Looking down the Beagle Channel from Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. Southern Patagonia, Argentina - Chile

Chile //

Tierra del Fuego

At the bottom end of the South American continent, and split between Chile and Argentina, Tierra del Fuego (“Land of Fire”) holds nearly as much fascination for travellers as Patagonia, from which it is separated by the Magellan Strait. In fact, it was Magellan who dreamed up the dramatic and somewhat unlikely name, after sighting dozens of fires lit by the native Yámana. Though comprising a number islands, it’s more or less the sum of its most developed part, the Isla Grande, the biggest island in South America. Argentina possesses the easternmost half of Isla Grande, plus Isla de los Estados (Staten Island) and a smattering of tiny islets to the south; the rest is Chilean territory.

On the Chilean side, you’ll find the isolated main town of Porvenir, which huddles on the Magellan Strait. Flat plains cover much of northern and central Isla Grande, but further south, the countryside becomes less barren, with thick woodland and crystalline rivers near little Camerón stretching southeast towards a number of exquisite lakes, including Lago Blanco, and the densely forested 2000m peaks of the Cordillera Darwin in the far south. South of Isla Grande, across the Beagle Channel, lies Isla Navarino, home to the tiny Puerto Williams, the southernmost permanently inhabited settlement in the world, plus one of the most challenging hiking trails in South America, the Los Dientes Circuit. Beyond Navarino is Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn), the land’s end of the Americas, accessible only by sea or air.