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, belonging to Chile, includes Cape Horn at the southernmost part of the archipelago.
Chilean Tierra del Fuego has two towns — Porvenir, capital of the province, and Cerro Sombrero — and a number of small villages.
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.
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 8:30AM (mainland) to 11:00PM (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.
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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