Tierra del Fuego – better known as the ‘End of the World’ – is the southernmost tip of South America. Divided between Argentina and Chile, it’s a windswept archipelago home to glaciers, oil fields, fishing, and an isolated National Park. This remote corner of Patagonia also supports rare and charismatic wildlife such as Andean condors and the endangered huemul deer. Over the years, several species have been introduced to the park by European and North American visitors. Nowadays they have colonised and are thriving. This means you can see beavers, grey foxes, muskrats, and European rabbits, where a few hundred years ago such species would have been unknown. These animals have had significant impacts on the local wildlife and caused lasting problems to the balance of this fragile ecosystem.
The gateway to Tierra del Fuego is Ushuaia – the southernmost city in the world. In winter the sun is hidden entirely for weeks. While in summer the night is oppressively short, to the extent it can knock your rhythm out of kilter. But it’s also a place with dramatic and rugged scenery. On a day with blue skies, looking out across the Beagle Channel, you can see mountainous islands in the distance. Somewhere beyond those is the distant land of Antarctica. As well as a whole host of wildlife including humpback whales, sea lions, giant petrels, imperial shags, and black-browed albatross. You can read about our trip to Tierra del Fuego here.
Average rating: 4.0 (very good)
Average cost: access to the National Park is around $9. In Ushuaia, the best way to see wildlife is by boat. It’s easy to get a ticket at the many kiosks beside the jetty in the centre of town. Trips tend to cost from $60 to over $250. Depending on the duration, number of guests, services provided, and whether you’re permitted to walk onto the destination island.
Best time to visit: Tierra del Fuego is at its best in the southern hemisphere summer from October to April. During this time it’s warmer and the days are longer. That said it’s still quite cool and the weather can change rapidly and unpredictably – so prepare for all occasions!
How to get there: Ushuaia is the main entry point to Tierra del Fugeo. You can get there by flight from Buenos Aires or by bus. As in other places in Patagonia, bus rides are long, monotonous, and absolutely spectacular. Pretty much all buses to Ushuaia go via Rio Gallegos which is around 10 hours away. From here you can take further buses to most other destinations in the area.
Typical activities: bird watching, boat trip, walking
Number of reports: 2
WILDLIFE IN Tierra del Fuego
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
Sea lion – 100% OF VISITORS (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The Beagle Channel which separates Tierra del Fuego from other islands in the area is home to large numbers of South American sea lions. If you sign up to the right boat trip in Ushuaia you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of hundreds of squabbling sea lions. Look out for boats heading to ‘Isla de los Lobos’ or ‘Sea lion island’ if you want to see them sprawled across the rocks. Grunting, barking, and yelping as they go about their daily lives.
Andean Condor – 50% OF VISITORS (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Tierra del Fuego isn’t the best place in Patagonia to spot condors. However, as with pretty much anywhere in this area of the world, with a little persistence and time in nature your chances of seeing these guys are good. You might get lucky and see one on a boat tour out of Ushuaia although your best bet if you want to see condors is to head to the National Park. The best times to see them are on warm, calm days. Take some binoculars if you want decent views of these magnificent birds.
Black-Browed Albatross – 50% OF VISITORS (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Black-browed albatross are one of the most abundant sea birds in the Beagle Channel. If you take a boat from Ushuaia make sure to look out for them soaring above the waves in the deeper parts of the channel. In 2003 a breeding colony of black-browed albatross was found off Tierra del Fuego, on a small islet close to the coast of Karukinka Park. To date, this is the only recorded inland colony of these incredible birds. They usually nest in remote oceanic islands where they spend most of their time feeding at sea. Sadly they are under pressure from invasive mink which eat their eggs and chicks.
HuemUl deer – 0% OF VISITORS (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Huemul deer used to be found throughout much of South America. However, they are now highly endangered. The IUCN estimates that their population has fallen by 99% and their range by 50%. The last remaining huemuls are found clinging on in the rugged mountainous areas of Patagonia. The huemul population used to extend to Tierra del Fuego although it is not clear if they are still there today. Unfortunately, this means your chances of seeing one of these secretive creatures are extremely low. Let us know if you have any luck!
Humpback Whale – 0% OF VISITORS (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Thanks to its sheltered waters, unique underwater topography which allows whales to swim close to shore, and abundance of krill and minerals, the waters off Tierra del Fuego attract a number of whale species, including humpbacks. The chances of sighting whales, however, seem to be relatively low. With the best place for spotting humpbacks in the region being the waters around Isla Carlos III. To maximise your chances take a boat trip during the summer months of December to March. During this time whales migrate around Cape Horn to mate and give birth.
Imperial Shag – 50% OF VISITORS (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Imperial shags (or imperial cormorants) are the most abundant species in the Beagle Channel. So your chances of spotting them on a boat trip from Ushuaia are pretty good. They are most often found in the shallow waters of the channel where they feed, or on the nearby islands. They breed on several of the islands in the channel, with around 1,400 nests on Islas Bridges and 4,200 on Isla Becasses. The sights and sounds of thousands of birds living and breeding on such small, rocky islands is an incredible thing to see!
Giant Petrel – 50% OF VISITORS (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The Beagle Channel is also home to southern giant petrels. These huge birds are mainly found in the Islas Bridges and Bahia Ushuaia zones although they don’t breed in the area. They are opportunistic feeders and will take pretty much whatever they can find – including rubbish! This means they tend to stay close to human activity and are pretty easy to spot. Flocks of up to 40-60 individuals can be seen in the waters around Ushuaia. Particularly around the mouth of Arroyo Grande where disposals from the slaughterhouse are discarded into the bay.
Photo credit: WildSide team member Adam Eagle