The Tierra del Fuego National Park in Argentina highlights the most fascinating aspects of Patagonia, from glaciers and waterfalls to mountains and forests.
The park is located on an island, also called Tierra del Fuego, which is part of an archipelago shared between Argentina and Chile. It’s commonly known as the Park at the End of the World, which makes perfect sense, as it is indeed the southernmost national park in the world.
As the park is only about 8 miles west of Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world), there are many buses that offer daily access to the park from there. Additionally, the well-known El Tren del Fin de Mundo (Train at the End of the World) goes to the park several different times a day, it is the southernmost operating train in the world. Decades ago the train was used to transport prisoners and workers to build the city of Ushuaia, however, now the train is a modern ride for passengers to gaze the faultless scenery all around. This option is both more scenic and more expensive.
Although Tierra del Fuego National Park is comprised of over 150 acres of land, no more than approximately 6 of those acres are open to the public. This comparatively small area of land has a variety of generally easy trails that are ideal for day hikes and laid-back exploring. One of these trails, the 3-mile Senda Pampa Alta, offers some very impressive views of the park from the top of a hill—as well as some entertaining views of a beaver dam during the ascent.
Another popular trail in Tierra del Fuego National Park is the 4-mile Senda Costera, which can be found at the very end of a road called Bahía Ensenada. This trail weaves alongside the gorgeous Ensanada Bay. At the end of this trail, more enthusiastic hikers can choose to continue about 3 miles further, via the Senda Hito XXIV, which will lead them through a divinely deciduous forest of lenga and along the shore of Lake Roca. There’s a particularly exciting surprise at the end of this trail: a marker for the Chilean-Argentine country border.
One of the most geographically and historically exciting aspects of Tierra del Fuego National Park is its access to the Beagle Channel, the strait of water dividing the islands of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago. This channel was named after the British ship, HMS Beagle, which had Charles Darwin aboard during its famous journey along the South American coastline. A very narrow and dangerous strait of water, the Channel provides passage between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Since it is part of the subantarctic forest, the park is filled with a large variety of interesting plants and animals. Penguins, sea lions and southern river otters inhabit the park’s waters, and Tierra del Fuego is especially known for its exciting birdlife. Among some of the park’s most commonly-sighted birds are eagles, herons, condors and Austral parakeets; petrels and albatrosses live in and around the water.
Interestingly, many species of animals not native to the area also dwell in Tierra del Fuego National Park, mainly thanks to European and North American settlers who brought them there. Among these species are muskrats, gray foxes and North American beavers.
Animal enthusiasts visiting Tierra del Fuego National Park should be warned that the park’s gigantic beaver population of 200,000 might soon be vanishing. As of extremely recently (June 2011), the governments of Chile and Argentina save launched a beaver eradication project that aims to eliminate beavers from the park completely. The project was initiated in reaction to the extensive damage that the beavers have caused to the park’s valuable trees and vegetation. Already, it has been classified as the largest attempted eradication project in history.
For visitors who want to spend the most time possible in the park, a variety of free campgrounds are available. There aren’t any hotels, but there is one fee-based campground—Camping Lago Roca—which includes hot showers as well as a small grocery store. If you’re willing to splurge for an extra $3 US per person, it’s probably worth it to take advantage of this campground’s few amenities.
With its extremely diverse landscape and wildlife, as well as its pivotal location literally at the end of the world, the Tierra del Fuego National Park is a very exciting and interesting place to visit. It’s a particularly exhilarating experience to stand alongside the Beagle Channel and consider that it’s where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans connect. In a sense, Tierra del Fuego National Park is simultaneously where all the world’s land ends and all the world’s waters begin.