PARQUE NACIONAL TIERRA DEL FUEGO, a mere 12km west of Ushuaia, is the easiest to access of southern Argentina’s national parks. Protecting 630 square kilometres of jagged mountains, intricate lakes, southern beech forest, swampy peat bog, sub-antarctic tundra and verdant coastline, the park stretches along the frontier with Chile, from the Beagle Channel to the Sierra Inju-Goiyin (also called the Sierra Beauvoir) north of Lago Fagnano, but only the southernmost quarter of this is open to the public, accessed via the RN-3 from Ushuaia. Fortunately, this area contains much of the park’s most beautiful scenery, if also some of the wettest – bring rain gear.
The quarter is broken down into three main sectors: Bahía Ensenada and Río Pipo in the east, close to the station for the Tren del Fin del Mundo; Lago Roca further west; and the Lapataia area south of Lago Roca, which includes Laguna Verde and, at the end of the RN-3, Bahía Lapataia. You can get a good overview of the park in a day, but walkers will want to stay two to three days to appreciate the scenery and the wildlife, which includes birds such as Magellanic Woodpeckers (carpintero patagónico), condors, Steamer Ducks, Kelp Geese – the park’s symbol – and Buff-necked Ibises; and mammals such as the guanaco, the rare southern sea otter (nutria marina), the Patagonian grey fox and its larger cousin, the native Fuegian red fox, once heavily hunted for its pelt.
The park is also one of southern Argentina’s easiest to walk around, and offers several relatively unchallenging though beautiful trails (sendas), many of which are completed in minutes rather than hours or days; the best is arguably the scenic Senda Costera (Coastal Path) connecting Bahía Ensenada with Lago Roca and Bahía Lapataia. The spectacular climb up Cerro Guanaco from Lago Roca is comparatively tough, though hardened trekkers will find sterner physical challenges in the Sierra Valdivieso and the Sierra Alvear. Obey the signs warning you to refrain from collecting shellfish – which are sometimes affected by poisonous red tide – and light fires only in permitted campsites, extinguishing them with water, not earth.Read More
Ushuaia lies 1000km north of Antarctica, but is still the world’s closest port to the white continent – and most tourists pass through the town to make their journey across Drake’s Passage, the wild stretch of ocean that separates it from South America. The grandeur of Antarctica’s pack ice, rugged mountains and phenomenal bird and marine life will leave you breathless: whales, elephant seals, albatrosses and numerous species of penguins are just some of the species you can hope to see. Regular cruise ships depart from November to mid-March and most cruises last between eight and 22 days, some stopping at the South Atlantic islands (Islas Malvinas/Falklands, South Georgia, the South Orkneys, Elephant Island and the South Shetlands) en route. These trips are generally very expensive (at least US$4500). Occasionally you can get last-minute discounts in Ushuaia, especially on the newest ships, which are less likely to sell out their berths, though don’t expect much in the way of bargains. Ushuaia’s Oficina Antártica at the Muelle Turístico (t02901/430015) has details of current sailings and can advise on what each trip involves; otherwise, try contacting Antarpply, at Gob. Paz 633 (t02901/436747, wwww.antarpply.com), or Quark Expeditions (wwww.quarkexpeditions.com).
Tierra del Fuego’s surprising avian residents
Tierra del Fuego’s surprising avian residents
Parrots and hummingbirds are two types of birds most visitors to South America quite naturally associate more with the steamy, verdant jungles of the Amazon than the frigid extremes of Tierra del Fuego. Nevertheless, don’t go jumping to conclusions, as you can see both in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. The unmistakably garrulous Austral Parakeet is the world’s most southerly parrot, inhabiting these temperate forests year-round. The Selk’nam christened it Kerrhprrh, in onomatopoeic imitation of its call. Once upon a time, according to their beliefs, all Fuegian trees were coniferous, and it was Kerrhprrh who transformed some into deciduous forests, painting them autumnal reds with the feathers of its breast. The tiny Green-backed Firecrown is the planet’s most southerly hummingbird, and has been recorded – albeit rarely – flickering about flowering shrubs in summer. Known to the Selk’nam by the graceful name of Sinu K-Tam (Daughter of the Wind), this diminutive creature was, curiously, believed by them to be the offspring of Ohchin, the whale, and Sinu, the wind.