Puerto Williams: The Southernmost Town in The World

Sebastian Opazo |
Puerto Williams, The end of the world, Navarino Island
Puerto Williams, Navarino Island, The End of the World. Credit: Traveler

Puerto Williams, the southernmost town in the world. It’s a Chilean town and port, on the northern shore of Navarino island and facing the Beagle Channel. It’s the capital of the Chilean Antarctic Province and one of four provinces in the Magellan and Chilean Antarctic Region.

Anybody who lives in the last big town in Chile shares an ancestral tradition. The town roots originate from the Yaghan 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.

Its insularity and distance make it difficult to access the city. It’s only possible to get there in a small aircraft or by sea. However, it has gained renown among nature lovers.

Yaghan, Canoe, Tierra del Fuego
Tekenika Bay, Hoste Island, Tierra del Fuego Yaganes in a canoe. Credit: Patfotos

For centuries it was the habitat of the oldest primitive races of South American continent, the Yaghanes. They appeared on the Brecknock Peninsula, becoming nomads of the sea. They navigated between the North arm of the Beagle Channel and the Murray Channel, distributed along the coasts of Navarino Island.

They were fishermen. Gatherers of shellfish, crabs, and mushrooms, hunters of sea lions, otters, and sometimes even whales. Their weapons were the bow and arrow and their hunting instruments were the harpoon. They didn’t have fixed settlements, but constantly navigated to avoid wasting resources.

After the discovery and hydrographic survey of the Beagle Channel, Englishmen arrived on the beaches of Navarino on a religious mission for the aborigines of the region. This was the start of the disappearance of indigenous peoples in the southern zone of what is now Chile.

Puerto Williams, Navarino Islands, Mountain
Navarino Island, Its mountain chains attract countless hikers. Credit: Traveler

Numerous sovereign trips continued where hydrographic works were carried out, which lead to the creation of a Maritime Government in Puerto Navarino. In 1950, the understanding of the importance of these southern lands represented motivated the Government of Chile to carry out an effective exercise of national sovereignty on Navarino Island and adjacent islands.

Puerto Williams was founded in 1956 in commemoration of the Irish sailor John Williams Wilson, who took possession of the Strait of Magellan, founding the Fuerte Bulnes. However, at first, the settlement was called Puerto Luisa for three years after taking the corresponding name of Puerto Williams.

The port is an important strategic location for traffic between the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean. According to the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1984 between Chile and Argentina, Puerto Williams is the start point for vessels of all nations in traffic between the Straits of Magellan and Argentine ports in the Beagle Channel. In addition, is the port of entry of major hub for scientific activity linked to Antarctica and the islands south of Tierra del Fuego.

Cape Horn, Puerto Williams, Chile
Cape Horn is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile. Credit: Terram

Tourism is one of the main economic activities of Puerto Williams. The port attracts tourists going to Cape Horn or Antarctica to share the experience of what is known as “the world’s southernmost city” and “the end of the world“. Enormous snowy mountains, lenga forests and a surprising biodiversity complement with kayaking, sailing boats, trekking or climbing, makes this town a reference point for high-level adventure at the end of the world.

Remains of Yaghan Indian campsites and fish traps can be found along the coast east of the city. Puerto Williams is home to the Martin Gusinde Anthropological Museum, which depicts the lives of the Yahgan and Selk’nam peoples, who were indigenous of Tierra del Fuego.

Today the type of tourism that predominantly develops in the area is the high seas maritime tourism. They sail in ships or yachts to areas of natural attractions around the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve attracting a high number of visitors during the moths of October to March.

Puerto Williams, Magallanes Region, Chile, Glaciar Águila
Glaciar Águila, Magallanes Region, Chile. Credit: Facebook

Related Articles

Got an opinion? Let us know...