Tierra del Fuego, a more or less triangular island separated from the southernmost tip of the South American mainland by the twists and bends of the Estrecho de Magallanes, is indeed a world unto itself. The vast plains on its northern reaches are dotted with trees bent low by the savage winds that frequently lash the coast. The mountains that rise in the south are equally forbidding, traversed by huge glaciers slowly making their way to the sea.The first European to set foot on this island was Spanish explorer Hernando de Magallanes, who sailed here in 1520. The smoke that he saw coming from the fires lighted by the native peoples prompted him to call it Tierra del Humo (Land of Smoke). King Charles V of Spain, disliking that name, rechristened it Tierra del Fuego, or Land of Fire.Tierra del Fuego is split in half. The island's northernmost tip, well within Chilean territory, is its closest point to the continent. The only town of any size here is Porvenir. Its southern extremity, part of Argentina, points out into the Atlantic toward the Falkland Islands. Here you'll find Ushuaia, the main destination, on the shores of the Canal Beagle. Farther south is Cape Horn, the southernmost point of land before Antarctica (still a good 500 miles across the brutal Drake Passage).
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Things You Can't Miss
Gorgeous lakes, beech woodlands, snow-capped mountains and hiking trails make a visit to Tierra del Fuego National Park an adventure-lover’s delight.
Housed in a prison building from the penal-colony era, this small but fascinating museum weaves a tale of convict labor, shipwrecks and pioneer days.
Several tour companies in Ushuaia offer guided cruises where passengers get close looks at seals, sea lions, penguins, albatrosses and geese.
Jose Fuste Raga/Corbis
Hike the moderately strenuous trail or take a chair lift to Martial Glacier for a vista of Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel and islands on the horizon.
See (or climb!) these majestic mountains in the United States: McKinley, Rainier, Shasta and seven more.
Rent a car in Ushuaia for the trip to this mountain-ringed lake. The road winds through a striking windswept landscape, continuing to Lake Fagnano.
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