Nestled next to the city of Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego National Park reaches all the way to the Chilean border and the Cordillera Darwin. Its pristine, verdant beauty comes as a bit of a surprise given the area’s name means ‘land of the fire’—but choosing to travel, and Argentina particularly, always has the capacity to surprise. It is perhaps this lurking question (where are the fires?) that first establishes the park’s quality of mysteriousness. As a habitat it is utterly unique, and though the independent traveler can take this in to a certain extent, opting for a Tierra Del Fuego National Park Tour will enhance the experience immeasurably. For a rounded experience that includes lunch and several different activities, opt for the trekking and rafting combined tour.
Most of the Tierra Del Fuego National Park tours begin at the doorstep of the hotel or hostel in Ushuaia. After climbing into the minibus, one straps in for the first adventure: picking up the other passengers on the hilly streets and always surprising corners of town. Heading into the park, the guides point out the farthest southern golf course in the world, before dropping down off the road to look at the End of the World Train, which itself enters the park. One might wish to ride this steam train, originally built by Ushuaia´s prisoner population instead of only look at it, until one realizes that it takes almost an hour to putter into the park. A several minute bus ride later, one reaches the beginning of the first activity, a guided trek along the Senda Costera, or coastal path. Entering the sinuous, lush forest for the first time, one senses a strange and vaguely eerie atmosphere. It is not difficult to imagine being the first traveler, or indeed Darwin here.
The guide stops regularly to point out various flora and fauna unique to the area: a tasteless, ball-shaped fungus that the local indigenous ate to fill their stomachs; large steamer ducks with wings too small to fly; black necked swans and a large variety of other rare bird species including the Park’s symbolic black and white kelp goose; a pepper plant that tastes sweet initially until chewed, and much more. Upon reaching a clearing along the coast, the guide points at the grassy mounds, explaining that they are the collected trash of the indigenous Yamana, piled up and used as a wind break for their dwellings. Among these mounds, one will likely see rabbit warrens that have laid bare the ancient shells and bones of meals many years ago. These creatures still plague the park by their numerousness, and park authorities have tried a variety of solutions over the years. If somewhat lucky, perhaps one will see the red and grey foxes brought here to hunt them. The walk continues after a stop to admire Lapataia bay and the rugged mountains overlooking it, before turning back to the road. Here the tour continues at the Lago Roca campsite, where the guides serve up a delicious chicken stew accompanied by plenty of bread, salami and cheese, as well as wine and other drinks. A fine reminder of why travel and Argentina go hand in hand.
After a rest and a brief photo opportunity of the exquisitely blue lake Fagnano, the second part of the tour, a raft journey, begins. The guides kit everyone up in rubber boots, waterproofs, and paddles, and within minutes one is catching the river current. From the perspective of the water, the park changes considerably. For one, the clear water shows the myriad number of oyster shells, colourful rocks, and, with a sharp eye, the odd fish. Paddling in a team takes some learning, but with a litte practice, the group is at liberty to explore the river mouth as it opens out back into the bay. In the protected water, alongside penguin like birds known as cormorants, the view opens up to show the Beagle Channel, and even the narrow passage of water that leads eventually to Cape Horn. The tour ends at the end of the bay, at the terminus sign of the famous Pan-American Highway which finishes its 17+ thousand kilometer journey from Alaska in the park.
There are a variety of other optional Tierra Del Fuego National Park tours that combine different adventures, from 4x4ing along the rocky coast of the Lake Fagnano to guided fishing in the park’s pristine waters to cross country skiing in the winter. These perhaps have an added enjoyment once one has become acquainted with the park in this introductory type tour. If one is only able to visit the one time, no other tour offers such a comprehensive set of experiences and adventures all rolled into one day. Certainly, the spirit of travel and Argentina can be breathed in this fantastic place.