Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina

Coordinates: 54°21′43″S 67°38′17″W / 54.362°S 67.638°W / -54.362; -67.638
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54°21′43″S 67°38′17″W / 54.362°S 67.638°W / -54.362; -67.638

Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands
Provincia de Tierra del Fuego, Antártida
e Islas del Atlántico Sur
Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands
View from the Tierra del Fuego National Park in Argentina across the Beagle Channel to Isla Hoste in Chile
View from the Tierra del Fuego National Park in Argentina across the Beagle Channel to Isla Hoste in Chile
Coat of arms of Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands
Location of Tierra del Fuego Province within Argentina
Location of Tierra del Fuego Province within Argentina
Country Argentina
Local Governments3
 • GovernorGustavo Melella (FORJA)
 • Vice GovernorMónica Urquiza (MOPOF)
 • Legislature15
 • National Deputies5
 • National SenatorsPablo Blanco (UCR)
María Eugenia Duré (PJ)
Cristina López (PJ)
 • Total21,263 km2 (8,210 sq mi)
 (2022 census[1])
 • Total190,641
 • Rank24th
 • Density9.0/km2 (23/sq mi)
 • TotalUS$ 2.5 billion
 • Per capitaUS$ 13,800
Time zoneUTC−3 (ART)
ISO 3166 codeAR-V
HDI (2021)0.856 very high (4th)[3]

Tierra del Fuego (Spanish for "Land of Fire"; Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtjera ðel ˈfweɣo]), officially the Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands (Spanish: Provincia de Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur), is the southernmost, smallest, and least populous Argentine province. The provincial capital city is Ushuaia, from a native word meaning "bay towards the end".

The territory of the current province had been inhabited by indigenous people for more than 12,000 years, since they migrated south of the mainland. It was first encountered by a European in 1520 when spotted by Ferdinand Magellan. Even after Argentina achieved independence, this territory remained under indigenous control until the nation's campaign known as the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s, after which Argentina organised this section in 1885 as a territory.[citation needed] European immigration followed due to a gold rush and rapid expansion of sheep farming on large ranches in the area. Tierra del Fuego is the most recent Argentine territory to gain provincial status, which occurred in 1990.


The Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur including all its external territorial claims

The effective extent of the province is the eastern part of the island of Tierra del Fuego, Isla de los Estados and adjacent islands.

The province nominally includes Argentina's claims to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (which are British Overseas Territories) and to a segment of Antarctica that overlaps with the British and Chilean claims on that continent. Argentina has no effective control in these territories outside its own Antarctic bases.


Period impression of HMS Beagle navigating along Tierra del Fuego, 1833.

Tierra del Fuego was first settled by indigenous peoples around 12,000 years ago.[contradictory] Discovered by Ferdinand Magellan's expedition in 1520, he named the area Land of Smokes (later changed to Land of Fire), likely referring to the smoke emitted by fires produced by the local Fuegian peoples for heating. When the first Europeans arrived, they encountered a population of about 10,000 indigenous people belonging to four tribes: Yámana, Alakaluf (now known by their autonym of Kawésqar), Selk'nam (Ona) and Manek'enk (Haush).[4] European attempts at settling the island began in 1555 by Juan de Alderete and later Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. Neither was successful, however, due to the region's harsh weather and constant attacks by British pirates, who took Sarmiento de Gamboa prisoner.[citation needed]

Between the 16th and 19th centuries Spanish, Dutch, British and French explorers visited Tierra del Fuego and the nearby seas. Gabriel de Castilla passed through before exploring the Antarctic islands. In the early 1830s, Commander Robert FitzRoy, and Charles Darwin explored the island and other parts of Patagonia via HMS Beagle. This included the Falkland Islands, claimed by the British since 1690, though controlled by Argentina since its establishment of a penal colony at Puerto Luis in 1828. In 1833 the British re-established their rule on the Falklands via the deployment of naval task force. The Argentinian representative of the islands, José María Pinedo, and Argentinian forces subsequently left the islands.

A member of the Selknam people, 1904. The Selk'nam, or Ona, who traditionally placed great value on amiability, were the island's most numerous native people until their numbers were reduced by disease and genocide in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Luis Piedrabuena installed a base in San Juan de Salvamento on Isla de los Estados. The British South American Mission Society Patagonia Mission, under its superintendent Waite Stirling, founded Ushuaia as an Anglican mission in southern Tierra del Fuego in 1869.[5] Shortly after, Salesian missionaries founded Río Grande. In the 1880s the Argentine government took a more active interest in Tierra del Fuego. In 1881, the meridian 68°36'38 W was defined as the boundary between the Chilean and the Argentine portions of the island. In 1884 the Government of Tierra del Fuego was created, and a subprefecture was established at Ushuaia. The southern part of the Beagle Channel was an issue of conflict between both states, which competed for control of three small islands, Picton, Lennox and Nueva. Finally in 1977, these were awarded to Chile by decision of the mediating British Crown, revised by Pope John Paul II and ratified by treaty in 1985.

Local sheep ranch, 1942. Sheep, the most important part of the economy by the turn of the 20th century, have been eclipsed by the decline in the global wool market and the rise in petroleum extraction.

When the crews of sailing-ships told of the notoriously dangerous voyage round the tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego became a byword in Europe for an inhospitable land, where life would be impossibly harsh for settlers. But, it is not the most sparsely populated province of Argentina. Its population density of 4.75/ km2 is higher than five other provinces, due to various waves of immigration.

Gold fever started in Tierra del Fuego around 1883. Many Croatians from the Dalmatian coast arrived in search of gold. In addition, the gold rush inspired new technologies and innovations, such as the telegraph. Although by 1910 the gold had run out, most of the pioneers stayed. The inauspicious-looking northern plains proved ideal sheep-farming country, and vast ranches were developed. Croatian, Scottish, Basque, Italian, Galician and Chilean immigrants arrived to work on the estancias, with the hope of eventually buying their own land and stock.

The Amerindians suffered high fatalities from diseases (including measles and smallpox) and the outright warfare waged by ranchers and bounty hunters; by 1916 their population on the island had dropped to only 900.[6][7] In addition, in the late 19th century, ranchers and settlers committed genocide against the Selk'nam.[8] News of the atrocities and genocide reached the Federal Congress in Buenos Aires. It sent aid and tried to help the Salesian mission, the only institution working in the island to protect the indigenous peoples.[citation needed]

With the creation of the Gobernación Marítima de Tierra del Fuego in 1943, construction of naval bases began in Ushuaia and Río Grande. An airport and other infrastructure were also built. These projects attracted immigrants from other countries as well as other parts of Argentina. In 1990 the "National Territory of Tierra del Fuego, the Antarctic and the South Atlantic Islands" was declared a province, with its first governor appointed two years later.


Mossy landscape, Tierra del Fuego.
Köppen climate map of Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina (without Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur)

There are low mountains and sandy beaches at the north of the island, ascending to the south. The north is somewhat similar to the steppe of Santa Cruz Province. In the middle of the island, the end of the Andes mountain system becomes flattened, and its highest peak, Mount Cornú, rises only 1,490 m (4,890 ft). There are a number of short rivers (the Grande, Moneta, Ona, Lasifashaj, etc.), and as a result of the low temperature there are many small glaciers that flow to the sea.

Due to its latitude, the island has a cold oceanic climate.[9] The influences from the surrounding ocean and the predominant winds from the west result in the climate being uniform throughout the province.[10] Mean annual temperatures are low, with winter temperatures averaging close to 0 °C (32 °F) and summer temperatures averaging around 10 °C (50 °F).[9][10] The strong westerly winds from the Pacific Ocean decrease the perception of the temperature (wind chill).[9] In the extreme south in the Beagle Channel which is surrounded by hills rising above 100 m (330 ft), winds can exceed 100 km/h (62 mph).[9] The island averages around 700 mm (28 in) of precipitation per year which is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year with a slight maximum in autumn.[10] Snowfall is abundant throughout the island.[10] Much of this island can be classified as within the Magellanic subpolar forests ecoregion.[11]


Governor Gustavo Melella
The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, on the Beagle Channel near Ushuaia.

The provincial government is divided into three branches: the executive, headed by a popularly elected governor, who appoints the cabinet; the legislative; and the judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court.

The Constitution of Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina forms the formal law of the province.

In Argentina, the most important law enforcement organization is the Argentine Federal Police but the additional work is carried out by the Tierra del Fuego Provincial Police.

Administrative divisions[edit]

Governor's offices, Ushuaia.

The province is divided into five departments (Spanish: departamentos), only the first three of which are under the effective control of Argentina:

  1. Ushuaia (seat Ushuaia)
  2. Tolhuin (seat Tolhuin)
  3. Río Grande (seat Río Grande)
  4. Islas del Atlántico Sur: consists of the Argentine claim to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas in Spanish) and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, both of which are self-governing overseas territories of the United Kingdom.
  5. Antártida Argentina: the Argentine claim to Antarctica lies between 25°W and 74°W (overlapping both Chilean and British claims) and is uninhabited apart from the staff of scientific bases. Being south of 60°S, the Argentine claim to the entire department is suspended under the Antarctic Treaty.


Tierra del Fuego has since the 1970s benefited from government subsidies to local industry and from its natural wealth. Its estimated 2006 output of US$2.6 billion gave the province a per capita income of US$25,719, the second highest in Argentina, behind Buenos Aires.[12]

Manufacturing, despite the province's remoteness, contributes about 20% to output owing partly to generous certain tax incentives to local industry, a policy Buenos Aires has pursued to encourage immigration to less populated areas. A number of sizable factories have opened on Tierra del Fuego Island to take advantage of the tax benefits legislated in 1972, mainly home appliance and electronics manufacturers.

Recently, in the city of Río Grande, many international and Argentine companies, most notably the Korean company Samsung and the Argentine company Teltron, have set up factories that produce high-definition televisions (HDTV), CD-ROM-related articles, and low-cost GSM cell phones, built mainly from Argentine components.

Cerro Castor is the most important ski resort in the province.
"Train to the End of the World". Operated by the provincial government, is the world's southernmost active railway.

Sheep ranching is the leading source of the province's modest agricultural income (5% of output). It provides wool, mutton and hides throughout the province and the wider Argentine market, whose taste for these products has been growing strongly.

As in Patagonia to the north, petroleum and natural gas extraction are important to Tierra del Fuego's economy, generating over 20% of total output. Exploration efforts continue. The government of the Falkland Islands has issued exploration licenses within its waters. This competition has caused anger in Argentina. The activity has also intruded into some of the area's lucrative crab and shrimp fishing industry.

Tourism is gaining importance on Tierra del Fuego island. The region offers mountains, glaciers, forests, fast rivers, waterfalls, ski centres (the most important is Cerro Castor), and the sea, all within short distances.

The most visited destinations in Argentine Tierra del Fuego include Ushuaia, the Tierra del Fuego National Park and the Tren del Fin del Mundo, Fagnano Lake, the Museum of the End of the World, the Beagle Channel, the Les Eclaireurs lighthouse, the old jail, and South Staten Island.

The Antarctic Peninsula is a tourist destination. Tourists can see wildlife at the Argentine Marambio Base during the summer.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Nuevos datos provisorios del Censo 2022: Argentina tiene 46.044.703 habitantes". Infobae. 31 January 2023. Retrieved 2023-02-03.
  2. ^ "TelluBase—Argentina Fact Sheet (Tellusant Public Service Series)" (PDF). Tellusant. Retrieved 2024-01-11.
  3. ^ "El mapa del desarrollo humano en Argentina" (PDF). United Nations Development Programme. 25 June 2023.
  4. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Tierra del Fuego § Inhabitants" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 946.
  5. ^ Bridges, E. L. (1948) Uttermost Part of the Earth : Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1948; republished 2008, Overlook Press ISBN 978-1-58567-956-0
  6. ^ "Yahgan & Ona – The Road to Extinction" Archived 2006-10-02 at the Wayback Machine, Cultural Survival Quarterly
  7. ^ "La Patagonia Trágica", Argentine Schools curriculum
  8. ^ Anne Chapman (11 November 1982). Drama and Power in a Hunting Society: The Selk'nam of Tierra Del Fuego. CUP Archive. pp. 11–. ISBN 978-0-521-23884-7.
  9. ^ a b c d "Clima" (in Spanish). Gobierno de Tierra del Fuego. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  10. ^ a b c d "Tierra del Fuego: Clima" (in Spanish). Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  11. ^ World Wildlife Fund; C.Michael Hogan. 2010. Magellanic subpolar forests. Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC
  12. ^ "El déficit consolidado de las provincias rondará los $11.500 millones este año" (in Spanish). Instituto Argentino para el Desarrollo de las Economías Regionales. Retrieved 10 July 2015.

External links[edit]