Leave the airport and head toward Punta Arenas, capital of the Magallanes Region, which features a wide variety of lodging, food, and tourist excursions.
We recommend spending the afternoon getting to know the city, whether walking the road along the waterfront to admire the beauty and history of the Strait of Magellan, visiting some of the museums––among them del Recuerdo, Salesianos, Braun-Menéndez, and Nao Victoria––or exploring the Municipal Cemetery and the Magallanes National Reserve. Stay the night in Punta Arenas.
Today, we invite you to explore Pali Aike National Park, located 122 miles from Punta Arenas, very near the border with Argentina. Take International Route CH-255, which leads to the Monte Aymond border crossing. At mile 104 (kilometer 168), merge onto the gravel road that leads to the park. Pali Aike means area «the desolate place where the devil dwells” in the Tehuelche people’s language, and it was their name for this place with incredible moon-like landscapes, which you can explore via trails that include Morada del Diablo and Cueva Pali Aike.
Return to Route CH-255, where you can merge onto Route Y-533 to travel northeast or Route CH-256 to head southeast and arrive at the Punta Delgada (Primera Angostura) crossing, where you can take a 20-minute ferry ride across the Strait of Magellan and dock at Bahía Azul. You’ve now arrived at Tierra del Fuego! This island was long inhabited by the Selknam, skilled warriors, seasoned hunters, expert trail-finders and one of the tallest people on the continent, with an average height of nearly 5 feet, 11 inches. The Yámanas people rowed along the island’s coastlines, fishing and gathering their food from the waters, and traveling in their canoes made from Coigüe bark.
Continue south on Route CH-257. You’ll pass Lomas Bay, and if you’re a bird lover, we suggest staying alert, given that you’re very close to coastal wetlands that feature some of the most variable tides in all of Chile. During low tide, the beach can get up to a full 4.3 miles longer. This makes it an exciting spot for birdwatching, especially given that it is the most important wintering site in South America for species such as the Playero Árctico (Red Knot), and the second-most-important for the Zarapito de Pico Recto (Hudsonian Godwit). It is estimated that more than 64 thousand birds of different species make their home here during wintering seasons. The bay has also been the site of whale beachings and has been named a Ramsar site due to its international ecological importance as a wetland.
After around a 30 minutes’ drive from Bahía Azul, you’ll arrive at Cerro Sombrero, capital of Primavera, founded when the families of oil workers settled the area in 1945. We suggest staying here for the night, preparing to continue your journey early the following morning.
Continue exploring Tierra del Fuego via Route CH-257 until you arrive at the Onaisin intersection. Left will take you to the San Sebastián border crossing and right will take you to Porvenir. We suggest continuing south toward Bahía Inútil (Route Y-71), or Useless Bay, which is named for the various failed attempts sailors made to dock along its coasts, foiled by its shallow water and its lack of protection from fierce westerly winds. This bay is home to the only Pingüino Rey (King Penguin) colony in South America. We suggest visiting Pingüino Rey Park, located roughly 9 miles south of the Onaisin intersection, to have the opportunity to spot––at a distance––this colorful species. You’ll need to plan your visit in advance; the park is open from Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and closed on Mondays. Make your reservations at: email@example.com / www.parquepinguinorey.cl.
Once you’ve finished your visit, continue driving south, enjoying the arid vistas and windy steppes, where thick Coirón grass dominates the landscape. You can learn about the history of the cattle industry on the island by visiting the Tierra del Fuego Exploitation Society’s largest ranch: Caleta Josefina. Once you’ve driven 20 miles along Route Y-71 from Pingüino Rey Park, you’ll arrive at Cameron, where you can stay for the night and rest up to continue your adventure the following day.
Keep driving south. Around 50 minutes after Cameron, you’ll arrive at the Russfin sector, where you’ll find the gold mining dredge that was brought from England in 1904 and declared a National Monument in 1976. It speaks to the history of Tierra del Fuego’s Golden Age.
Continue roughly 34 miles and you’ll arrive at Pampa Guanaco, where you’ll find a police station and a landing strip. Before this, you’ll also have the chance to see the beautiful Lake Blanco. If you continue 12 miles farther south from Pampa Guanaco, you’ll arrive at Karukina Park (the Vicuña sector), which has a house for visitors with a 17-person capacity, 10 campsites, and 6 domes. You can stay here or in Pampa Guanaco and take the afternoon to explore a few of the park’s trails, including Cóndores Imaginarios (3 hours), Laguna del Cura (6.5 hours), or Cerro Pietro Grande (4 hours, located 15 minutes from the Vicuña lodge).
Stay for the night in the park or in one of the nearby lodging options.
Today, we invite you to explore the southern part of the island, where the landscape is marked by forests and large mountain ranges. First, you’ll pass by the beautiful Lake Deseado, well-known by fly fishers, and later you’ll arrive at an area that’s sacred for the Selknam people: Hidden Lake, or Lake Kami, which was called Lake Fagnano by Salesian explorer Alberto De Agostini.
At the moment, you can only reach the area 9 miles south of Lake Fagnano. Chile’s Military Workforce and Ministry of Public Works are currently building a road that will connect Lake Fagnano and Yendegaia Bay (Caleta 2 de Mayo) and will permit land access to the park. (The park does not currently have infrastructure that permits public access.) From there, you will also be able to take a ferry called Aunashaka––“Onas’ Channel” in the Selknam language––connecting Tierra del Fuego to Puerto Williams, a voyage of around 4 hours.
Once you’re finished exploring, return north to stay near Lake Deseado, Karukinka Park, or Pampa Guanaco.
Head north until you return to the Onaisin intersection, where you can turn left and drive toward Porvenir along Route Y-71. Before you reach Porvenir––which is located around 25 miles from the Onaisin intersection––you’ll reach Route Y-635, which will take you to the town on a road through the Baquedano Range, along a winding road that offers gorgeous views of the surrounding landscapes and helps tell the story of the prospectors who came to the island.
Founded in 1894, Porvenir is the capital of the Tierra del Fuego Province. It offers various alternatives for lodging, food, and excursions. We recommend staying the night there.
Today, you’ll cross the Strait of Magellan at Porvenir, returning to Punta Arenas. Plan your trip in advance; there’s only one crossing a day, and there is no ferry service on Mondays. Check the schedules and reserve your spot in advance at: http://www.tabsa.cl/portal/index.php/es/horarios/11-horarios-p-arenas-porvenir.
The ferry crossings are typically in the evening, which will give you time in the morning to explore the city and its surroundings. A few sites we recommend include the Fernando Cordero Rusque Museum, the Plaza de Armas (town square), the road that winds along the coastline, the Banderas Plaza, the Croata Park, the Del Recuerdo Park, and the Mirador Hill, which offers panoramic views of the city and the bay. We also suggest traveling 3.7 miles north of Porvenir, where you’ll find the Laguna de Los Cisnes Natural Monument, which features flamingo colonies, as well as the Serrano and Deseada lagoons.
Take the ferry and prepare to cross the Strait of Magellan in just under two hours. You’ll dock at Tres Puentes, which is located 3 miles from Punta Arenas. You can stay in Punta Arenas for your final night.
Drive north for around half an hour to arrive at the Punta Arenas airport, where you can set out for your next destination or begin your trip home.
If you stay an extra night in Punta Arenas, you can visit the Isla Magdalena Natural Monument, where an estimated 60,000 pairs of Magellanic Penguins make their homes. The island is located 22 miles north of the city and can be reached by sailing in the Strait of Magellan. You can coordinate a day trip with various local tourist companies.
It’s also possible to do this route in the opposite direction, crossing the Strait of Magellan at Tres Puentes to arrive at Porvenir and then set out from Bahía Azul, passing through Cerro Sombrero.
You can also cross the border at the San Sebastián pass and continue through Argentina toward Ushuaia, located 216 miles south.
For those who are interested in a longer trek, Karukinka Park offers a 5-day route, which explores the 41 miles between Lake Despreciado and La Paciencia Bay. For more information, visit: https://chile.wcs.org/Karukinka.aspx.
Various airlines offer daily flights to Punta Arenas. Dap Airlines flies twice a week between Balmaceda and Punta Arenas. The direct flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas takes 3.5 hours.
Cerro Sombrero is located 136 miles from Punta Arenas, crossing the Strait of Magellan at the Primera Angostura sector (Punta Delgada) in a trip of around 20 minutes.
Porvenir is located in front of Punta Arenas, on the other side of the Strait of Magellan. You can get there via ferry from Tres Puentes, 3 miles from Punta Arenas, on a trip that takes 110 minutes. The ferry docks at Bahía Chilota.
There are gas stations in Cerro Sombrero and Porvenir. The gas station in Cerro Sombrero is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
You can check the schedules for the ferry that crosses the Strait of Magellan and arrives at Porvenir here: http://www.tabsa.cl/portal/index.php/es/servicios/3-cruce-p-arenas-porvenir.
You can check the schedules for the ferry connecting Punta Delgada and Cerro Sombrero here: http://www.tabsa.cl/portal/index.php/es/servicios/2-cruce-primera-angostura.
Reservations are needed to visit Pingüino Rey Park. Find out more at: http://pinguinorey.com/.
To find out more about Karukinka Park, visit: https://chile.wcs.org/Karukinka.aspx.
For more information about the San Sebastián border crossing, visit: http://www.pasosfronterizos.gov.cl/complejos-fronterizos/magallanes/paso-san-sebastian/.
The prolific bird life found in this park includes carancho, kestrel, queltehue, caiquén, ibis, eaglet, black eagle with nest, peregrine falcon and ñandú.
Immense plains, fjords, channels and unexplored mountains make up this unique territory and biosphere reserve that has been part of the ancestral route of Selknam and Yaghan people.
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