Argentina: From the Strait of Magellan to the Beagle Channel

Route: Punta Delgada – Cerro Sombrero – San Sebastian – Rio Grande – Lago Yehuin – Tolhuin – Ushuaia

I’m on Tierra del Fuego. Dreamed about that a long time.
Before the finalization of the Panama Canal, the Strait of Magellan was the place were the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean met and through which most of the marine traffic came.
Apparently, the Strait itself belongs to the Pacific Ocean and the whole strait belongs to Chile.
The island Tierra del Fuego is half Chilean, half Argentinean, so I have to cross borders a couple of times.
The name Tierra del Fuego is used for a whole archipelago of islands, of which Isla Grande is the biggest, with an area of 48.000 km2 it’s 1,5 times bigger as Belgium.

At the end of the afternoon of my first day on the island, I entered the little ‘town’ of Cerro Sombrero. The camp ground is closed, because they’re messing around building some kind of ugly dike. But I was lucky a friendly citizen spontaneously offered me to pitch my tent in his garden. There’s a brand new tourist info, with a very qualified guy working there and spotlessly clean toilets and showers.

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@ Cerro Sombrero
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The cold and windy Macadam road out of Cerro Sombrero

A bit out of Cerro Sombrero, the island becomes a bit hilly. A welcome change for the flat steppes I travelled through the last weeks. It’s a wet and windy day and I was told there’s nothing until the border post at San Sebastian.
But look, in the afternoon, just as I’m leaving the hilly terrain and enter the flatlands again, I see a building along a road, the ‘Hotel Tierra del `Fuego’.
Excited I put my bike against it and enter the building, but there’s nobody to welcome the guests. It’s a one room hotel only, so I thought “maybe they come along in the morning”.
The room clearly wasn’t rented out yet, and I don’t think it’s the kind of place you can make reservations for on booking.com. First come will get it, so I prepared myself for the night.
Laying down there, I saw all the holes in the walls.
Would locals shoot at the walls, like they sometimes do with traffic signs ? It wouldn’t be nice to get a bullet in my ass overnight. Hearing the wind picking up outside, I didn’t have much of a choice then spending the night in this hotel, so I hoped for the best.

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The center of Tierra del Fuego is a bit hillier, and nicer.

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This Argentinian guy was pulling a cart of 120 kg. He started at Bahia Lapataia, 25 km west of Ushuaia and intended to visit every provincial capital of Argentina, before continuing north (to Alaska ?). And sometimes I think I have a hard life 😉
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My hotel ‘Tierra Del fuego’ which saved me from a terribly windy night in this barren pampa.

Next day, I had to battle hard again against the storm, but there were good prospects. 25 km down the road, I ‘m gonna turn left, towards the east, and have it in my back. The wind blew me quickly towards the border post at San Sebastian. It’s still a dirt road here, but they’re building a macadam road, so you should be fine in the near future. There’s a hostel and a very small kiosko at the Chilean site of the border.
To my surprise, there was a long line of people waiting. A bus with backpackers and they have to take all their luggage out of the bus and it has to go one by one through a scanner.
I got a special treatment, was stamped out and waved through without any checking or problems.
Thanks Chilean officials ! 🙂

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The Chilean site of the border at San Sebastian

It’s about 10 km to the Argentinean immigration. That bus only caught up with me just before I arrived, and I made a lot of photo stops, so that must be a hell of a bus ride, coming from Punta Arenas, crossing border 3 times. That’s why that bus rides takes 12 hours I guess.
I was stamped back into Argentina without a problem and had the Atlantic ocean in sight again.
I read many stories of cyclist who end up sleeping in a room at the Chilean border. The room is their, I saw it, but it’s not gonna be quiet.
Better ride on, because after the Argentinean border, once you’re along the coast, there are some nice camping spots between the hills.

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Near the road RN 3, between San Sebastian and Rio Grande. I got enough shelter from this small ridge. Atlantic Ocean in the background.

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Coming this way, I had no choice but to enter Rio Grande, quite a big town on the Atlantic side of the island. It’s hell. It looks like hell, it sounds like hell, the traffic is hell.
I limit my stay to a visit of the local Carrefour and try to get out of this place a.s.a.p.
Simpler said then done, with the road works going on.
About 15 km south of Rio Grande, I turn inland, on dirt road nbr 9 (road ‘F’ on older maps).
Instantly life is good again. After a few kilometers, the trees re-appear.
Brilliantly beautiful trees with lichen.
Somewhere aong the first kilometes on this dirt road, I pass the 25.000 kilometer mark of this trip.
I jump a fence and find a nice camping spot.
Camping on a grassy spot, between trees, but open enough for some sunshine; that’s perfect.

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This crane was blown of the trailer at the top of a hill outside Rio Grande.
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A grassy wild camping spot, sheltered by trees, a bit of sun, a book to read …. life is good.

I ride another two days on these roads, going from one hill to the next, taking a small road down to the ‘Lago Yehuin’, often described as ‘the center of Tierra del Fuego’.
There’s an abandoned small holiday resort (completely in ruins) and some grassy fields where you could camp if you like.
All the graffiti on the walls suggested the place is frequented by stupid idiots from time to time, and the wind was blowing in from the lake, so I went on a bit further to find a good spot where I sure would be on my own for the night.

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‘Southern Crested Caracara’. They are not shy and love to tear the plastic sacks you pull over your saddle at night. Then start picking your saddle (because it’s salty from sweat ?)

I have been incredibly lucky the past weeks with the weather.
Sure, I’ve had my fare share of head winds, but the temperatures have been above 20 degrees with lots of sunshine. Now, however, it’s changing and I end up taking shelter under a barn for an hour.

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Trees full of Guido Belcanto hair

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‘Buff Necked Ibis’, you see them often here

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Soaking wet, I arrive in Tolhuin, a place famous among cyclists in South-America.
The bakery ‘Panadería Unión’ is also a Casa de Ciclistas, and virtually every cyclist riding down to Ushuaia stops here.
And so am I 🙂
All afternoon, evening and the next morning I stuff myself with the delicious things they’re baking here.

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The sleeping room at the bakery in Tolhuin.

The Paso Garibaldi is the last main obstacle between Tolhuin and Ushuaia.
The weather at the other side of the pass is so awful I quickly dive into a field and pitch my tent on soggy ground.

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‘Black-Crowned Night-Heron’
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Just as I missed the 25.000 km mark on my odo-meter outside Rio Grande, I also missed the 3.000 km marker of RN 3. But this one will do nicely.
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Lago Escondido (the ‘Hidden Lake’)

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Then, on 17/11/17 I arrive in Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world.
I started this trip on 16/4/16. I have to keep in mind to make it to important points on easy to remember dates.
After crossing the Strait Of Magellan, I ‘m now cycling along the Beagle Channel, this other famous maritime route, unbelievable.

What’s also quiet unbelievable, is the harsh conditions in this place.
Ushuaia is located at 55 degrees in the southern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere, you ‘d be at Copenhagen, which has a much milder climate.
Last year, I was standing with my bike at the North Cape, only 2.102 kilometer from the North Pole and well within the Arctic Circle, while I haven’t passed the Antarctic Circle here and I’m almost double as far from the South Pole (3.926 kilometer).
BUT, Ushuaia is only 1.000 kilometer from Antarctica, which I guess will be one of the reasons for the extreme weather here.

That weather really turned for the worst during my first day. Instead of 20+ degrees days, I now have temperatures just above freezing, lots of snow, rain, storm. Local paved roads are being washed out. A submarine disappears. I hear the trails in the National Park are closed because many trees toppled over.
So, lucky to be warm inside the hostel for four days.
Not being a ‘hostel-guy’, I do have to say I enjoyed my stay in ‘La Posta’ Hostel. It’s a bit outside of the center, but it’s spotlessly clean, modern and with a descent breakfast and slow wifi.
But wifi is slow everywhere in Argentina.

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Beagle Channel

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The mountains above Ushuaia.

Buenos Aires – Ushuaia
Distance: 4.511 km
Average km per cycling day: 64,44 km
Altimeter: 32.868 m

Nights slept inside: 13
Nights slept outside: 66 (of which 45 wild camping)
Flat tires: 4

The GPS track can be downloaded from Wikiloc

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4 thoughts on “Argentina: From the Strait of Magellan to the Beagle Channel”

    1. Hi,

      Yes definitely. I’m still considering whether I’ll cross via El Chalten and the ferry to Villa O’Higgins, or take the ferry from Puerto Natales to Caleta Yungay. I guess that must be spectacular too.

      Like

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