones: the northern part is the bleak, treeless Patagonian Plateau where the oil and gas industry have dug deep into the ground. Centrally positioned between the mountains and steppe are Lakes Fagnano, Escondido, Yehuin and Chepel which give way to the deep forested valleys and silver shores of the southern region.


Meaning the "bay that stretches towards the west" in the Yámana language, Usuhuaia clings to a patch of Tierra del Fuego facing the Beagle Channel watched over by the snow-capped Martial Range. The city's history is rather bleak; although founded by British missionaries in 1869, it was the convicts incarcerated in the penal colony that built the city and earned it the reputation as the "Siberia of Argentina".

Today Ushuaia's life revolves around tourism with its port the gateway to Antarctica. Wind-swept and rather erratic in how it has grown over the years, the city still has a touch of frontier town about it. Colourful clapboard houses mingle with high rise buildings gradually creeping into the countryside beyond the city. The city takes full advantage of its "end-of-the-status" - the southernmost train, the southernmost brewery, the southernmost post office and so the list continues. Even the daily newspaper has the somewhat dubious name of El Diario del Fin del Mundo: The Journal of the End of the World.

More appealing for history buffs is a visit to Patagonia's oldest sheep farm, Haberton Estancia. Originally built by Rev. Thomas Bridges, the missionary who penned the Yámana-English Dictionary, the farmstead stands in field of grasslands backed by rolling green hills. On clear days stretch your legs and climb to the hill behind the house from where there are tremendous views across the waterways and islets. From Haberton you can also reach Isal Martillo where a colony of Magellanic penguins nest from October to late March.

La Cuarenta

The country's longest road, Ruta 40 has legendary status in the Argentine psyche. Stretching 5224km from the Bolivian border in the north to Cabo Vírgenes in Tierra del Fuego, the road has inspired songs, poems and works of literature. The road carries the traveller through barren desert, along sparkling salt flats, through fruitful vineyards, across Andean mountains and around glacial lakes. The road can be magical, desolate and frustrating all at the same time.

Merino wool

With so many sheep it is perhaps unsurprising that wool is an important product of Patagonia. About 75% of the sheep in Patagonia are Merino and one of the most renowned estancias for its production is Monte Dinero. Situated on the southernmost tip of the Argentinian mainland not far from Cabo Vírgenes and its colony of Magellenic penguins, the estancia has been in the Fenton family for several generations and offers visitors a fascinating insight into the wool trade accompanied with warm hospitality.


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