Tierra del Fuego National Park (Parque National Tierra del Fuego) is in the southwestern end of Tierra del Fuego island, in Argentina. The park borders Chile and, with the right papers, it's possible to enter Chile through the park.
The 63,000 hectare area was given national park status in 1960, and enlarged in 1966;, it's the southernmost example of the Andean-Patagonian forest. Often compared to Alaska's panhandle, it is Argentina's only coastal national park and offers opportunities for hiking, climbing, fishing and kayaking. In wintertime, you will often find the trail or mountainside to yourself.
The first humans occupied Tierra del Fuego 10,000 years ago. The area covered by the national park was inhabited by the Yamana, who camped on its beaches and often travelled in canoes made of "lenga" to hunt sea mammals and collect shellfish. When settlers (initially missionaries) appeared in 1880, disease spread and the Yamana began to die out. By 2005 there was allegedly only one full-blooded native-speaking Yamana left, living on Isla Navarina.
The area was given national park status in 1960. Nowadays, the only evidence you will see of the former Yamana inhabitants are piles of mussel shells overgrown with grass near the shore, indicating areas of Yamana settlement.
The landscape of the park consists of great bays and small beaches, backed by rugged mountains and valleys created by glacial erosion.
Flora and fauna
The forests are a mixture of Patagonic and Altos Andes forest, and "lenga" covers mountain slopes from an altitude of 600 me. Guindo trees also occupy the wetter areas and some parts of the mountain slopes. On the guindos, you will often see large nodules with an orange fungus growing out of them: the parasitic "farolito chino”. The undergrowth consists mostly of mosses, ferns and prickly bushes like the "calafate".
There are 20 species of mammals, including the red fox, the guanaco, the otter (chungunco) and the Canadian beaver (introduced and causing flooding in some areas of the park due to their dam-building). Rabbits have also been introduced and the damage they have inflicted to some low-lying lake-side regions is clearly visible in places. Birds include the black eyed albatross, the condor, the oystercatcher, the white cuaquene, the steam duck and the diving petrel.
The average annual rainfall is 700 mm (at its highest in March, April and May). There is no dry season. Temperatures average at about 0ºC in winter and 10ºC in the summer.
The park is usually accessed from the Argentine side of the island. It is 12 km west of Ushuaia along National Route 3. The buses to the park charge $500 per person for the round trip. Between the different companies, there are buses roughly every hour to and from the park, starting at 8AM and the last bus leaving the park at 7PM.
You can book the bus through most hotels and hostels in Ushuaia, as well as through the Ushuaia Tourist Office. All the companies will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel or hostel. However, you don't need to do this; just go to the bus station and buy a ticket directly in front of the bus.
There are several car hire companies in Ushuaia, and parking spaces in the park.
It is also possible to reach the park by bicycle; the journey takes around 1 hour. For most of the trails, you will have to leave your bicycle and walk on foot.
Fees and permits
The entrance fee is $350 for foreigners, valid for at most 3 days and 2 nights consecutively in the park.
There are several marked trails (although it's also possible to get off the beaten track). The trails usually start from different points on National Route 3 and are covered in the See and Do sections below.
- The beaver dam (Castorera) - A 400 m walk, where you can see the series of ponds created by the beavers, and the damage caused by their introduction.
- The views from The Lookout - A 500 m walk through lenga forest to a lookout over Lapataia Bay.
- Acigami Lake - A binational area of water in the south of Isla Grande. It's the last Argentinian strip of land inside the National Park, opposite Chile. The Argentinian side of the lake was also called “Lago Roca” in the past. It is a glacial freshwater lake, between the “Guanaco” and “Pirámides” hills in the Andes, and flows into the Beagle Canal. Although there are many tourists, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the local flora and fauna.
- Climb Cerro Guanaco - A 4 km high-difficulty uphill climb to reach 970 m above sea level (and another 4 km to return). There is a fantastic view from a rocky bluff about 3 km up. The view from the top makes the climb worthwhile.
- Walk the De la Isla path - An 800 m walk around the Cormoranes archipelago, along the shores of Lapataia and Ovando.
- Walk the Hito XXIV trail (a border marker) - This is a medium-difficulty 10-km trail following the north shore of Lago Acigami, which is actually the border between Argentina and Chile. It can be covered in approximately 3 hours.
- Walk the Paseo del Turbal (peat bog) - A 400 m walk up to Lapataia Bay, through lenga woods, past an abandoned beaver dam.
- Walk the Seaside Path - This 8 km walk from Ensenada to Lapataia takes in the marine coast.
- Walk the Pampa Alta Trail - A 5 km trail connecting the Pipo and Ensenada campsites and offers wonderful views of the Beagle Channel.
Seaside and Pampa Alta trails can be combined in a "half 8" shaped longer walk (a full leisure day), so that the marine and hill environments can be enjoyed together.
- Laguna Negra Walk - 400 m to the dark-water lake, stained dark by the peat bog.
Souvenirs are available from a shop just outside La Confiteria, or at the post office in Ensenada bay: stamps, postcards, overpriced certificates of being at the end of the world.
La Confiteria, where most buses will drop you off and pick you up, is a small cafe with a crackling fire, selling sweets, chocolate and a few basic snacks (a hamburger costs $280).
There's a restaurant near Acigami Lake.
The Confiteria sells hot and cold drinks.
There is no lodging inside the park.
There are several free campsites with basic amenities, one of them near Lake Acigami. Remember, this is a protected area, so leave the place as you found it, remembering to carefully extinguish any fires.
It's possible to get off the marked trails and walk through the forests around the lakes in some places.
The park administrators suggest that people only camp and make fires in designated areas. Fires should be carefully extinguished before leaving. If you want to go salmon fishing, ask for permission and follow instructions. Do not hike up the mountain alone, do not bring pets into the park and do not feed wild animals. Adhere to the speed limit inside the park: 40 km/h.
The bus companies Eben-Ezer and Pasarela will pick you up at a designated time and place (usually between 3PM and 6PM from the Confiteria).