Tierra del Fuego National Park

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Embark on an unforgettable journey to the farthest corners of the planet. Explore the unspoiled beauty and diversity of wildlife in Tierra del Fuego National Park (also known in English as Land of Fire National Park and in Spanish as Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego), a place where nature is revealed in its mightiest and most untamed state.

Introduction to the National Park

Tierra del Fuego National Park

Geographic Location

Tierra del Fuego National Park covers an area of 68,909 hectares at the southernmost tip of Argentina, in the Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica, and South Atlantic Islands, in the southwestern part of Tierra del Fuego Island, approximately 12 km west of the city of Ushuaia.

It stretches from the towering Sierra de Injoo Goiyin, north of Lake Fagnano, to the picturesque coast of the Beagle Channel in the south. This park is one of the few in Argentina that boasts coastal areas, adding a unique dimension to its natural beauty. It can be located geographically by the coordinates: 54°40′01″S 68°30′00″W / -54.666944444444, -68.5 or at the address: RN3 kilometer 3067, V9410 Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

Historical Background

The ancestral presence of indigenous hunter-gatherer communities in the Tierra del Fuego region, such as the Yámana or Yaghan and the Selk’nam or Ona, is evidenced through found relics, like the mounds of mollusk and crustacean shells they used as food, which can still be observed in Lapataia Bay.

The interest in protecting this region dates back to 1910, when a reserve of 350,000 hectares was established around Lake Fagnano with the purpose of establishing a future national park. However, this reserve was revoked in 1935.

Later, in 1946, a new attempt to establish a protected area in Tierra del Fuego was made with the creation of Tierra del Fuego National Park through a decree. Nevertheless, in 1947, this decree was revoked, and the park was rendered ineffective.

Despite these setbacks, it was eventually officially established at a later date and has become a valuable protected area preserving the natural beauty and biological diversity of the region.

It’s important to acknowledge the significance of indigenous presence in these lands and the need to protect and respect their cultural heritage. The park is a living testament to the ancestral relationship between indigenous peoples and nature, and its conservation is essential to ensure the preservation of this history and legacy.

History and Purpose of Tierra del Fuego National Park

The park was established on October 15, 1960, by Law No. 15,554/60 with the purpose of protecting the diversity of subantarctic ecosystems, one of the most southern and unique ecosystems on the planet, promoting environmental education and scientific research, enacted on October 25, 1960, by Decree No. 12,925/1960.

In 1990, a sector of the park was designated as a strict nature reserve through Decree No. 2,149/1990, and subsequently, the boundaries of the reserve were modified in 1994 through Decree No. 453/1994. This latter decree reduced the reserve to three sectors, named North, Center, and South, and created the wilderness nature reserve in a large central sector of the park.

In 2007, the Management Plan of Tierra del Fuego National Park was approved, setting out guidelines for park management and conservation.

The park is divided into zones, each with specific regulations regarding permitted activities in line with preservation objectives. Of the nearly 69,000 hectares that make up the park, only an area of 2,000 hectares is allocated for tourist use, while the rest is designated as a strict nature reserve. Within the boundaries of the national park, there are two private properties, one of 322 hectares and another of 2 hectares.

The Administration of National Parks is responsible for park management and has numerous park rangers stationed at different points to enforce current regulations, guide visitors, and preserve the natural environment.

In 2011, through Resolution No. 126/2011 of the Administration of National Parks, the national park was classified as a "protected area of complexity I" for administrative purposes. This implies that it has an appointed superintendent in charge, with six departments and two divisions responsible for administration, conservation, environmental education, among other aspects. The superintendent’s office is located in the city of Ushuaia.

Geography and Climate

Main Geographic Features

The park boasts a captivating geography featuring a blend of mountains, glaciers, lakes, and forests within a protected area of 68,909 hectares.

Climate and Seasonal Variations

The climate of Tierra del Fuego National Park is classified as subpolar oceanic or humid Patagonian. While temperatures are cold year-round, the park is home to towering Magellanic forests. The average annual temperature is 5.7°C, with a scant annual temperature fluctuation ranging from -0.3°C in July to 9.4°C in January. It’s uncommon for temperatures to exceed 15°C in summer or drop below -8°C in winter. The recorded absolute temperature extremes are 29.4°C in December and -25.1°C in July.

Despite being located in a cold region, precipitation is well-distributed throughout the year, totaling 524 mm, with around 200 days of rainfall per year, similarly to the number of cloudy or misty days. Due to the consistent low temperatures, these precipitations, which often take the form of snow in winter, are sufficient to create a humid climate in the park. In the mountains and interior valleys, snow is abundant and remains from May to September.

Strong westerly winds originating from the Pacific Ocean frequently batter the park’s coasts. These winds are responsible for the distinctive shape of trees, which grow in the direction of the wind and adopt a tilted form. These trees, known as "flag trees," are a characteristic phenomenon of the park due to the constant storms.

Though the climate can be harsh, it provides the perfect environment for the unique wildlife and flora in this region. Be prepared for rapid weather changes, as it’s common to experience all four seasons in a single day.

When to Visit the Park

The ideal time to visit the park is from late October to April. During this period, the weather conditions are more favorable for enjoying trails and outdoor activities. However, it’s important to note that the weather in Tierra del Fuego can change quickly, so being prepared for weather variations throughout the day is recommended.

Throughout the rest of the year, especially in the winter months, the presence of snow makes hiking challenging and limits access to certain areas of the park. Nevertheless, this season can also offer a unique experience for those who enjoy snowy landscapes and winter activities like skiing or sledding.

Biodiversity: Ecosystems, Flora, and Fauna

Iconic Species

The upland goose (Chloephaga hybrida) is considered the emblem of Tierra del Fuego National Park. This bird species is found near the marine coasts, primarily feeding on algae. They are often seen in pairs, adding charm to their presence in the park.

The male upland goose has mostly white plumage, a black bill, and yellow legs. On the other hand, the female exhibits white markings around the eye, the rear portion of the abdomen, and the tail. On the ventral side, it displays a pattern of black and white barring, while the wings showcase a distinctive pattern in these same colors.

The upland goose is an emblematic species of the park due to its distinctive presence and its relationship with the marine coasts. Its beauty and unique features make it a prominent symbol of the wildlife within the protected area.

Ecosystems Present in the Park

Situated within the Patagonian Forests ecoregion, this is the southernmost protected area in Argentina. The park presents a diverse and captivating ecosystem where the lower reaches of the mighty Andes mountain range meet the sea in the Beagle Channel.

The park boasts an impressive marine coast, featuring highlights such as Lapataia Bay, which is the only Argentine fjord in the Beagle Channel, and Ensenada Zaratiegui. These coastal areas offer picturesque landscapes and a unique connection between the sea and the land.

In addition to the coast, the park is home to glacial lakes, scenic valleys, extensive peat bogs, and magnificent forests. These forests are an integral part of the Patagonian Forests ecosystem and consist of species such as lenga, ñire, and guindo trees, which lend the landscape exceptional beauty.

Peat bogs, present in the park, are high-humidity areas that play a crucial role in the water cycle and biodiversity conservation. These peat bogs host vegetation adapted to high humidity and low temperatures, such as mosses and lichens.

Flora in Tierra del Fuego

The park hosts a variety of significant forests, primarily composed of lenga (Nothofagus pumilio) trees. These trees are an iconic species of the region and contribute significantly to the park’s beauty and diversity. During autumn, lenga trees turn a vibrant reddish color, creating a stunning visual spectacle in the landscape.

In the park’s wetter areas, lenga trees mix with guindo (Nothofagus antarctica) and canelo (Drimys winteri) trees. These species are associated with more fertile environments and contribute greater diversity to the park’s forests.

At the edges of peat bogs, which are high-humidity areas, ñire (Nothofagus nervosa) trees thrive. These trees find suitable conditions near the mossy peat bogs (Sphagnum magellanicum) and add to the richness of the ecosystem.

In addition to the described plant species, the park also features a variety of shrubs, herbs, and mosses that form part of the region’s vegetation tapestry. These plants play a crucial role in soil conservation, water retention, and protection of local biodiversity.

Subantarctic Forests

The subantarctic forests are dominated by lenga, ñire, and guindo trees, while grasses, mosses, and lichens grow in peat bogs and tundra areas.

Peat Bog and Tundra Vegetation

These areas are covered by plant species adapted to high humidity and low temperatures, such as mosses and lichens.

Fauna in Tierra del Fuego

Among the mammals, the guanaco (Lama guanicoe) stands out, an elegant animal found in the open areas of the park. The huillín (Lontra provocax), a small and enigmatic aquatic mammal inhabiting rivers and lakes in the region, is also present. The Fuegian red fox (Lycalopex culpaeus) is another iconic species exclusive to the island and found solely in this area.

The region is a meeting point between land and sea, providing it with remarkable avian richness. Water-associated and coastal birds include the caracara (Phalcoboenus carunculatus), the upland goose (Chloephaga hybrida), which is the symbol of the national park, the black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris), the kelp goose or steam duck (Tachyeres pteneres), oystercatchers, seagulls, and skuas, among other species.

In the forests and their surroundings, birds such as the Chilean parakeet (Enicognathus ferrugineus), a colorful parrot; the Magellanic woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus), a woodpecker species; the thorn-tailed rayadito (Aphrastura spinicauda), a small songbird; and the Austral thrush (Turdus falcklandii), known for its melodious song, can be observed.

Invertebrates, often overlooked, play a crucial role in the park’s ecosystems, from insects to marine mollusks.

Hiking and Main Activities

The Park offers a variety of trails for visitors to explore and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Below are some of the highlighted trails in the Lapataia sector:

Island Walk (Paseo de la Isla)

  • Difficulty: Low.
  • Distance: 1.3 km.
  • Duration: 30 min.

This trail crosses the Cormoranes archipelago, following the shores of the Lapataia and Ovando rivers. It is an easy and short route, ideal for enjoying panoramic views and the tranquility of the surroundings.

Black Lagoon (Laguna Negra)

  • Difficulty: Low.
  • Distance: 500 m.
  • Duration: 15 min.

The route leads to a forming peat bog, where you can appreciate this unique ecosystem. Though a short hike, it allows you to immerse yourself in the beauty and singularity of the region’s peat bogs.

Lapataia Lookout

  • Difficulty: Low.
  • Distance: 980 m.
  • Duration: 30 min.

From this trail, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Lapataia Bay. It connects with the Turbal hike and provides an excellent alternative to access the bay and admire its natural beauty.

Turbal Trail

  • Difficulty: Low.
  • Distance: 1.3 km.
  • Duration: 40 min.

This circuit is an alternative to Route No. 3 to reach Lapataia Bay. During the hike, you can observe abandoned beaver lodges and circle around a peat bog. Additionally, this trail connects with the path that leads to the Beaver Dam.

Beaver Dam (Accessible) (Castorera)

  • Difficulty: Low.
  • Distance: 200 m.
  • Duration: 20 min.

This trail takes you to visit a beaver dam, accessed from Route 3, and follows along the course of the Los Castores Stream on its right bank. Here, you can observe the impact caused by this exotic species in the area.

Beacon Path (Senda de la Baliza)

  • Difficulty: Low.
  • Distance: 1.2 km.
  • Duration: 30 min.

This trail takes you to a beacon located at the boundary of the Strict Nature Reserve. It’s an opportunity to explore this sector and enjoy the panoramic views it offers.

Pampa Alta Trail

  • Difficulty: Moderate.
  • Length: 4.7 km (one way).
  • Duration: 2 hours.

This trail provides a panoramic view of the Beagle Channel and the Pipo River Valley. You can access it from the Ensenada Zaratiegui campsite, following the Piloto Stream. There’s also an option to access it from National Route No. 3 and descend via the path that connects to the Río Pipo road. It’s a moderately difficult hike with an approximate duration of 2 hours.

Pampa Alta Trail

  • Difficulty: Moderate.
  • Length: 8 km (one way).
  • Duration: 4 hours.

This trail will take you along the coastal area, passing through guindo and canelo forests. You can access this trail from Ensenada Zaratiegui or from the Acigami Lake vehicular crossing on Route No. 3. It’s a moderately difficult hike with an approximate duration of 4 hours.

Coastal Trail (Senda Costera)

  • Difficulty: High.
  • Length: 6 km.
  • Duration: 4 hours to the summit.

From the summit of Cerro Guanaco, you can appreciate a beautiful view of the Fuegian mountain range and its peat bogs. Access is through the Hito XXIV path, and after crossing the Guanaco Stream, there’s a marked turn to the right. The entire route involves steep ascents. It’s a highly difficult hike with an approximate duration of 4 hours to the summit.

Pipo River Waterfall (Cascada Río Pipo)

  • Difficulty: Low.
  • Length: 1.3 km (one way).
  • Duration: 40 min.

Starting from the Route 3 crossing towards Ensenada Zaratiegui, this trail will lead you to a beautiful waterfall on the Río Pipo. It’s an easy hike with an approximate duration of 40 minutes.

Water Activities in the Park

Water activities on the park’s lakes and rivers are another great option for nature enthusiasts.

Photography and Wildlife Observation Opportunities

It offers an abundance of opportunities for photography and wildlife observation, thanks to its diverse fauna and stunning landscapes.

Other Recommended Activities and Excursions

The End of the World Train

The famous End of the World Train provides a unique way to explore some of the most beautiful areas of the park.

Lapataia Bay and National Route 3

Lapataia Bay and National Route 3 offer impressive views and the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife.

Boat Excursions on the Beagle Channel

Boat excursions on the Beagle Channel are another popular way to enjoy the beauty of the park and get up close to its rich marine fauna. These excursions often include visits to colonies of sea lions and seabirds.

Conservation and Sustainability

Threats to Biodiversity and Conservation Measures

Protecting biodiversity is a priority in Tierra del Fuego National Park. Despite facing threats such as climate change and the invasion of non-native species, significant efforts are being made to preserve this unique ecosystem.

Community Participation and Environmental Education

The park promotes community participation and environmental education as an integral part of its conservation efforts.

Practical Information for Visitors

How to Get to Tierra del Fuego National Park

Whether you arrive by plane in Ushuaia or by road, an exciting experience awaits you.

Vehicle Access

Tierra del Fuego National Park can be reached by private vehicle by following National Route 3 from the city of Ushuaia. It’s important to note that the maximum allowed speed is 40 km/h (25 mph) and to pay attention to the wildlife that inhabits the region, as it’s common to encounter rabbits, guanacos, foxes, and other animals crossing the road.

Parking for Cars and Private Vehicles

Within the National Park, there are designated parking areas for the convenience of visitors. These areas include:

  1. Entrance Gate to the Park (National Route 3).
  2. Río Pipo.
  3. Ensenada Zaratiegui.
  4. Alakush Visitor Center.
  5. Lake Acigami.
  6. Lapataia Bay.

It’s important to use the designated parking areas and follow the indications to ensure a safe and organized visit to the park.

Airplane

To get to Tierra del Fuego National Park by airplane, there are two international airports in the Tierra del Fuego region:

  1. Malvinas Argentinas International Airport: This airport is located about 4 km south of the city of Ushuaia. It’s considered the southernmost airport in the world. Flights from different parts of Argentina arrive here. You can obtain more information by contacting the following phone numbers: (54-290) 143-1232 / (54-290) 143-2587.
  2. Gobernador Trejo Noel International Airport: This airport is located approximately 5 km northwest of downtown Río Grande. It also receives international and domestic flights connecting with various parts of Argentina.

Once you arrive at either of these airports, you can take ground transportation, such as taxis or buses, to reach the park entrance located in the province of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur.

Bus

Different bus lines reach the Ushuaia bus terminal to Tierra del Fuego National Park, providing a convenient option to get there.

The bus stops include:

  1. Entrance Gate.
  2. Austral Fueguino Railway Station.
  3. Ensenada Zaratiegui.
  4. Alakush Visitor Center.
  5. Lake Acigami/Roca Parking Lot.
  6. Agreste Isla Entre Ríos Campsite.
  7. Lapataia Bay Parking Lot.

Bicycle

It’s possible to explore Tierra del Fuego National Park by bicycle along the vehicular roads, especially at the entrance gate from National Route 3. However, it’s important to take some precautions, as there are no bike lanes in the park, and vehicular traffic can be intense at certain times. Bicycles are not allowed on the park’s pedestrian trails.

Train

The Train at the End of the World, recognized as the southernmost train in the world, offers different routes, including one that takes you to the park entrance. The train’s terminal station serves as the entry point for those who have booked a guided tour of the protected area through a travel company. The last departure time from the city of Ushuaia is at 3:00 PM.

Maritime Access

The port of Ushuaia is an important arrival point for international cruises, expedition ships, and sailboats that travel to Antarctica and circumnavigate the southern American continent. Travelers arriving by sea can obtain relevant information from the Fueguino Institute of Tourism and the Argentine Naval Prefecture. These institutions will provide guidance and assistance to ensure an enjoyable visit.

Accommodation and Available Services

Within the Park

Within the boundaries of Tierra del Fuego National Park, accommodation options are limited to free camping areas. These areas are free and do not require advance reservations; they operate on a first-come, first-served basis.

The available campgrounds within the park are as follows:

  1. Río Pipo: This campground has chemical toilets and is open for use from November to April. However, it does not offer additional services.
  2. Ensenada: This campground provides chemical toilets and is open for use from November to April. Like the previous campground, it does not offer additional services.
  3. Laguna Verde/Cauquenes: This campground has chemical toilets and is open from November to April. It also lacks additional services.

In addition to these campgrounds with chemical toilets, there’s another one called Laguna del Caminante. This campground is located on the Andorra-Cañadón de la Oveja trail and can be accessed after approximately 8 hours of hiking from the trailhead. However, it’s important to note that this campground does not have chemical toilets.

Outside the Park: Nearby Accommodations in Ushuaia

Outside of Tierra del Fuego National Park, the city of Ushuaia offers a variety of lodging options for visitors. Since the city is located close to the park, it’s a convenient choice for those who want to stay in a place closer to amenities.

In Ushuaia, there’s an excellent range of places to stay and dine, ranging from luxury hotels and resorts to hostels, inns, and campgrounds. Hotels often offer amenities such as comfortable rooms, restaurants, spa services, and other facilities to cater to guests’ needs.

In addition to accommodations, Ushuaia offers a wide variety of restaurants, shops, travel agencies, and other conveniences to make visitors’ stay enjoyable and facilitate any necessary arrangements before or after visits.

It’s recommended to make accommodation reservations in advance, especially during the high season, as Ushuaia is a popular tourist destination, and lodging demand can be high.

Prices and Fees

Here are the current rates effective from May 22, 2023, for Tierra del Fuego National Park:

  • General rate: $10,000.
  • National residents: $2,500.
  • Children aged 6 to 16: $1,500.
  • University and tertiary students: $1,500.
  • Provincial residents: $1,000.
  • Students up to 18 years old on a school excursion (prior and duly accredited with the Park Authority): $0.
  • Local residents, retirees and pensioners (registered in SIPA), children up to 5 years old, and individuals with disabilities (along with their companion): $0.

It’s important to note that these prices are subject to change, and it’s recommended to verify the updated information before visiting the park.

Contact Information

Tierra del Fuego National Park Authority

  • Hours: Monday to Friday from 9 AM to 4 PM.
  • Address: Av. San Martin 1395 Ushuaia (9410), Tierra del Fuego, A.I.E.S.
  • Phone: 02901-577931 / 02901-577993
  • Email: tierradelfuego@apn.gob.ar.

Alakush Visitor Center

  • Hours: Every day from 9 AM to 6 PM.
  • Address: National Route 3, km 3057, Tierra del Fuego, A.I.E.S.
  • Email: info@alakush.com.

Rules and Recommendations for Visitors

It’s essential to respect the park’s rules to protect wildlife and the environment and ensure that all visitors enjoy their stay.

Photo Gallery