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Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia Expedition: el Ultimo

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Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia Expedition: el Ultimo

A ride at the ‘uttermost end of the world’ in Patagonia, Argentina

10 days

There is a peninsula on the southern tip of South America that is the southernmost point of Planet Earth. It’s called Peninsula Mitre. It sticks out into the ocean, pointing towards the Falkland Islands, at the point where the Atlantic meets the Southern Ocean. This is Tierra del Fuego, the end of the Andes and overlooking Cape Horn. Few travellers come this way, so the wildlife is undisturbed and the wilderness pristine. This 10-day expedition style ride shows you the area in all its glory.

[“gaucho” = cowboy of the Argentine pampas. “Vaquero” is the Spanish word for cowboy. In Chile they say “Huaso” and “baquero” or “baquianos” pl.]


Follow in the hoof prints of the early Patagonia pioneers: leave civilization behind and follow the rhythm of the tides which will dictate the precise trails we follow across rivers and broad beaches. The wildlife in this remote area is unexpectedly good; condors, seals and penguins, silhouetted against skeletal, washed-up shipwrecks, are resident on these shores. And at night the Southern Cross points the way to the South Pole, which is not all that far away.

Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia riding expedition

Day 1: Arrive in Tierra del Fuego

We’ll meet you upon arrival at Ushuaia Airport and drive you to the hotel. In the afternoon, meet your trail guide for a briefing about the expedition. All equipment is checked twin saddlebags distributed to each rider along with a kit bag that will be carried by the packhorse. Excess baggage can be left behind in the hotel.

Riding holiday Cape Horn

The quality of light in Tierra del Fuego is magical

Day 2: Meet your horse; ride from Estancia Maria Luisa to La Chaira

Leave Ushuaia heading east via the Garibaldi Pass, which is just about the last gasp of the Andes: from the Darien Gap on the Caribbean coast to this point in Patagonia is 7,272 Km (4,500 miles). South America is on a simply staggering scale!

Maria Luisa, which is home for the horses and our ride start point, is a typical Patagonian cattle breeding ranch. We’ll match you up with a horse from the information you have sent us: take a trial ride, with the opportunity to change horses if you wish, while the gauchos load the packhorses. And off we go! The pace is gentle as we ride through grassy hills acclimatizing to the wilderness, new horse and pace of the expedition. The first river crossing is the Irigoye (shallow at this time of year) which leads to a beach traverse that takes us to our first overnight camp, Puesta La Chaira (tricky to translate; maybe “Place of Steel” perhaps where early ranchers stored their steel ranch supplies?). This is a landmark point of the ride: from here on the peninsula is uninhabited – just you, your fellow riders and the pristine wilderness.

Saddle Time: 6-7 hours
Distance: 30 km
Overnight: Gauchos hut

Day 3: La Chaira to Río Bueno

There aren’t many places in the UK that are free from noise pollution, let alone light pollution; today we ride in to a part of Tierra del Fuego that is free from both. In fact the biggest reminder of humanity is the centuries old ‘Barca’ shipwreck, which is an old wooden boat that never made it around Cape Horn and has been buried in the sand for centuries.

Cape Horn gets some ferocious weather, but bear in mind that this is the height of summer. Today we’ll find some shelters built by the indigenous Haush Indians, no longer resident here, but their structures remain. More likely to see are the wild herds of guanacos (a kind of Llama) and the Giant Condor with its 3m wingspan. Beavers live in the creeks and several species of penguins are summer residents on the beaches. After crossing the river Leticia we reach the shelter at Puerto Rio Bueno where we make camp and enjoy the evening fire before falling asleep to the sound of waves lapping from the South Atlantic Ocean.

Saddle Time: 6-7 hours
Distance: 30 km
Overnight: Camp

Day 4: Rio Bueno to Estancia Policarpo

Today we ford two rivers, the Rio Bueno and Rio Policarpo, to reach the peatlands; this is tricky ground in the wetter winter months, but at this season it’s springy underfoot and home to quite large herds of wild horses (feral). The trail leads onto the beach where large colonies of fur seals, mixed in amongst King Penguins, share the beachfront real estate. A pinnacle point of the day is our visit to the most famous of all the shipwrecks along the Mitre Peninsula, the British clipper “Duchess of Albany” dating from 1893, where we pause for a picnic lunch.

Topping a rise we’re greeted by the panoramic view across Caleta Falsa Bay from where it’s a short trot to camp. Camp is in the former heart of Estancia Policarpo (now a National Historical Monument) surrounded by the traces of history and the ultimate dominance that nature commands: estancia walls and ancient iron tools are visible, like tombstones in an old graveyard, but trees tower over and new plants sprout alongside the remains of the abandoned homestead. In a World where rapid urbanisation and a growing population are encroaching upon our pristine places, this is a humbling reminder of how nature can take back these terrains to recreate a beautifully diverse landscape.

Saddle Time: 6-7 hours
Distance: 30 km
Overnight: Gauchos hut

Day 5: Estancia Policarpo to Thetis Bay

We beach-hop to reach Laguna Centenario which is freshwater, next door to saltwater, an ideal habitat for many bird species native to Tierra del Fuego: cormorants, southern crested caracaras, as well as the two emperors of the sky: the black browed albatross and Giant Condor. Ride on across the Fueguino peatland to a vantage point where you can see the inaccessible State Island with the San Juan de Salvamento lighthouse, made famous in Jules Verne’s book “The Lighthouse at the End of the World.” This evening we reach Bahia Thetis and the abandoned sea lion factory … don’t ask! Here there’s a rescue shelter for survivors of shipwrecks.

Saddle Time: 6-7 hours
Distance: 30 km
Overnight: Camp

Wild horses on the Cape Horn peninsular

Day 6: Thetis Bay to Cape San Diego (optional trek)

The impressive landscape and historical significance of this place demand that we stay a second and third night, allowing time to explore. If you fancy using some ‘alternative’ muscles and trekking along the coast, crossing a channel, and reaching the Cape San Diego Lighthouse, the ultimate eastern tip of Tierra del Fuego, boasting a 360° view of the South Atlantic Ocean, now’s your chance. Here at your feet are the Straits of Le Maire, Staten Island and the entrance to the Beagle Channel. Very few travellers ever reach this point of Tierra del Fuego.

Day 7: Thetis Bay (rest day)

Today we have the chance to rest and rejuvenate with time to absorb the beauty of the Patagonian landscape, while the horses rest. We can enjoy short walks around the area to observe wildlife and search for centuries old traces of the Haush Indians in this Subantartic environment; little is known about the tribe and any new discoveries shed light on their methods of survival thousands of years ago in this harsh and unforgiving landscape. Darwin himself, after sailing by the tribe on his voyage on the HMS Beagle, described observing them as “Without a doubt the most curious and interesting spectacle I have ever beheld”. As daylight fades and dusk settles enjoy a glass of wine before our adventure continues in the morning.

Cape San Diego Lighthouse

Day 8: Thetis Bay to Estancia Policarpo

After preparing our horses we begin to retrace the hoof-prints through the peatland. The cliff views promise an extraordinary spectacle of light and colors as we overlook the sub-Antarctic forest, the Andes and the South Atlantic Ocean. Halfway to Policarpo we take a lunch break before continuing towards the comforting familiarity of Policarpo shelter.

Saddle Time: 6-7 hours
Distance: 30 km
Overnight: Gauchos hut

Day 9: Estancia Policarpo to Río Bueno

We ascent from Caleta Falsa Bay to reach the estuary of Policarpo, which is the widest and most challenging river crossing of the expedition. The longest beaches of the ride are Donata and Policarpo: The packhorses go via a slightly different route so we can enjoy long canters without baggage flapping every whichway: the horses have the scent of home in their nostrils and are keen to make progress! Take a break near the “Duchess of Albany” wreck for a picnic lunch, arriving back at the Rio Bueno shelter in the afternoon.

Saddle Time: 6-7 hours
Distance: 30 km
Overnight: Camp

Day 10: Río Bueno to La Chaira

In the morning we have time to explore further around the Rio Bueno shelter and listen to stories about the legendary “Puesteros” of Peninsula Mitre, who used to live here and work cattle. Remount and cross the Rio Leticia to ascend the grassy cliff beyond; from here the panoramic view of the entire region is fabulous. A gathered beach canter or two brings us back to La Chaira for our farewell dinner, lit by a shimmering bonfire with the Southern Cross keeping watch.

Saddle Time: 6-7 hours
Distance: 30 km
Overnight: Gauchos hut

Day 11: La Chaira –to Estancia Maria Luisa – Ushuaia

This morning we say goodbye to the gauchos of the Mitre Peninsula and leave behind the most remote and wild region of Tierra del Fuego, La Chaira. We gradually return to civilization and at Estancia Maria Luisa we have a farewell with our big-hearted horses who consistently demonstrate the strength and willingness of Criollos in the harsh Patagonian landscape. We travel by car on the final leg of our journey, returning to Ushuaia, a hotel and a real shower!

Day 12: Ushuaia Airport

Breakfast and transfer to local airport or onward travel.

Cape Horn riding expedition

The Baraca shipwreck, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

Included in the price of ‘Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia’

Argentinian Criollo horse with full equipment (saddle and bridle)
Saddlebags for personal items
One bag for clothing and sleeping bag per person (max 10 Kg)
Guides and wranglers
English-speaking guide
Full board from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 12
Satellite telephone in case of emergency
First aid kit
Transfers to and from Ushuaia airport
Tents twin-share
All kitchen equipment like: cutlery, cups, pots etc.

Not included

Visas (not required by Brits)
Travel Insurance (mandatory)
Tips for guides
Sleeping bag is required. (Comfort rating to -10 ° C)

Difficulty level: this ride presents a medium level of difficulty. A sound knowledge of riding and good personal fitness are necessary. The terrain is varied but dominated by long, flat beaches. There are sections of peatland, where sometimes is necessary to dismount and lead, and grassy meadows. There are areas of forest and several sharp ascents and descents. There are four main rivers which we cross at low tide. The Atlantic tide timetable regulates the daily rhythm.

True Wilderness
The site is completely isolated and beyond the reach of conventional emergency services. In case of emergency, we have a satellite phone. The guides accompanying the group are certified as SAN-WFR (Socorrismo para Ambientes Naturales / Wilderness First Responder) and have completed first aid training.

Horses and saddles
The horses we use are Argentinian Criollos that are world renowned for their calmness, bravery and hardiness. Our horses are bred in Tierra del Fuego and are familiar with every type of terrain encountered on this trail. Their average height is 1.55 m. or 15 to 15.2 hh

We use “Cangalla” saddles which is typical Argentinian gaucho’s equipment, covered with sheepskin, designed specifically for comfortable long distance riding. We do not use spurs.

Weather conditions can be highly variable. During the austral summer, the days are really long (15 to 17 hours of daylight). It is said that “one can experience all four seasons in one day in Patagonia”: snowfall, rain, strong sun or wind, everything changing in a surprisingly short period of time. Even if the most extreme conditions are not common, the rider must be prepared for it, as is explained in the clothing section of Venture Co’s Field Manual. In general, the weather is cold and windy, with average temperatures ranging between 2° and 12 °C (35-54 °F), but due to the wind chill, the perceived temperature can be significantly lower.


Cape Horn riding expedition

The packhorses run free and stay with the riders all the way

Best Season to ride: November to late March. Outside these times the rivers become difficult to ford and roads can become tricky due to the rainwater erosion.

Rider’s weight: Due to the size of the Chilean Creole horse, riders over 90Kg/198lb are required to have an extra horse to allow alternation between morning and afternoon.  This will incur an additional cost.

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