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Tierra del Fuego
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThis ‘Land of Fire’, reluctantly shared by both Chile and Argentina, lies at the very bottom of South America. A triangular archipelago, surrounded by the South Atlantic and the Strait of Magellan , is home to extraordinary natural beauty. Its largest city, Ushuaia, is the most southern city in the world and the launching point for expeditions to Antarctica, making this region a must-see destination for adventure-seekers.
HistoryTierra del Fuego was named by the passing ship of Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, in 1520 who spotted the burning campfires of the Yámana people who had settled on the islands since around 8,000 BC.
The islands were not settled by Europeans, however, until the second half of the 19th century, when sheep farming and a gold rush boom made the area lucrative and the native people gradually declined in numbers.
Today, economic activity is based on petroleum extraction in the North, tourism, Antarctic exploration logistics, and manufacturing in the South.
GeographyIsla Grande de Tierra del Fuego is the main island with an area of 18,572 square miles and is split between Argentina and Chile. Immediately south lies the Beagle Channel which splits the main island from the region's smaller islands, namely Hoste and Navarino.
The towering mountains of the archipelago are the effect of Andean orogeny, with the western parts of the archipelago forming the southernmost tip of the Andes. A number of significant faults, as well as fold and thrust belts, are visible in Tierra del Fuego. The Patagonian plateau extends into the eastern parts of the region. Pleistocene glaciations carved out fjords and valleys and resulted in the dramatic landscape we see today.
ClimateTierra del Fuego has a subpolar oceanic climate with short, cool summers and long, wet winters. Temperatures rarely top 48 °F in Ushuaia in summer and snow can occur during this period. The cool weather helps preserve the ancient glaciers that are present throughout the region.
FloraSteppe and cold, semi-deserts dominate the northeast, while Magellanic subpolar forests occur throughout some of the islands. Southern Beech, Winter’s Bark and Nothofagus species can be found, their forests creating shelter for a number of fruiting species that have long provided food for the island’s residents, both native and European.
Tree species from Tierra del Fuego have been successfully transplanted in other cold regions, such as the Faroe Islands , that had previously been devoid of trees.
The islands are noted for ‘flag-trees’; twisted and gnarled trees that have been sculpted by strong winds in exposed areas.
In the most southern regions, sub-antarctic tundra dominates the vegetation.
FaunaTierra del Fuego is home to Guanacos and Foxes, as well as North American Beavers that were introduced during the 1940s and have since caused widespread damage to the archipelago’s forests.
Austral Parakeets, Owls and Firecrown Hummingbirds are found throughout the islands and King Penguins colonize some rocky shore areas.
The Rio Grande and San Pablo rivers are home to sea-run Brown Trout and offer some of the world’s finest trout fishing opportunities. Southern Right Whales, Humpbacks and Blue Whales have all been spotted in waters off Tierra del Fuego and endemic Dolphins can be found in the Beagle Channel, along with Pygmy Right Whales.
South American Sea Lions, Fur Seals, Leopard Seals, and the Southern Elephant Seal can all be found lazing along the shores of many of the archipelagos islands.
Getting ThereAerolineas Argentinas has flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and Rio Grande while Punta Arenas (Chile) has connecting services to the major settlements in Tierra del Fuego. Rio Gallegos is the entry point for bus services from Argentina to Ushuaia, although this route passes through Chile and requires two border crossings.
Tierra del Fuego is connected to mainland Chile at Primera Angostura by a ferry that crosses the Strait of Magellan throughout the day. The crossing takes around 20 minutes.
Roads are poor and public transport is limited in Tierra del Fuego although a number of tour companies that service the region's major sites can be booked through the Tourist Office in Ushuaia. Alternatively, cars and bicycles can be hired in the city and taxis are available on major routes.
Ushuaia is a good base to explore the region and has the best selection of accommodation, from hostels to upmarket hotels. There are a number of campsites throughout Tierra del Fuego, although outside of summer months temperatures can get bitterly cold at night.
ActivitiesTierra del Fuego National Park has excellent hikes exploring the spectacular scenery, and Lake Escondido and Lake Fagnano are popular day trips that offers tourists the opportunity to take in the region’s natural beauty.
The Fin del Mundo (‘End of the World’) steam train connects Ushuaia with Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Cruises into the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia are popular and include the opportunity to spot some of the exceptional wildlife that abound in the surrounding waters. Alternatively, kayaks can be hired to explore the Beagle Channel independently.
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Author: Pip23. Last updated: May 02, 2015