Germán Genkowski, owner of Estancia Lago Fagnano // © 2018 GLP Films
Feature image (above): A view of Tierra del Fuego's main island, Isla Grande // © 2018 GLP Films
If you ask someone to find the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego on a map, chances are they won’t even hit the right continent. Despite its prominent place in the history books — both Charles Darwin and Ferdinand Magellan have traversed its waters and shores — few people have ever heard of it.
Located at the southernmost tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego’s location is so remote that it has been called “the end of the world.” The nickname sounds foreboding, but it has become a destination calling card, like a siren song enticing only the most intrepid travelers to visit.
Getting here is a 24-hour-plus affair since timing a connecting flight to the region’s two main hubs — Ushuaia in Argentina and Punta Arenas in Chile — is an elaborate logistical dance. An overnight in the bustling capital cities of Santiago or Buenos Aires is typically recommended. And you’ll want a set of wheels to complete the journey to the archipelago’s main island, Isla Grande.
Once we arrived at the end of the world, the real adventure began. On a crisp March morning, we met Germán Genkowski, the 72-year-old owner of a sprawling property called Estancia Lago Fagnano. Genkowski and his wife have been welcoming visitors to their home for more than 30 years, but they only recently started to provide rustic, cozy accommodations and insider knowledge on the best fishing, hiking and wildlife-viewing locales. These activities — paired with a backdrop of majestic snowcapped mountains and wind-sculpted conifer trees — have helped create what I think is the ultimate end-of-the-world adventure travel product.
Despite my primitive Spanish skills, it didn’t take long to fall into easy conversation with Genkowski about his life. He is the son of one of Tierra del Fuego’s original pioneers. In the late 1800s, colonists from Europe arrived seeking land and opportunity. Genkowski’s pioneering activities extended across the landscape, ultimately landing them on the shores of the pristine Fagnano Lake, where Genkowski’s father established a thriving estancia (ranch).
Today, Tierra del Fuego’s estancia culture is on the brink of extinction as the younger generation abandons ranching for higher-paying and less gritty city jobs. This shift makes experiential tourism products like Genkowski’s — where travelers can experience a way of life unchanged — all the more special. And the tourism industry is taking notice. One of the first operators to recognize the importance and value of Genkowski’s estancia was Deep in Patagonia, a local tour operator that specializes in bringing small groups to this remote corner of the world. It wants to bring Tierra del Fuego to the market while simultaneously working to preserve and protect it.
Tourism products like Genkowski's are lifting the veil of obscurity on Tierra del Fuego, but he is hopeful that the region will never suffer from the crowds and tour buses that plague neighbors such as Torres del Paine, Chile. Genkowski prefers that visitors earn the right to discover his little slice of paradise. In an age when technology makes travel across the globe a thing of relative ease and pleasure, Tierra del Fuego still holds a remoteness that captivates the imaginations of those lucky enough to visit.