Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego
Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, is a long way from home. It’s even a long way from Buenos Aires – 1,500 air miles south – as well as from the Argentine Antarctica, some 600 miles north. So why are most of the planes coming here filled to capacity in the Argentine summer (November-March) and even tight in the winter? The lure is not the town itself, although it is picturesque enough. It’s because Ushuaia is the perfect base for exploring the wonders of nature on the island of Tierra del Fuego and the tiny islands south of it in the Beagle Channel that are largely Chilean and uninhabited. The town is also a great get-away point for trips to Argentinean Antarctica.
You’ll want to explore stunning Tierra del Fuego National Park, cruise almost close enough to touch a 30,000-year-old glacier and visit a tiny island inhabited only by penguins. In the winter you can ski, downhill or cross country, on fresh white snow. You can do all of these things and more from Ushuaia. All are readily accessible and well-organized. Tourism is big business at the tip of the Americas, but don’t expect to meet your next door neighbor – not yet anyway. If you enjoy experiencing new travel horizons, you should definitely consider a stop at Tierra del Fuego, which one of her native sons called the “Uttermost Part of the Earth.”
Tierra del Fuego
And so to Tierra del Fuego (Tee-AIR-uh del FUEY-go), a large irregularly-shaped island off the southern tip of South America. Tierra del Fuego was part of the continent until the final Ice Age when the waters separating it from the mainland broke through, stranding several native tribes. The meandering body of water was later named the “Straits of Magellan” for the Portuguese explorer who was the first to traverse it. The strait forms Tierra del Fuego’s western and northern boundaries. Magellan is also responsible for the island’s name – “Land of Fire.” When he sailed by in the 1520s he spied fires on the island. Lit by local Indians, these were not beacons of welcome, for in this case the natives were definitely not friendly.
The island is shared by Argentina and Chile. Chile governs the western portion of the island as well as 75% of the land. The Argentine portion, which is triangular in shape and covers approximately 8,000 square miles, abuts Chile to the west and the Beagle Channel to the south. More people (about 72,000) live in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, with 35,000 in each of the two major towns, Ushuaia and Rio Grande. Island residents are called Fuegians (Foo-JEE-ins).
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