As one of the least inhabited areas of South America and cut off from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan, nature in Tierra del Fuego is virtually unspoiled, save for a few spots of oil exploration and mining extraction.
The capital and the largest city of the province of Chilean Tierra del Fuego is Porvenir with a population of 6,400. The second largest city is Cerro Sombrero, an oil town located 125 km or 78 miles from Porvenir. Porvenir was founded in 1894 as a result of a gold rush, today some gold deposits remain to be mined but not in a large scale as in the past. Many of the inhabitants are descendants of Yugoslavian immigrants who came to the island at the end of the 19th century following the prospect for gold.
The main economic activities in Porvenir are farming and fishing. The area boasts some of the finest trout fishing in the world. Urban Porvenir is surrounded by a large rural area where sheep, ovine and bovine large scale farming takes place. The city has many old mansions representing the 19th century gold rush. Most tourists do not stay in Porvenir, they use the city as a stopover on their way south; the city has hotels, restaurants and public services.
Puerto Williams is considered the southernmost town in the world and is the capital of Chilean Antarctica. It is located south of the Argentinean city of Ushuaia along the Beagle Channel. The town is small, its center is not even one square kilometer. The population of Puerto Williams is close to 2000 inhabitants most of them are part of the Chilean navy base. The town is also the center for scientific activity related to Antarctica.
Located in the Argentinean side of Tierra del Fuego and with 50,000 residents Ushuaia promotes itself as the southernmost city in the world. Puerto Williams with 2000 residents, just a few miles south in Chilean territory, is a small town. Ushuaia thrives on tourism, it receives an average of 120,000 tourists in the summer months of December to March; it has over 3000 hotel rooms and serves as a base for a number of activities such as hiking, skiing, horseback riding, fishing, and tours to Tierra del Fuego. In March the Marathon at the End of the World takes place in Ushuaia.
In the early 1900s the government of Argentina in order to secure its territorial claims over Patagonia established a permanent settlement with the transfer of inmates establishing the Ushiaian penal colony. Its eagerness to populate this area came at the cost of wiping out most of the local Fuegian Indian population and their culture.
From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego
The Pan-American Highway or Carretera Panamericana runs from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in the north to the southernmost point of the South American continent for a total of 29,800 miles or 47,960 kilometers. In Ushuaia you can find the last stretch of the highway called R3 locally. The Panamerican highway links all the nations in the continent and it is almost uninterrupted except for a 54 mile or 87 kilometer stretch of protected rainforest called the Darién Gap or Tapón de Darién located between Panama and Colombia. Therefore it is not possible to cross to South America by car.
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego is located just 12 kilometers from Ushuaia and protects 630 square kilometers of nature. The park is open during summer months from December to March, it offers several camping sites and beautiful hiking trails. You can observe South Patagonian nature at its full. Birds such as Andean condors, Magellanic woodpeckers, torrent and steamer ducks, upland geese and buff-necked ibises, and mammals such as Patagonian grey foxes, Fuegian fox, sea otters and guanacos can be observed in the park. Some of these animals are in danger of extinction and are protected by law. To read more about Tierra del Fuego National Park click here.
Fishing in Tierra del Fuego
Rio Grande is the largest river in Tierra del Fuego flowing from the Chilean side of the island to east and into the Atlantic. For those fishing aficionados or beginners alike, Tierra del Fuego offers world known trophy-size freshwater trout. Fly fishing in remote and unique areas are offered by specialized companies that have access to river, stream and lake fishing. Fishing season on the Rio Grande starts in October and runs through April, the peaks months being January through April.