Are you looking for more detailed information about cycling on Tierra Del Fuego?We couldn’t find a lot of information online when we started planning our trip, so this post will give you all of the useful info that we collected. Then you will be better prepared to cycle Tierra del Fuego than we were!
Where is Tierra Del Fuego?
Tierra Del Fuego is the most southerly inhabited landmass on the South American continent and it is often the finish line for many cyclists. It is divided almost down the middle, with Chile on the left and Argentina on the right, though there is still some dispute between these two countries about certain islands and which country they belong to.
Ushuaia (Argentina) is the gateway to and from Tierra Del Fuego, with internal and international flights departing daily and the starting point for those travelling north. If you are travelling south (from Chile) you will likely cross the Magellan Strait to Tierra Del Fuego from Punta Arenas to Porvenir. If you are travelling south through Argentina you will reach Rio Gallegos on the Ruta 3, then cross into Chile to take the ferry across the Strait. Cerro Sombrero is the biggest town before crossing back into Argentina at San Sebastian and continue onwards to Ushuaia.
View our route map and this section in more detail here.
What are the roads like?
Road conditions on the Argentinian side were great. All of the main roads are paved, pretty flat and with a good hard shoulder. We had no issues with drivers overtaking, giving us plenty of space even when the wind was blowing sideways and we were weaving on and off of the road!
Between the borders at San Sebastián is unpaved for 13km but graded reasonably well.
The road from Chilean customs at San Sebastián to Cerro Sombrero was being improved when we rode it (Oct. 2017), with a new paved road in construction next to the old dirt road but it was almost completed. When the road turns right to Cerro Sombrero, the road to Porvenir carries straight on and this is a dirt road but in reasonable condition with not very much traffic (most vehicles cross at Cerro Sombrero).
We chose to start in this barren wilderness because we wanted to cycle the American continent from south to north and whilst it was challenging (yes, the wind is as bad as they say) it meant that in a lot of ways things got easier from here on out.
Need to know
We left Ushuaia on 01/10/2017 and it took us eight days to cycle across Tierra del Fuego to Porvenir where we crossed to the mainland (Punta Arenas, Chile) by ferry.
Kilometers in brackets are the distances for that day’s start and finish points.
The wind blows most of the time from a westerly and north-westerly direction. This means that cycling from Ushuaia and heading north is usually into the wind and the most difficult direction to cycle Tierra Del Fuego. The headwind does make for slow speeds (around 3-4km/hr is not uncommon) and can unbalance the bike, especially if you are heavily loaded, so always carry an extra days food than expected just incase you aren’t able to reach your intended destination.
Water can be found in rivers (filter if near animals) and the occasional farm, so you only need to carry enough for a day or two at most.
Want to read the story of how we got on? Read the blogs from our ride:
End of the world, start of our trip.
Reflections on the Land of Fire
Start/Finish: Ushuaia, Argentina
The Ushuaia International Airport is under 10 km out of Ushuaia and there is a lot of room around the terminal making it easy to unpack and assemble your bike there to ride into the city.
Ushuaia itself is quite big but most of the things that you might need are on or around the main street, Avenida San Martin. There are lots of outdoor shops, a bike shop, restaurants and grocery stores lining the road. The supermarket, La Anonima has the biggest range of food but the smaller shops have better fresh produce and baked goods. We soon found that the smaller shops are actually better value for a lot of things so it pays to shop around and buy little bits from lots of different stores than buy it all from the big supermarket.
The tourist office (by the seafront) has good, fast internet and you can easily sit in there using it for an hour or more, plus it’s warm. You can get a free touristy stamp in your passport here too. Right opposite the tourist info is the obligatory “Ushuaia: Fin del Mundo” sign for that classic cyclist photo.
If you want to ride the full length of the road from the most southerly point then you should head out to the Tierra del Fuego National Park and visit the end of Ruta 3 at the Bahaia Lapataia sign. It is the end of the road and the next stop is Antarctica! There is an admission charge for the park but you can camp at one of a number of free campsites once inside and there are a few short hikes, so it is worth the day or two detour.
Leaving Ushuaia the road can be quite busy but it has a good hard shoulder and the scenery makes up for the traffic. Below you will find the day by day break down of how we cycled from Ushuaia to Porvenir, Chile and what you will encounter on the road. Riding south to north the wind will play a part in how far you will ride each day, as we found out, so plan ahead and carry a bit more food than you think you might need just in case you don’t make your destination in time.
Day 1: Ushuaia to the abandoned Hosteria Petrel (53km)
At the top of the Garibaldi pass take the track down to the left and follow it to the lake shore. It still had snow covering it in October but it is usually a rough gravel track. At the lake there are lots of old fishing huts you can pitch your tent in and there is the lake to swim or wash and drink from. When you leave follow the other obvious track away to rejoin the main road further north.
Day 2: Hosteria Petrel to Tolhuin (54km)
When you get to Tolhuin go to the Panaderia (Bakery) La Union. If you say you are a cyclist they will show you to a room just off of the store room where you can spend the night for free. There is also a toilet and hot shower you can use, wifi, not to mention the huge variety of delicious cakes, empanadas and bread to choose from. In Tolhuin there are also a few small shops in town to buy basic supplies.
Day 3: Tolhuin to Estancia Viamonte (68km)
It gets windy from here! Estancia Viamonte have a cabin specially reserved for cyclists. Head towards the farm and ask, they will show you the cabin with it’s bunk beds, wood burner and table and chairs. There is also a separate toilet block with toilets and showers with hot water.
Day 4: Estancia Viamonte to Rio Grande and Cabo Domingo (61km)
Our advice is to resupply in Rio Grande with plenty of dry/tinned food and snacks and take enough for more days than you think you might need. Options are very limited from here to Porvenir and the next stretch is notoriuos for having constant 50-60km headwinds day and night. If you buy anything fresh (bread, vegetables, fruit, meat, seeds/beans, cheese…) make sure you eat it before the Chilean border or they will make you dispose of it. They took an opened bag of dried kidney beans off of us, they are that strict.
We wildcamped at Cabo Domingo, a big sand dune next to the sea, which had some shelter from the wind and was really quiet at night.
Day 5: Cabo Domingo to San Sebastian border (Argentina side, 65km)
There is one hotel with a small restaurant but it does not accept credit or debit cards, so make sure you have cash. (There is no ATM between Rio Grande and Porvenir so take Chilean and Argentinian pesos if you want to buy anything) The restaurant has a limited menu and snacks (Milanesa and empanadas or hot drinks were the options when we were there) There is a petrol station here too which will fill your stove fuel bottle if needed.
The Argentinian border has a waiting room with a bench, stove, toilets and shower that they kindly let us use for a few hours over night. We took our sleeping bags and mats out and made ourselves comfy for the night, they just ask that you keep your bikes outside. Make sure you get your passport stamped and complete the forms that you need to enter Chile before you leave.
Day 6: Argentinian border to Chilean border (13km on ripio – unpaved road)
There is a small kiosk at the Chilean border with a few snacks if you have Chilean pesos. You can’t take any fresh food (including but not limited to: fruit, vegetables, dried pulses, cheese, meat and honey) into Chile and after completing the customs forms they will probably search your bags. It can take about an hour at 10am to fill in the three forms, searched and let in, so it pays to get there early. Also, this will help for the wind…
Looks to be a restaurant just after border but didn’t check it out. There is NOTHING on the road from here to Porvenir and very little shelter. We have heard of some people that did camp behind Chilean border station out of the wind, but there are little to no services here.
If the wind slows you down as much as it did us, 23km from the border you should see a small hut on right side of the road (photo below). It was full of sheep when we were there. Looked to be an old road workers hut, has a picnic bench, broken wood burner and half useable bunk beds. There was no door so we used our bikes, yet still the sheep banging around outside all night. However, it’s better than sleeping in the wind!
This was a useful drawing on the sheep hut roof.
Day 7: Small hut to abandoned fishing hut (71km)
Onaisin cross roads (about 30km from the hut) has an awesome bus stop. Big enough for more than two plus bikes and it even has a door!
Optional detour: Take the road here to Pinguino Rey. We didn’t because had finite amount of food and no Chilean money, but if you have supplies you can detour here and go to see king penguins.
Second cross roads (turn left to go to Porvenir) has a tiny broken bus stop. It would fit one person with bike at a push but it had broken windows and shattered glass around it. We took the left turn to Porvenir, carried on and found a number of fishing huts in the aptly named Useless Bay, some were open and abandoned. It’s worth checking if you need shelter.
Day 8: Road to Porvenir (59km)
You will cycle past quiet coves with limited natural shelter from km45 onwards and there is nothing else on the road until Porvenir.
Porvenir is a small town on the coast and it has most things that you’ll need after a few days riding. We didn’t stay there but in town are a number of hostels and hospedajes. You can access Chilegob free Wi-fi at the tourist info. (Chilegob free Wi-fi is usually available in most bigger towns, usually in the main plazas) There is one bank in town with an ATM and a few mini marts for basic supplies.
Ferry port to Punta Arenas is 5km out of town, arrive at least half an hour before departure to buy your ticket. (When we were there the ferry left at 7pm and cost 6200clp each). More info, schedules and fares on the operator’s website here
Thanks for reading and hope that you found this guide helpful.
Steph and Ben
Have you done this route? Do you have any additional information that we have missed out about Cycling Tierra del Fuego or can you update this article? Leave us a comment or send us a message, we’d love to hear from you.
If you haven’t already, you can read the blogs from our ride and see more photos here:
End of the world, start of our trip.