The main route between Tolhuin and Río Grande is the fast, paved RN-3, but if you have the time it’s worth exploring one or more of the unsealed rutas complementarias (RC) that branch off it – alphabetized roads that provide access to the heartland of Argentine Tierra del Fuego but are only really accessible to those with their own transport. Dotted around this inhospitable land are some hospitable estancias, worth the journey for the authentic experience of seeing a working Fuegian farm, or for the opportunity to gallop on horses across the steppe.
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The RCh and RCf loop
The RCh and RCf loop
The RCh, which branches off the RN-3 22km north of Tolhuin, and the connecting RCf, which joins the RN-3 some 10km south of the bridge over the Río Grande, form a 120km loop that passes through swathes of transitional Fuegian woodland and grassy pasture-meadows (vegas) populated by sheep. Along RCh you’ll see cone-shaped Mount Yakush and pyramid-like Mount Atukoyak to the south before the road joins the RCf by Lago Yehuin, a popular fishing locale and a good place for spotting condors, which nest on Cerro Shenolsh between the lake and its shallow neighbour, Lago Chepelmut.
Some 40km north of Tolhuin, the most beautiful of the central rutas complementarias – the RCa – branches east through golden pastureland towards the coast and the knobbly protrusion of Cabo San Pablo. A wonderful panorama stretches out from the south side of Cabo San Pablo, encompassing the wreck of the Desdémona, grounded during a storm in the early 1980s – at low tide, you can walk out to the ship – but the area is mainly of interest to fishermen. Beyond the cape, the road continues for 17km through wetlands and burnt-out “tree cemeteries” and past the odd beaver dam to the Estancia Fueguina, from where you’ll need a high-clearance 4WD to progress any further.
The public track eventually fizzles out at Estancia María Luisa, 18km further on, just beyond which run the famous fishing rivers, Irigoyen and Malengüeña. This is the beginning of the Península Mitre, the bleak toe of land that forms the southeastern extremity of Tierra del Fuego. This semi-wilderness – primarily swampy moorland and thickets fringed by rugged coastal scenery – was once the territory of the indigenous Mannekenk, whose presence is attested to by old shell middens. Before the 1850s, the only white men who came ashore were sailors and scientists, such as Fitz Roy and Darwin, as well as shipwreck victims; the remains of many wrecks line the shore, including the late nineteenth-century Duchess of Albany, near Bahía Policarpo. Apart from a few gauchos, the peninsula is now effectively uninhabited, and the only way to explore the area is on guided horseriding excursions with Centro Hípico Ushuaia (Ruta 3, west of town; t02901 1556 8278, wcentrohipicoushuaia.com.ar), which runs trips down the Costa de los Naufragios, from Estancia María Luisa to Estancia Policarpo and back.