|Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego|
|Tierra del Fuego, the Land of Fire, is an island divided between Chile and Argentina at the southern tip of South America. Ushuaia, on the south coast of the island overlooking the Beagle Channel, is the base for all the best hiking on the island. It bills itself as la Ciudad del Fin del Mundo – the City at the End of World. Indeed, there is nothing below this windswept place but 650 miles of treacherous southern seas and the icy continent of Antarctica.
Just to the west of Ushuaia is Parque Nacional de Tierra del Fuego. Rich in forest, lakes and jagged mountains, it is a beautiful but tough landscape, tormented by unpredictable weather. When we hiked here in March we found it surprisingly warm – even turning to ‘t-shirt’ weather after the bitter cold of early morning. But we were lucky. In January, at the height of the southern summer, it had been cold and even snowed for several days.
This hike follows the Senda Costera – Coastal Path – from Bahia (bay) Ensenada to Bahia Lapataia, with beautiful views over the Beagle Channel. From the crossroads on the Park road, head down the unpaved road for about 1 mile/1.6 km. This will take you to the shore of Bahia Ensenada, and a view of rocky Isla Redonda. The saltwater laps on the shingle and deep breaths reveal the unmistakable smell of the sea.
Bear right to take the undulating trail through trees and across a stream. The trail hugs the shoreline, alternating between forest and beach. Here you will be away from most of the park visitors, the solitude and tranquility enhancing your enjoyment of the scenery. The trail is defined and marked with red blazes, but there are no signs and it can be hard to follow.
After about 2 miles/3.2 km, you emerge at a beach directly opposite the end of Lapataia peninsula, and with excellent views across the channel to Isla Navarino. This is definitely a place to linger for a while! A smaller cove not long after, and then a short climb, is followed by a longer stretch through forest – a total of around 1.7 miles/2.7 km.
The trail emerges at a pebble beach. Walk along the beach for 5 minutes or so, looking out for a path heading back into the forest. It will not be long before you come to another beach, where you cross a hillside to the final beach on the Coastal Path.
Now veer right (north) and climb through the forest. You will reach the Park road, and the end of the hike, in about 0.6 mile/1 km.
From the road, you should be able to flag down a minibus back to Ushuaia. But why not do some more exploring? One version of the park map shows the trail continuing parallel to the road, but we never found it. Instead, turn left (west) along the road for about 1 mile/1.6 km, where it divides. Right takes you north to Lago Roca and a trail along the lakeshore; left to Laguna Verde and the head of the bay, where there are a number of short trails. Particularly recommended is the Paseo de Mirador, a short walk to a beautiful lookout over Bahia Lapataia. Ruta 3, which runs 2,000 miles from Buenos Aires, terminates not far from here.
|Location: Parque Nacional de Tierra del Fuego, 7.5 miles/12 km west of Ushuaia, in the southern-most tip of South America. Entrance fee charged November through March.
Directions: The main road, Ruta 3, runs through the National Park. For this one-way trail, it may be more convenient to rely on one of the minibuses or tour company transport that in summer run regularly between the Park and Ushuaia – you won’t have to worry about getting back to your car at the end of the hike.
Trailhead: From the Park entrance gate, continue on the main road for about 2.5 km to the crossroads, just past the terminus of the tourist railway, Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino.
Length: 6 miles / 9.6 km
Trail Type: One way
Elevation Change: N/A
Duration: 3 hours
Trail Condition: Defined path through forest, with some sections crossing beaches. Not clearly signed and, although blazed red, can sometimes be hard to follow.
Features: Coast, beaches, forest, mountains.
Climate: Changeable – tends to be most stable late summer/early autumn (February/March). Waterproofs and thermals should be taken even in summer. Park road may be closed in winter.
Accommodation: Several campsites inside (some with no facilities) and on the outskirts of the Park. Hotels (reservations advised during the summer months) and hostels in Ushuaia. The tourist office on Avenida San Martin can also book rooms in private houses.
Trail Notes: The map you receive at the Park gate shows the location of the trails but is certainly not detailed enough for hiking purposes. In the absence of anything better, you will need to rely on the (limited) Park signs and trail blazes.
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