Puerto Williams, the southernmost town in the world
In this territory at the most extreme end of Patagonia, a vibrant settlement is sovereign and guardian of one of the most beautiful spots in Chile.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Puerto Williams (Photo:Jorge López)
The almost two thousand people who live in the last big town in Chile share an ancestral tradition. Their roots originate in the Yagán people, native inhabitants of the area who eight thousand years ago paddled their canoes in defiance of the inclement weather and cold of Navarino Island and the Tierra del Fuego channels.
This young town located on the northern shore of Navarino island and facing the Beagle Channel, it is considered the southernmost settlement in the world. Nowadays there are colorful houses where everybody knows each other and there is a good supply of services available.
Its insularity and distance make it difficult to access the city. It is only possible to get there in small aircraft or by sea from Punta Arenas; lately, however, it has gained renown among nature lovers.
Precisely its distance has made it possible to keep one of Puerto William’s major assets safe: its natural surroundings. Enormous snowy mountains, lenga forests and a surprising biodiversity complement with kayaking, sailing boats, trekking or climbing, making this town a reference point for high-level adventure at the end of the world.
Martin Gusinde Museum
Contains large-scale illustrations and traditional lore of the little-known Yagán culture, as well as testimonies of the first colonists who arrived to the area attracted by the Gold Rush, a mining phenomenon that took place in the 19th century. The museum has one of the most complete and illustrative displays about Navarino island.
A ship’s bowsprit is on display near the center of Puerto Williams. It is the Yelcho, a vessel that, under the command of Second Pilot Luis Alberto Pardo, sailed to the rescue of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the survivors of his ship the Endurance in 1916. The rescue took place ten months after the Endurance was shipwrecked, trapped by the Antarctic ice-floes – one of the most impressive odysseys of all times. The Yelcho is a National Monument.
Only a mile or so separate the last Yagán outpost from Puerto Williams. A humble area, although with strong cultural roots, it consists of small wooden houses flanked by a river and woods. In one of these houses lives doña Cristina, the last full-blooded Yagán. However, all the inhabitants of the Villa consider themselves to be true inheritors of the ancient race. At Kipa Akar or the woman’s house, in the center of the village, regional crafts are sold.
Omora Ethnobotanic Park
An ideal spot for people interested in scientific knowledge and an especially important place for the research world because of its miniature forests made up of mosses and lichens. It is only 4 kilometers west of Puerto Williams and consists of a 400-hectare private reserve overseen by North American and Chilean universities.
Guided tours are available that take visitors for a 90-minute walk to observe and learn about the local ecosystem. With the help of a magnifying glass, it is possible to observe tiny “trees” populated by mosses and lichens of Navarino Island; these make up 5 to 7% of the world’s total of such species, which has led it to be considered the Amazon of microflora.
Dientes de Navarino Trekking
The southernmost trek in the world has not been operating long but has gained a great reputation among adventure lovers. With altitudes of around 1,000 meters, the mountains of Navarino island are a permanent presence and their formations are reminiscent of a jaw with ice gums. Treks to the foot of the mountains take three to four days, depending on the walker’s physical condition and patience. It is necessary to be cautious about the climate changes in the area.
Strong winds and low temperatures are stock and trade in one of the Patagonian landscapes where human presence is at its lowest. The total route of 53 kilometers first crosses the intermediate lenga forests to give way to moraine, snow and beautiful peaks. It is advisable to take this tour in the company of local guides.