Tierra del Fuego

Tierra del Fuego

Tierra del Fuego is not a strategically important point on the world map. Only in the sixteenth century and in 1978-1979, during the Argentine-Chilean conflict, did the archipelago gain international importance.

The Strait of Magellan separates the Tierra del Fuego archipelago from the South American continent. This island group is one of the most uninhabited areas in the world.


The great navigator Fernand Magellan, during his first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520, not only discovered the strait later named after him, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but he also named the archipelago south of the South American continent. He mistook the bonfires of the Indians which were constantly burning on the islands for volcanic vents and named the archipelago Tierra del Fuego. In the late 16th century, Sir Francis Drake was ordered to Tierra del Fuego by the English crown and discovered that the island was not, as was commonly believed, one with the mainland. Since then, Tierra del Fuego was identified as an island on all maps of the world. The Spaniards followed the British in building the first settlement in the Strait of Magellan, Ushuaia. In Native American, its name means “the city in the depths of the bay. Modern Ushuaia is still one of the few large settlements on the archipelago. In the late 1970s, a conflict arose between Chile and Argentina over territorial claims to the Strait of Beagle, which separates the main island of the archipelago from the southern islands with Cape Horn and serves as the border between the states. However, thanks to the mediation of the Vatican, the war was avoided.


Tierra del Fuego is not just the name of the island. It is the name of the entire archipelago, which in addition to the main island includes a huge number of small islands located near the shores of Patagonia at the southern edge of America.

Tierra del Fuego is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan, one of the most important but also the most dangerous sea lanes in the world. It connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, allowing sailors to avoid the extremely dangerous voyage around Cape Horn. Tierra del Fuego is divided between two nations. Argentina owns the southern part of the main island, where Tierra del Fuego National Park is located, and Chile owns the rest. In the north of Tierra del Fuego the vegetation differs little from that of Patagonia, while further south the landscape becomes more sparse. The mountain peaks of the Cordillera system (some of them reach a height of 2500 m) are covered by glaciers. Tierra del Fuego’s cool climate and heavy rainfall make it a difficult vacation spot, but despite the less-than-superb weather conditions, more and more people are coming to these calm islands to escape the hustle and bustle of civilization.

Although the population of the archipelago has grown several times over the past 25 years, this southern tip of the American continent is home to only 3.4 people per km2.

General Information

  • Belongs to two states, Argentina and Chile.
  • Languages: Spanish and Amerindian.
  • Currency: Argentine and Chilean peso.
  • Religion: Catholicism.
  • The largest cities: Porvenir (Chilean territory, 5,600 inhabitants), Ushuaia (11,000 inhabitants) and Rio Grande (35,000 inhabitants) are on Argentine territory.
  • The largest islands are Tierra del Fuego, Oste, Santa Ynez and Navarino.
  • Area: 73,753 km2 (the area of the largest island is 47,000 km2).
  • Population: 251,000 people.
  • Population density: 3.4 people per km2.
  • Highest point: Mount Jogan (2,469 m).
  • The length of the Strait of Magellan: 580 km.

Climate and weather

  • Oceanic, cool.
  • Strong winds.
  • Average temperature in January: +14°C, in July: +4°C.


  • The cities of Porvenir, Ushuaia and Puerto Williams.
  • Tierra del Fuego and Alberto de Agostini National Parks.
  • Migratory birds in San Sebastian Bay.

Fun Facts

  • The Beagle Strait is named after the ship Charles Darwin sailed in. In 1830, the famous Englishman conducted important research on Tierra del Fuego, which formed the basis of the evolutionary theory.
  • Travelers whose journey along the Trans-American Highway ends at Tierra del Fuego can have their names immortalized at the world’s southernmost anchorage on a special plaque.
  • Ushuaia, one of the few major settlements in Tierra del Fuego, is the world’s southernmost city. During half the year, it is daytime in the south of Tierra del Fuego: only five hours of darkness a day.
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