Cabo Froward (Cape Froward) is the southernmost point of the South American mainland. It is located on the Strait of Magellan south of Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia. At the top of the cape a large metal cross, called Cruz de los Mares, was built in homage to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Chile in 1987. The first cross was built in 1913, and it has been replaced several times due to the unfavorable weather conditions.
The cape is accessible by boat, or by a challenging trek of four days — or more — round trip, the details of which are explained below. On the hill above the cape is a large cross, Cruz de los Mares, marking the end of the American continent.
The trek is extremely challenging, with rocky beaches and river crossings which must be timed with low tides. The trek covers remote territory where help could be days away, especially considering waiting for low tides to cross the rivers (one of which is still waist deep). For this reason it is not advisable to go alone. Ships occasionally pass in the distance, so with proper signalling equipment it may be possible to signal help from ships (which cannot help you themselves but can call for help) in case of an emergency.
The path is not well marked, but if you get lost you can always follow the coast – or parallel the coast inland where the coast itself is inaccessible – to find your way back.
It is critically important that you look up the tide tables at shoa.cl[dead link] (go to Servicios → Mareas). The tide tables for Punta Arenas should be close enough; make sure you check for the dates you will be trekking.
Flora and fauna
Seagulls and the occasional seal or dolphin may be seen.
This is the end of the world, folks. Expect cool temperatures, rain, and the Strait of Magellan's infamous winds even in midsummer.
The trek begins at Rio San Pedro, near Fuerte Bulnes, the end of the road. You can get a transfer from Punta Arenas (for instance, the tourist office next to Sernatur), hitchhike or you can go by bus to San Juan – departures from Punta Arenas M W F Sa 07:45 and 18:30 (as of March 2023). These microbuses leave from the wooden station (Terminal De Buses Intercomunal) across the river on Chiloé road. The time table is also posted there. Single fare is 1100 CLP (March 2023). The final bus stop is at Rio Santa Maria (4.5 km south of Rio San Juan).
The path is sometimes marked with orange or blue tape or markers. These usually mark the path but also mark the Refugio or a couple camping zones.
What follows is a description of each stretch with a time estimate. Times in bold indicate it is slower going at high tide (for instance, you might have to climb more on rocks at high tide). Times in bold italics indicate that the stretch is extremely slow or impassible at high tide.
This description is not exact and there are more parts through the forest – those are always easier to take than stick to the beach. Therefore watch carefully for the marks which indicate the path into the forest.
Part 1: Rio Santa Maria to Lighthouse (about 2 hr 30 min)
- 1 hr 15 min: dirt road (8 km)
- 1 hr 15 min: along beach
Pass the hostel (they have a map that you can ask to photograph)
Part 2: Lighthouse to Refugio/first river (about 2 hr 30 min)
- 45 min: forest path (marked, easy to find)
- 1 hr: along beach. Much slower during high tide. Seagull Island Lookout along the way makes a nice side attraction.
- 20 min: forest path (marked with orange and blue. easy to find)
- 25 min: along beach to first river
The Refugio is just before the first river. A path marked orange leads into the trees to the Refugio. The first river can be crossed ankle-high at low tide and a bit above knee-high at high tide. As of March 2023 there were so many longs over the river, that you can cross it without getting wet feet.
Part 3: Refugio/first river to second river (about 2 hr 45 min)
- 15 min: along beach
- 20 min: forest path
- 35 min: along beach (somewhat slower at high tide)
- 1 hr 15 min: forest path
- 20 min: along beach
Part 4: Second river to third river (about 3 hr)
- 15 min: second river crossing. Waist deep or more at low tide (must strip down and carry backpack over head). Impassible at high tide.
- 30 min: along beach, very slow to impossible at high tide.
- 2 hr 15 hr: along beach, but probably passible at high tide.
Part 5: Third river to cross (about 5 hr 15 min)
- 15 min: third river crossing. knee-deep at low tide, impassible at high tide.
- 1 hr 30 min: on the beach (much slower at high tide)
- 45 min: on the beach, to first point from which cross can be seen (lots of fallen trees on the beach, still better than escaping into the bush)
- 45 min: on the beach (go all the way to the cliff, and see the ropes going up to the right; somewhat hidden behind some fallen trees)
- 20 min: forest path
- 25 min: along beach, to base of cross.
- 1 hr 15 min: climbing up to the cross.
As a summary for planning with the tides, these are the places where it is impossible or very very slow at high tide, so you should coordinate these with the tide tables.
With heavy rainfalls you might get stuck and have to wait even several days to cross the rivers 3 and 2. Take enough food for this case! This probably will not happen during the summer. The water level in the rivers in April 2011 was much higher than indicated in the description and river 2 was very hard, almost impossible to pass with a bag. Make sure you can swim well if you cross the river in these conditions. Also strongly recommended to cross the river first without a bag to make sure you find a way where to cross the river.
Total 16 hours hiking.
- 3 hr 15 min (0 hr in): Rio San Pedro to slow beach
- 1 hr (3 hr 15 min in): along beach, slow at high tide
- 3 hr 30 min (4 hr 15 min in): to before second river (may be more like 4 hr during high tide)
- 45 min (7 hr 45 min in): second river crossing and next 30 min. impassible at high tide.
- 2 hr 15 min (8 hr 30 min in): to third river
- 1 hr 45 min (10 hr 45 min in): third river crossing and next 1:30 hr. impassible or much slower at high tide.
- 3 hr 30 min (12 hr 30 min in): to cross.
Primitive camping is possible along the way, in designated camp areas or otherwise.
As mentioned above, it is best to go with two or three others. The trek is very challenging. One must climb over slippery boulders and cross cold rivers. Add to this the infamous weather of the Straight of Magellan – cold, rainy and very windy weather even in the summer – and the remoteness of the trek—it is not to be taken lightly. This is the end of world.