Navarino Island: An Experience at the World’s End

 By Pablo Dutilh

Last November I had the chance to visit the World’s End. Touristically speaking, the Argentinean city of Ushuaia is considered “the world’s end”. Nevertheless, some miles further south in the Chilean side is Navarino Island, home to the southernmost inhabited place in the world. That place is, Puerto Toro, capital of the district of Cabo de Hornos, with only 3000 inhabitants. From there I flew over the last portion of land in South America: Cape Horn Island, a place with only a handful of people living in the area: The man in charge of the lighthouse and his family.

Despite my experience in the tourism business, this trip was a real surprise. Arriving at the end of Patagonia and understanding what goes on there was a wonderful experience. It’s a pristine place with stunning landscapes, most of which have never been intervened. There are also deserted areas, which were once inhabited by the aborigine Yagán (also known as Yámana) culture, the intrepid nomad canoers of the world’s end. This culture remained hidden for thousands of years, interacting in harmony with one of the wildest places in the planet, only a few miles away from the Antarctic.

In the island you can find the last descendents of the Yaganes. A case in point is Rosa Yagán, the last person with a 100% Yagán bloodline. Also know as Lakutaia Le Kipa (her name in the Yagán language), she lives in Villa Ukika, the Yagán village in Puerto Williams. Through her message and craftworks, she has been able to keep her culture alive, being one of the few survivors of the extermination of her race, a massacre caused by the action of the conquerors , who destroyed the community with their contagious diseases and their sadistic “sport” slaughter.

This is how a millennial culture disappeared in less than 200 hundred years. Today’s remains of the Yagán culture, such as these genetic heirs and the Yagan settlements (Conchales), are a rare find. The Yaganes used to build their huts and use them as storage areas for their canoes. These settlements were fillled with shells, which in turn gave name to their “Conchales” (‘concha’ is Spanish for shell).

From a nature’s point of view, the island is a pristine place where man has not exploited the natural resources, mainly due to its difficult accesses and extreme weather. The human population is concentrated on the north shore of the island, on the bank of Beagle Channel, leaving the rest of the land in a state of intact conservation. The island’s surface area covers 2.500 km2, almost one third of Chiloé’s surface, but containing only 2% its population. These features make it a really wild landscape, away from civilization and the human influence.

Having this in mind, Navarino Island is an ideal destination for trekkers. There is also has a 2000 mt mountain range, with a rock formation called “Dientes de Navarino” in its highest points (Navarino’s Teeth), and a 5-day trekking circuit to go around its bases. This excursion goes through beautiful, quiet landscapes, lakes, and forests, unlike other destinations which are usually crowded by hundreds of visitors. In this place you are alone, you and nature face to face.

 

On top of all this, the island is a place of scientific interest, containing 5-7% of the world’s moss and lichens, beautiful species that can be found all over the island and Cape Horn. This is complemented by majestic lenga and ñirre forests, surrounded by huge swamps filled with peatbogs and flooded areas that create an amazing landscape of rocks, forests, lakes, rivers, and bogs. A wonderful mosaic of colours.

TIPS

I can’t end this column without telling you about the infrastructure and services you will find in the island, elements that make this trip a dream come true. Firstly, the island has an airport with regular flights connecting it to Punta Arenas. That is to say, getting there is easy. Moving within the island is easy too: there is a road that connects all its villages and can be covered on a bike (82 kms in sum).

Puerto Williams has many hotels, but I only stayed in Lakutaia, the best hotel in the island, being a high quality lodge, comfortable, cozy, with a very good service, and located very close to the town and its airport.

A must visit is the great Martín Gusinde Museum, founded in 1975, and recently remodeled. Its walls reflect the history and traditions of the Yaganes, with displays that let you know who they were and how they lived. Another place you cannot miss is Omora Ethnobotanical Park, known for its wonderful miniature forest, an interpretive trail where you can observe several moss and lichen species. Btw, bring a magnifying glass.

 

TECHNICAL INFO

Flights: Punta Arenas – Puerto Williams, Mondays to Saturdays at 10:00 am. Plane  tickets from $120.000 (on sale through our website).

By sea: 28 hr navigation aboard Yagán Ferry. Departures every Wednesday from USD 186

Season: best from November to March, for the more adventurous, winter has a very cold, but stable.

Accommodation: there are several options in town, and availability is not a problem. We recommend Lakutaia Hotel.

Equipment required: A good, warm jacket, wind-rain-proof pants, trekking shoes, beanie, gloves. Wear a thermal first layer and take a map because finding one in the island is not easy.

What to bring: the usual stuff, good wines, personal delicatessens. The subject is a bit restricted. You can find everything, but only the basics.