If Patagonia is exciting, Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire)—the “uttermost part of the earth”—is electrifying. In the days of sail, its sub-Antarctic weather and ferocious westerlies obsessed seamen whether or not they had ever experienced the thrill—or terror—of “rounding the Horn.” After Richard Henry Dana survived the southern seas en route to California in 1834, he vividly recounted conditions that could change from calm to chaos in an instant:
“Here comes Cape Horn!” said the chief mate; and we had hardly time to haul down and clew up, before it was upon us. In a few moments, a heavier sea was raised than I had ever seen before, and… the little brig… plunged into it, and all the forward part of her was under water; the sea pouring in through the bow ports and hawse-hole, and over the knight-heads, threatening to wash everything overboard.… At the same time sleet and hail were driving with all fury against us.
In Dana’s time, that was the price of admission to the earth’s most spectacular combination of sea, sky, land, and ice. In a landscape whose granite pinnacles rise nearly 2,000 meters straight out of the ocean, only a handful of hunter-gatherers foraging in the fjords and forests knew the area with any intimacy. Today, fortunately, reaching the Fuegian archipelago involves less hardship—not to mention motion sickness—than Dana and his shipmates suffered.
Today, it’s still a place where fur seals, sea lions, and penguins cavort in the choppy seas of the Strait of Magellan. From the seashore, behind the Argentine city of Ushuaia , glacial horns rise like sacred steeples. The beaches and southern beech forests of Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego , west of the city, are the terminus of the world’s southernmost highway.
Tierra del Fuego may be an archipelago, but the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego is South America’s largest island. Chile shares the territory with Argentina; while parts of the Argentine side are urbanized, the Chilean side has just a few small towns and isolated estancias. Roads are few but improving, especially on the Argentine side; the unpaved roads, though, can be hell on windshields, which are most cheaply replaced in the Chilean mainland city of Punta Arenas .
Though it has much in common with other parts of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego retains its own distinctive identity. Most attractions and services—at least the most accessible ones—are on the Argentine side.
There are two ferry routes from the Chilean mainland: a shuttle from Punta Delgada, only 45 kilometers south of the Argentine border, across the Primera Angostura narrows to Puerto Espora, and a daily service from Punta Arenas  to Porvenir , one of the strait’s widest parts.