Founded in 1972, Tolhuin, with a population of 2,000, is an ideal off-the-beaten-path destination whose charm resides in its small-town feel and breathtaking natural surroundings. In Selkâ€™nam, Tolhuin means â€śheart,â€ť and gained its name due to its location in the heart of Tierra del Fuego.
This small lake-side town is a welcome relief from the monotony of sheep ranches that dominate the rolling hills and plains of northern Tierra del Fuego. Located between the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel, Tolhuin offers rugged mountain scenery without Ushuaiaâ€™s tourists, as well as one of the most well-known bakeries in the region, La UniĂłn PanaderĂa. From here it is two hours by car to either of Tierra del Fuegoâ€™s cities, RĂo Grande in the north, or Ushuaia in the south, and most visitors are Argentine truckers en route to other places, or residents of La Isla (Tierra del Fuego). In fact, the town is well-removed from the tourist circuit, and its few dirt-road streets are lined by low-slung houses and wood cabins.
Tolhuin gives the visitor a chance to experience being in one of the southernmost regions of the world, without feeling like just another tourist. Here, in what E. Lucas Bridges deemed â€śthe Uttermost Part of the Earthâ€ť, the sun no longer rises in the east and sets in the west, but hovers longingly in the north. At night, the stars of the Southern Hemisphere emerge luminous in the obsidian skies, and the Southern Cross wordlessly points the way to Antarctica. The raw power of the gale-force winds of Tierra del Fuego that howl in from the South Pacific cannot be over exaggerated, penetrating clothing, bending trees, and swaying signposts.
The unbroken white of the southern Andean Cordillera spreads from west to east here, just south of Tolhuin, and morphs into geologically young, sharp white peaks. To the north of the Cordillera lies Tolkien-esque forests of lenga and beech, which come to a dead end at sheer vertical cliffs which dramatically and precipitously drop off into the shimmering aqua waters of the 100-kilometer long Lago Fagnano, which shares a border with Chile.
One draw for interested travelers is fishing in Fagnanoâ€™s glacial waters and hiking or horeseback riding into the marvelous and (mostly) uninhabited surrounding mountains. Of course, empanadas and cappuccino at La UniĂłn must top-off any visit; the bakery is known for its delicious European-style pastries, inexpensive Argentine delicaciesâ€”such as the lamb empanadasâ€”and coffees. Tolhuin is the perfect destination for those looking to experience the mountains and scenery of southern Tierra del Fuego without the tourist traps of often-visited Ushuaia.
The tiny Tolhuin tourist office can provide information about local tours and activities (Av. de los Shelknam 80, Tel: 492-380, 492-125). To fully immerse yourself the beauty Tierra del Fuego wilderness, camp at Hain Campgrounds for less than $3 per person, with sheltered grassy sites right on Lake Fagnano, bathrooms and hot showers (Tel: 603-606). No tent? Try La Posada de los Ramires (Av. de los Shelknam 411) or HosterĂa KaikĂ©n (On Ruta Nacional 3, Km 2942).