Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago off the south of South America, separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan. The 73,000-km² archipelago was divided between Argentina and Chile in 1881. The western part of the main island was awarded to Chile along with a panoply of pristine, mostly uninhabited and inaccesible islands including famed Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of the archipelago.
- Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego — the main island, with an area of around 48,000 km (30,000 mi), is commonly referred to as Tierra del Fuego or as Isla Grande. Chile owns the western 30,000 km2; the rest lies in Argentina. The island's main cities are Ushuaia and Rio Grande, both on the eastern, Argentine side; Chile only has less than a handful of tiny settlements with limited services and transport options.
- 1 Porvenir, capital of the province, a town of 6,800 people (2017), has museums, hotels, restaurants and other services of tourist interest.
- 2 Cerro Sombrero, a town of 700 people (2017) that is a residential and service center for the Bational Petroleum Company.
- 1 Yendegaia National Park protects a representative sample of the ecosystems of the south-central sector of the Big Island of Tierra del Fuego. Its main attractions lie in the pristine characteristics that the area still maintains, which leads to the survival of the characteristic species of the Fuegian fauna.
Tierra del Fuego (Spanish: Land of Fire) got its name from Ferdinand Magellan who, on passing the archipelago in 1520, spotted a number of fires burning along the coastline. These fires may have been made by the archipelago's aboriginal inhabitants: the Ona, Alakaluf and Yahgan (commonly called Yámana). Four Aboriginals were taken from Tierra del Fuego in 1830 by Robert Fitzroy, and were sailed to Britain to meet the King. The three survivors later returned to Tierra del Fuego on the Beagle, with Charles Darwin, who believed the native Fuegans to be "the missing link". The arrival of missionaries, introduction of sheep farming and the discovery of gold in the 1880s led to European, Argentine, and Chilean immigrants, which gradually killed off the native Fuegans.
An excellent book on the history of the Yámana and their demise is The Uttermost Part of the Earth by E. Lucas Bridges, the son of one of the early missionaries. His father, Thomas Bridges, documented what he could of the Yámana language and found that it had a larger vocabulary than the English language.
Today, the economy is based on petroleum, tourism, textiles, electronics and, to a decreasing degree, sheep-farming.
The western parts of the archipelago form the southernmost tip of the Andes range. The eastern parts are an extension of the Patagonian plateau. Based in the south of Patagonia, the climate is cold but warmer than many assume; in winter, the average temperature is -2°C (28°F). In summer, it can climb to 30°C (86°F), although in reality it rarely rises far beyond 10°C (50°F). There are frequent high winds and much rainfall, especially in the coastal areas.
There are regular Aerolineas Argentinas flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and Rio Grande. Air services also link major settlements to Punta Arenas in Chile. Porvenir has an airport 15 minutes from the city.
Argentine National Route 3 connects Buenos Aires to the Chilean border near Tierra del Fuego. There is no road from main cities of Chile to Tierra del Fuego, so the Argentine road must be used. To reach Tierra del Fuego by car the ferry service must be used.
There is also a ferry at the narrowest part of the Strait of Magellan that connects Tierra del Fuego to mainland Chile at Primera Angostura (between Punta Delgada and Cerro Sombrero), with many departures from 08:30 (mainland) to 23:00 (island) every day. The crossing takes approximately 20 minutes.
Roads are poor in Tierra del Fuego, and apart from the tourist tour train, there are no railways. There is little public transport. However, tours and transport can be booked through the Tourist Office (on San Martin, Ushuaia) or through many of the hostels.
- Fernando Cordero Rusque Provincial Museum, Porvenir. It exhibits a photographic and archaeological sample of the Selk'nam (extinct Aborigines of the island), information on the discovery and exploitation of gold from 1881, a remarkable collection of altarpieces of the most notable houses in Tierra del Fuego, and a section on natural history, archeology and ethnography.
A regional specialty is king crab, called centolla in Spanish, and seafood is usually excellent. Otherwise, local cuisine follows the general Chilean and Argentine traditions. Fruit and vegetables have to be transported from thousands of miles away and, as such, are rarely tasty and rather expensive.
Crime rates in Tierra del Fuego are very low. If hiking or trekking, it is important to take warm, waterproof gear.
Flights can be booked from the Aerolineas office in Ushuaia. Buses to Buenos Aires and other destinations (apart from Puerto Natales) all stop at Rio Gallegos. It can be cheaper to just buy a ticket to Rio Gallegos and purchase an onward ticket from there.
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