Tierra del Fuego National Park is closer to the Antarctic Peninsula than it is to Argentina’s capital city of Buenos Aires. And that, if anything, should give you an idea of what to expect from the Argentine national park. But before you write it off for being too cold or too remote, consider the fact that in addition to being part of the subantarctic forest and having plenty of tundra and glaciers, Tierra del Fuego is also home to a vibrant coastline lined with jagged peaks, thick beech forest, and a wild array of animals — including a relative of the camel.
Tierra del Fuego National Park is small but mighty. It’s practically as far south as you can get, sitting just on the Argentine side of the Argentine-Chilean border. And it has a big job. The park protects the Andean-Patagonian forests found at the point where the Andes Mountains meet the sea. Along with the neighbouring town of Ushuaia, it acts as the gateway to Antarctica, a continent that is covered in ice and home to very few humans (and a few million penguins).
Tierra del Fuego feels like another planet entirely, and in some ways, it is. Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia are often called the “end of the world,” but for travellers in the know, they’re the start of a great adventure. Here’s what you need to know about Tierra del Fuego, including when to go, how to get there, and what you won’t want to miss.
Everything you need to know before planning a trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park
Things to do in Tierra del Fuego National Park
Everything in Tierra del Fuego revolves around the landscape, which is unlike anywhere else on Earth. The park has over 20 miles (32 km) of hiking trails that allow travellers to explore the wild landscape at their own pace. The Beacon Trail is open year-round and takes just 30 minutes to complete. Along the way, you’ll hike from the Bahía Lapataia footbridges to a coastal forest before passing beaver farms and ending at the coast. Those looking for more of a challenge should check out the park’s Coastal Trail, which traverses a stunning coastal environment in a journey that takes around four hours. The Coastal Trail is only open between November and April (when it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere).
Another way to get up close to the biodiversity and landscape of Tierra del Fuego is by kayak or canoe. You can paddle around Lake Acigami or down the Lapataia River and enjoy the views (the mountains look even bigger from the water). Just make sure you book with an approved park tour operator, like Canal.
You can also hit the park’s beaches — Ensenada Zaratiegui, La Baliza, and Lago Acigami — which are beautiful, but relatively chilly year-round. Sport fishing is allowed in the Lapataia and Ovando Rivers between November 1 and May 1 with a permit.
Where to stay near Tierra del Fuego, National Park
You can camp for free without reservations, but you need to be mindful of the weather and be prepared to find limited services. From November to April, the camps of Pipo River, Cove, and Green Lagoon/Cauquenes all have toilets (with no other services), while the Walker Lagoon camp, which requires an eight-hour hike, is completely primitive.
Those looking for a bit more than a toilet and a tent will need to stay in Ushuaia, the area’s urban centre. The cream of the crop is easily the five-star Arakur Ushuaia Resort & Spa. The rooms and food are top-notch, but the spa is the real showstopper, with huge picture windows looking out over the water, outdoor hot tubs, and a series of trails that start from the resort and traverse the neighbouring Cerro Alarkén Nature Reserve.
Meanwhile, the three-star Hotel los Ñires is situated along the coastline between Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego National Park, providing easy access to both destinations.
When to go to Tierra del Fuego National Park
The weather in Tierra del Fuego is cold and humid with plenty of rain and snow. The best time to visit is during the Southern Hemisphere summer, which runs from the end of October to April (this is also when all the trails open and excursions operate). The days are long this time of the year, providing travellers with more time to explore.
Winter arrives in Tierra del Fuego between May and September. During their winter season, the snowfall can be heavy and intense, roads often close, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing replace hiking and kayaking.
How to get to Tierra del Fuego National Park
For a destination so remote — we’re talking the “end of the world” here — Tierra del Fuego is surprisingly easy to access. The park entrance is just over 15 minutes from Ushuaia Airport (USH) by car and there are several daily direct flights between Ushuaia and Buenos Aires.
For a true arrival experience, take the End of the World Train into the park. You’ll learn about the prisoners who made this journey every day as you enjoy unbelievable scenery, including the Pipo River, La Macarena waterfall, a tree cemetery, and inaccessible parts of the park.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
Main and Feature Image Credit: Martin Harvey/Getty Images