History of Tierra del Fuego
Earliest human settlement occurred more than 10,000 years ago. The Yaghan people were some of the earliest known humans settling in Tierra del Fuego, with certain recognizable archeological sites at locations such as Navarino Island within the islands of Tierra del Fuego.
The name Tierra del Fuego derives from Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who was the first European to visit these lands in 1520. He believed he was seeing the many fires (fuego in Spanish) of the Amerindians, which were visible from the sea and that the “Indians” were waiting in the forests to ambush his armada. These were fires lit by the Yamana Indians who lived in the southern part of the island, to ward off the low temperatures in the area. Originally called the “Land of Smoke,” it was later changed to the more exciting “Land of Fire.”
Four native Fuegians, including “Jemmy Button”, were brought from Tierra del Fuego by Robert Fitzroy on his first voyage with the HMS Beagle in 1830. They were taken to meet the King and Queen in London and were to an extent celebrities. The surviving three returned to Tierra del Fuego with the Beagle with Charles Darwin, who made extensive notes about his visit to the islands.
In 1881 it was divided between Argentina and Chile; previously it was claimed by both countries in its entirety.
Weather in Tierra del Fuego
It is a subpolar oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfc) with short, cool summers and long, wet, moderate winters: the northeast is characterized by strong winds and little precipitation, in the south and west it is very windy, foggy, and wet for most of the year, and there are very few days without rain, slush, hail or snow.
The permanent snow-line begins at 700 m (2,300 ft) above sea level. Isla de los Estados, 230 km (143 mi) east of Ushuaia, receives 1,400 mm (55 in) of rain. Rainfall is heavier in the west, 3,000 mm (118 in) a year.
Temperatures are steady throughout the year: in Ushuaia they hardly surpass 9 °C (50 °F) in summers and average 0 °C (30 °F) in winters. Snowfall can occur in summer. The cold and wet summers help preserve the ancient glaciers. The southernmost islands possess subantarctic climate typical of tundra that makes the growth of trees impossible. Some areas in the interior have a polar climate.
Regions in the world with similar climates to southern Tierra del Fuego are: Aleutian islands, Iceland, Alaska Peninsula and Faroe Islands.
Flora & Fauna of Tierra del Fuego
Only 30% of the islands have forests, which are classified as Magellanic subpolar; the northeast is made up by steppe and cool semidesert.
There are six species of tree found in Tierra del Fuego: Canelo or Winter’s Bark (Drimys winteri), Maytenus magellanica, Pilgerodendron uviferum the southernmost conifer in the world , and three kinds of Southern Beech; Nothofagus antarctica, Nothofagus pumilio and the evergreen Nothofagus betuloides. Very delicious fruits grow in open spaces in these forests, such as beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) and calafate (berberis buxifolia), which were and are collected respectively by Indians and countrymen. These forests are unique in the world for having developed in a climate with such cold summers. Tree cover extends very close to the southernmost tip of South America. Winds are so strong that trees in wind-exposed areas grow twisted by the force of winds, and people call the trees “flag-trees” for the shape that they need to take in the fight with the wind. Tree vegetation extends as far south as the Isla de los Estados, Navarino Island and the north of Hoste Island. At altitudes above 500 m (1,640 ft), dwarf nothofagus communities are found. Going further south, Wollaston Islands and the south of Hoste Island are covered by subantarctic tundra.
Among the most notable animals in the archipelago that are found: parakeets, seagulls, guanacos, foxes, kingfishers, condors, owls, and firecrown hummingbirds. North American beaver, introduced in the 1940s, have proliferated and caused considerable damage to the island’s forests.
Like mainland Chile and Argentina to the north, the archipelago boasts some of the finest trout fishing in the world. Sea Run Brown Trout often exceed 9 kg (20 lb), particularly in rivers such as the Rio Grande and San Pablo and in the Lago Fagnano. Much of this water is private, catch and release and fly fishing only.
Ushuaia, the bay entering the west.
Situation, history and interesting info.
Situated on the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is the largest city in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, and arguably the southernmost city in the world. In the past, the town has been a missionary base, penal colony and naval base for the Argentine navy. Ushuaia is now a major tourist town commonly used as a base for hiking, winter sports and cruises to Antarctica.
In the late 19th century, the land that is now called Ushuaia was inhabited entirely by Yamana natives and a handful of missionaries. An excellent book on the history of the Yamana 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 Yamana language and found that it had a far larger vocabulary than the English language.
The most interesting places to see when at Ushuaia are following:
Museo Marítimo y del ex-Presidio. Located in an old prison displays a collection of the history of Tierra del Fuego. Admission includes entry into the Presidio which is on the same site as el Museo Marítimo.
Presidio – Museum of the historical military prison of Ushuaia. One wing of the museum has been converted to an art gallery featuring the work of local artists.
Museo del Fin del Mundo. Highlights include the largest exhibited collection of birds from Tierra del Fuego, the figurehead of the Duchess of Albany (a sunken vessel), and library dedicated to the history and nature of Tierra del Fuego.
Museo Mundo Yámana. Privately run museum with several dioramas of traditional Yaghan/Yámana life, origins and migrations, as well as displays of the period of early contact with Europeans. Located near the Museo del Fin del Mundo.
Hike the Glacier Martial – Provided that you wear comfortable shoes and have the patience, a hike up the Glacier Martial will provide a very beautiful view of Ushuaia and the Beagle Chanel. There is also a single ski slope open during the winter months, and ski hire is available from the site. To approach the glacier we recommend to get a professional guide assistance due to safety reasons.
Tierra del Fuego National Park – This national park provide some nice day hikes on well marked trails. The most beautiful path is called Send Costera, a three to four hour hike with medium difficulty level that takes you to awesome sceneries, and enjoy the natural wildlife.