Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

Tierra del Fuego

[tee-er-uh del fwey-goh; Sp. tyer-rah thel fwe-gaw]

Tierra del Fuego (Spanish for "Land of Fire", in English ; Spanish ˈtjerað̞elˈfweɰo) is an archipelago separated from the southernmost tip of the South American mainland by the Strait of Magellan. The southern point of the archipelago forms Cape Horn.


The archipelago consists of a main island (Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, often simply called Tierra del Fuego or Isla Grande) with an area of , and a group of smaller islands.

Half of this island, and the islands west and south of it, are part of the Magallanes y Antártica Chilena Region, the capital and chief town of which is Punta Arenas, situated on the mainland across the strait. The biggest Chilean towns are Porvenir, capital of the Chilean Province of Tierra del Fuego, on the main island, and Puerto Williams, on Navarino Island, being the capital of the Antártica Chilena Province. Puerto Toro lies a few kilometers south of Puerto Williams and is the southernmost village in the world.

The eastern part of the archipelago belongs to Argentina, being part of the Tierra del Fuego, Antarctic Territory and South Atlantic Islands Province; its capital is Ushuaia, the biggest city of the archipelago, and the other important city in the region is Río Grande, over on the Atlantic coast.

The Darwin Range ends in the Mount Bove; this range contains many glaciers that even reach the ocean.


Its name comes from Ferdinand Magellan who was born in Portugal, and was the first European to pass it 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.

Four native Fuegians, including "Jemmy Button" (Orundellico), were brought from Tierra del Fuego by Robert Fitzroy on his first voyage with the 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.


The climate in this region is very inhospitable. 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 (2300 ft) above sea level. Isla de los Estados, east of Ushuaia, receives of rain. Rainfall is heavier in the west, a year. Temperatures are steady throughout the year: in Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world) they hardly surpass in summers and average 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 that have polar climate. Regions in the world with similar climates to southern Tierra del Fuego are: Aleutian islands, Iceland, Alaska Peninsula and Faroe Islands.


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 trees 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, this is the case of beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis var. chiloensis forma 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 (around ). 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 , dwarf nothofagus communities are found. Going further south, Wollaston Islands and the south of Hoste Island are covered by subantarctic tundra. Forests from Tierra del Fuego have expanded beyond local importance, they have been a source of trees that have been planted abroad in places with practically the same climate but which were originally devoid of trees like Faroe Islands and nearby archipelagos. Most of species were gathered from the coldest places in Tierra del Fuego, sites mainly with tundra borders. This effort resulted in positive changes, as the heavy winds and cool summers in the Faroe Islands did not allow the growth of trees from other regions in the world. The imported trees are used ornamentally, as curtains against wind and for fighting erosion caused by storms and grazing in the Faroe Islands.


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 , 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.


The main industries are oil, natural gas, sheep farming and ecotourism. On the Argentine side there are several electronic companies established. Tierra del Fuego is also home to the small brewing company Cervecería Fueguina, which produces three beers under the Beagle brand name.

See also

External links



  • Bridges, Lucas. 1948. Uttermost Part of the Earth. Reprint with Introduction by Gavin Young, Century Hutchinson, 1987. ISBN 0-7126-1493-1
  • Keynes, Richard. 2002. Fossils, Finches and Fuegians: Charles Darwin's Adventures and Discoveries on the Beagle, 1832-1836. HarperCollinsPublishers, London. Reprint: 2003.
  • Bollen, Patrick. 2000. "Tierra del Fuego" B/W Photobook. Lannoo Publishers, Tielt, Belgium. ISBN 90-209-4040-6

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