Follow Charles Darwin’s path to Chile’s Tierra del Fuego and Chiloé islands

History remembers that traveling in Chile made a huge impression on legendary scientist Charles Darwin, and the country played an important role in the development of his Theory of Evolution.

Darwin spent five years sailing around the world on his vessel The Beagle, concentrating on South America and Chile between 1834 and 1835. While collecting valuable scientific data in Chile, Darwin’s voyage took him to numerous locations throughout the country.

Southern Chile was particularly important to Darwin, and mountains, locales, and sea routes throughout Patagonia bear his name today – showing that this celebrated scientist left as much of a legacy in Chile as Chile left on his work.

Charles Darwin’s island paradises

While Darwin explored many locations along Chile’s coast and inland regions, the islands of Tierra del Fuego and Chiloé were particularly important to his research and an integral part of his renowned sailing adventure.

Tierra del Fuego and the Beagle Channel

Tierra del Fuego’s Isla Grande (Big Island) is located at the far tip of South America, adjacent to the Beagle Channel, a sea route named for Darwin’s ship. When Darwin arrived to the Channel for the first time in 1833, he witnessed and wrote about “many glaciers beryl blue most beautiful contrasted with snow.”

The Chilean portion of Tierra del Fuego is located in the Magallanes province, and primary destinations include the towns of Porvenir and Puerto Williams, and the island outpost of Cape Horn further south. The Darwin Range of icy mountains in southwestern Tierra del Fuego is crowned by Mount Darwin, a 2580 m peak that was named after Darwin on his 25th birthday.

To thoroughly experience Darwin’s admiration for Tierra del Fuego’s glacial beauty, try hiking Dientes de Navarino, a four-day trek to the very end of the world. Or embark on your own sailing adventure to Cape Horn through a local tourism company.

How to arrive: Fly or arrive by bus or car to Punta Arenas, then cross the Strait of Magellan via a ferry that operates daily between 8:30 am and 11 pm.


When Darwin arrived to the port of Ancud on Chiloé’s Isla Grande in November 1834, he was mesmerized by picturesque scenery, jotting notes in his journal about “beautiful cleared spots and pretty enclosure magnificent forest path like road to Castro,” and “fine view of Straits of Chacao: Volcano beautiful.” He subsequently commenced a month-long survey of Chiloé’s natural utopia that resulted in many geological and biological discoveries.

Immerse yourself in Darwin’s wilderness by hiking in Parque Nacional Chiloé (Chiloé National Park), and explore the pristine bay of Cucao and the shores of Lake Huillinco. Visit the village of Chonchi and the larger town of Castro, and imagine Darwin’s experiences while rediscovering Chiloé’s wild treasures.

How to arrive: Fly or arrive by bus or car to Puerto Montt, then cross the Chacao canal via ferry that operates 24 hours a day.

By Gretchen Stahlman, written for Chile.Travel

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