A main attraction of Puerto Williams – only major settlement in Chile’s Cape Horn province – is the nearby five-day Dientes hike. But here I’ll look at short strolls in the area, both for the less ambitious visitor, and for all curious about this remote place. (And if your dream is to do the Dientes, check out our album posted previously.)
This is the beginning of the Dientes route, but it constitutes a stand-alone hike. Cerro Bandera is the mountain behind Puerto Williams, overlooking the harbour where we’re living currently. It’s named after the Chilean flag which flies on its summit without cease. This town’s a naval base, so treats the national flag enthusiastically, with a flagstaff supplied outside each identical house in the streets inhabited by members of the navy. Residents struggle to hoist a flag bigger than their next-door neighbour’s one. But the flag on Cerro Bandera wears to threads in the wind in no time, also blowing away altogether pretty regularly. Guess replacing it gives the recruits good exercise.
Starting from Club de Yates Micalvi, follow the road along the Seno Lauta inlet’s side, but turn off to the left before the back of the inlet, and pass a shrine with an ill-proportioned Mary statue. Continue through forests to the foot of the Bandera, where a trail ascends the slope steeply, through more woods which differ in density, old fungus-covered trunks varied with newer slimmer trees.
There’s a mirador after two-thirds of the distance, and a bench looking down on the little city, these viewing platforms being popular in Chile. There are in fact miradores throughout the Dientes hike, thanks to a well-intentioned government grant apparently. It raises a chuckle, after trekking across pathless uninhabited expanses, to find the platforms sitting pointless in the middle of nowhere. Shame the wood wasn’t used to make shelters, since it’s been helicoptered in at some expense, but it might burn in an emergency. Yet the Bandera mirador provides a pleasant pause, as it’s less randomly situated and less remote.
The track arrives at the flagstaff on the sometimes-snowy summit after a time; two to four hours there and back maybe. (Depends if your fitness is naval-recruit level or ordinary.)
Punta Gusano is the end of the airport’s promontory at the mouth of the Puerto Williams bay, the town being at the back of the bay. You can walk or drive all around the shore from the city, including the two long inlets almost perforating the promontory, or else you can cross in minutes if you have a dinghy. Wandering out along the spit of Punta Gusano, there are views of Puerto Williams on the one side and of the Beagle Channel on the other side. As you walk seagulls cover the ground ever more thickly, with eggs and chicks at nesting time, and their mobbing makes walking the whole way not worthwhile. Be aware that much of the spit is submerged by the high tide.
The cliffs behind the airport, facing onto the Beagle, allow for a further ramble. There are cannons and bunkers that date from a planned war with Argentina which never took place, leaving the two countries to irritate one another through more bureacratic means ever since. Ushuaia can be seen on a clear day, on the Beagle’s Argentinian side, and the calafate bears excellent berries.
Ukika is on Puerto Williams’ eastern side, reached from Micalvi by following the seafront road straight through the city; it’s where the Yaghan Indians’ descendants live. It’s a handful of six houses or so beside the Parque Ukika’s entrance. Alternatively the back of the park can be accessed through the city’s centre.
Although provided in the past with plenty of infrastructure, such as miradores and barbecues, the Parque Ukika seems a project forgotten since. The facilities are falling down and rotting away, with local teens left as the main visitors currently, guessing from the cans of the cheapest beer in the city (and that’s Becker, 450 pesos in Simón, and you’re welcome). But thanks to a stream and wooded hillsides this small park’s still very pretty.
Down the Isla Navarino coast from Puerto Williams, and at a slightly more southerly latitude, Toro will have to be several times bigger before it becomes the southernmost city. Visit to see the most southerly… place with a few people? Unless we count the Cape Horn weather-station anyway. There’s no road to Puerto Toro, but there’s a ferry once each month on the last Sunday, bringing food and collecting the rubbish and taking anybody along for free. Put your name down in advance at the ferry’s office by the Puerto Williams square, ID being necessary. When the weather’s not too terrible it can be a scenic cruise.
Puerto Toro consists of a clearing with a half-dozen houses for the navy and a half-dozen houses for the police. Hence not a lot to do, once everybody’s taken their photo of the notice that proclaims this the world’s southernmost poblado, place with people. (But what about those research bases in Antarctica?) More bunkers from the war that didn’t happen are on the point just to the west of the quay. The ferry stays fairly briefly before the two-to-three hour return journey. The whole excursion takes a day.