Mapping out the Tierra del Fuego in southern Argentina and Chile

This year is the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Strait of Magellan — the perfect opportunity for new explorers to chart their own voyage to the remote Chilean fjords.Thursday, 27 February 2020

Five-hundred years ago, a Spanish expedition led by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand de Magellan discovered the 350-mile ocean passage that separates the southern end of the Americas from the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego — meaning ‘land of fire’, a name Magellan bestowed on this new world because of the bonfires the indigenous Selk’nam people used to light. Today, Patagonia remains one of the world’s wilder frontiers. However, a new chapter in the region’s history is being written. Once something of a far-flung backpacking destination, upmarket tours and luxury cruises that showcase the dramatic beauty of the Tierra del Fuego are now putting the Atlantic coasts of Patagonia on the map once again.

Why go
A trip to Tierra del Fuego offers the chance for an island getaway unlike any other. It’s a world of ice floes, snowy mountain ranges, mossy forests and windswept plains where wild horses run free. Its storied past speaks of ambitious pioneers, shipwrecks and colonisation at the ends of the earth; the province has a rich and vibrant cultural heritage and is home to glaciers, pristine national parks and fascinating flora and fauna.

What to see
Where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet at the southernmost headland of the archipelago you’ll find Cabo de Hornos, or Cape Horn — the mythical ‘end of the Earth’. It’s the northern boundary of the Drake Passage, and due to powerful winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs, rounding of the horn is said to be the yachting equivalent of scaling Everest.

Less dramatic — but only owing to its adorable inhabitants — is Magdalena Island, home to a colony of thousands of breeding pairs of Magellanic penguin. In the Chilean fjords’ ‘Glacier Alley’, the massive Pia glacier creaks and groans as it slouches down the mountain and into the ocean. Then follow in the footsteps of Darwin by visiting Wulaia Bay, with its verdant blanket of thick Magellenic forests, the historical home of one of the largest settlements of the Yamana people.

Don't miss
Distant though it might be, Tierra del Fuego is by no means cut off with bustling Chilean and Argentinian ports serving as the gateway to numerous cruises in the area. Visitors to Ushuaia in Argentina should look out for the Museum at the End of the World, a remarkable treasury that celebrates the rich heritage of the region. Just a few miles outside the city, the Martial Glacier, meanwhile, is a stunning hiking spot in the summer and, with the arrival of the winter snows, a drawcard for ski bunnies.

In the sprawling metropolis of Punta Arenas, be sure to stop by the Nao Victoria Museum, which exhibits a full-size replica of Magellan’s Nao Victoria, the first ship ever to circumnavigate the world, as well as the opulent Plaza Muñoz Gamero, with its nearby monument erected in 1920 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Magellan’s voyage.

How to do it
Australis has been voyaging the waters of Cape Horn, the Beagle Channel and Strait of Magellan for 30 years, allowing travellers intimate access to these extreme and otherworldly landscapes — all from the comfort of a world-class cruising vessel. With points of embarkation and disembarkation in the Argentinian resort hub of Ushuaia and Punta Arenas in Chile ­(both cities well worth exploring in their own right and easily accessible from Buenos Aires or Santiago de Chile respectively), the ‘end of the Earth’ is all but at your feet.

Getting there
British Airways fly from Heathrow to Ushuaia, with a stopover in Buenos Aires. It also flies to Punta Arenas (operated by LATAM Airlines) with a stopover in Santiago.

For more information, visit Australiscall +34 93 497 0484 or email europa@australis.com

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