Into the heart of Tierra del Fuego

Punta Arenas, Chile

A bowl of cornflakes and cup of mediocre coffee got us on our way this morning. We checked out of the hotel and met Juan Cabral, our taxi driver and tour guide for the day. Our plan was to visit the beautiful Tierra del Fuego National Park, which sits about 12 kilometers from town. It runs from the Beagle Channel up to Fagnano Lake, which we visited yesterday.

We didn’t have a lot of time before our flight, so we opted to hike the Senda Costera, a 6.5 kilometer trail that meanders along the bay. The path brought us through dense Lenga woods and across the round, polished stones lining the shore.




The hike was described as medium difficulty and we plowed through it in about 2.5 hours. “That was fast,” Juan said as we loaded back into his Chevrolet Corsa and he handed us bottles of water and delicious dulce de leche choco-pies. We felt good — maybe we were in better shape for our upcoming trek in Torres del Paine than we thought. Or maybe not.

Juan brought us to the end of National Road 3, which is also the termination of the 17,848 kilometer Pan-American Highway. We had him snap a photo while vowing to one day drive here from Alaska.


Afterward, we walked out on the wooden platforms until you could go no further. This was it, the End of the World. Literally.


Juan was big on taking photos, so we obliged when he pulled to the shoulder for a scenic overlook of Ushuaia. Snow, which had been falling just 20 minutes earlier, cleared up and we were treated with a great final view.


The airport was quiet and we had no problems checking in. Our Lan flight to Punta Arenas left more or less on time. My seatmate was a true global traveler, a corporate attorney from San Diego who had been to over 100 countries. Inevitably the question arose: which was your favorite? Her answer: Antarctica, which she had visited four times.

We were landing not more than 30 minutes after we had taken off. After a Chilean immigration stamp, we hit up the ATM, hailed a cab and made our way to Cabo de Hornos, supposedly the nicest hotel in town. Located on the central Plaza Muñoz Gamero, it didn’t have much character, but our 7th floor room was spacious and had great panoramas of the Strait of Magellan.



Punta Arenas is a pretty low-key city, essentially serving as a departure point for trips to Torres del Paine. We strolled through the Plaza, surrounded by exotic pine trees, and checked out the monument commemorating the 400th anniversary of Magellan’s voyage. Afterward, we walked to the Cemeterio Municipal, a quiet and sprawling place just outside the city center.



The sun was starting to set and the wind was picking up so we returned to the hotel. We had pisco sours at the bar and then set out for dinner. The front desk clerk pointed us in the wrong direction causing us to have trouble finding the restaurant — we ultimately ended up at Puerto Viejo. We split a salad and then both had steaks and fries (surprise). Burt got a terrible frozen tiramisu for dessert, further bolstering our belief that finding a decent dessert in South America is impossible.

Our 7-day trek in Torres del Paine, the crown jewel of South America’s national parks, departs tomorrow morning.

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