Hiking to Laguna Esmeralda in Tierra del Fuego
9th February 2012. I am having my cup of green tea right now and trying to heat up a little bit after a long cold day. With a friend from the U.S. we went hiking from Ushuaia to Lake Esmeralda. I just came back so finally in the warm house I would like to tell you our story of today.
After a sleepless night, a horrible storm, a lot of wind breaking up the window in my room, I got less than 2 hours of sleep. When I heard my alarm at 7 am, I started swearing. I felt like with the worst hangover which I never got. I had my breakfast and was trying to wake up. At 7.40 am I finally left the house and actually woke up when I had to walk a couple of kilometres back to the town to meet up with my friend at the so called bus terminal La Terminal where there is actually no terminal. It is just a place next to a petrol station where the buses stop.
At the tourist office we were told to be there before 8.30 am as it was the time when the first van/bus leaves to Laguna Esmeralda. So I was literally running like crazy along the main road to get there, up and down the hills as the local buses going to/from the town here are so irregular and there is no timetable for them.
I was swearing the whole way to the ”La Terminal”, sweating like a pig and with no energy, barely able to move my legs and walk, and like this I had to run. At 8.25 am, all red like a tomato, I got to the terminal where my friend was waiting for me and we started asking about the vans and found out the first one is at 9 am, not 8.30 am. You tourist office liers! I could have slept 30 minutes more and got to the town having my normal colour.
It is 60 pesos for a round ticket Ushuaia – Laguna Esmeralda (approx. 11 euro) so we decided just to get the van on the way there. The driver wanted first 40 pesos but then we convinced more tourists there to come with us so in the end we paid the right price of 30 pesos one way.
We got to Valle de Lobos before 10 am. It is the entrance for the hiking to the lake and the fee is 10 pesos. You get a map and an explanation how to get to the lake and possibly up to the glacier, too. There are toilets there as well. And you have to register so in case you don’t get back, they would know who got lost.
Afterwards, finally we started hiking. First you walk around the husky sled dogs (nowadays 70 dogs at Valle de Lobos), pass through a forest, cross a river of reddish colour and cross a field of peat moss called turba in Spanish (very funny experience to walk on it) to get to another forest. It is where the river changes colour to emerald green and I have to admit it was for the first time I have seen a river of this colour. It is caused by the glacier rock movements that leave sediments of this colour so the Lake Emeralda and the river coming out of the lake have this surreal colour. Hence the name of the lake, emeralda = emerald.
The emerald river is surrounded by lenga trees (tall deciduous beech) typical for Patagonia that have shallow roots so on the way you will see plenty of whole lenga trees on the ground and you can take some cool photos with the roots up the ground. This place is totally magical and I felt there like Alice in Wonderland. The weird greyish dry trees with not many leaves are covered with green moss and walking in between of them is going to be unforgettable for you, I bet!
After the forest, you will get to peat moss huge field again and if it has been raining recently, it will be very slippery and spongy so be ready to get dirty. Following the path along the river up to the glacier in the mountains you will see in front of you, you finally get to a big rock, still not being able to see the lake. But once you get up the rock, you will be rewarded with the most beautiful view ever.
All the way up to the lake was an amazing experience. We took a huge amount of photos and had fun jumping on the peat moss and getting dirty (and I did get back to the town dirty like a pig!) And the lake is breath-taking! So stunning with the glacier above it. The hiking from Valle de Lobos to Laguna Esmeralda took us around 1,5 hours but then you can go around the lake to the right side and if you are in a good shape, hike up very steep for another at least 1 hour to the glacier.
We were planning to do so in the morning but all day long it was cold, not sunny and the wind at the lake was so strong that when I was trying to walk, with each step it flew me away to the side instead of going forward. We decided to have a picnic there anyway at it was lunch time at 12 pm. We found the least windy place behind a rock and then I prepared my sandwich with cheese and peppers. Just to give you an idea of the strength of the wind, my cheese was flying away from my sandwich. Holding it with gloves and holding all the bags and papers around was a nightmare. I even had problems to hold myself so I didn’t fly away, not kidding.
Completely frozen, but at least with full stomach, we walked another 10 minutes around the part of the lake and headed off back behind the big rock to get less wind.
Then we found some rocks next to the river and the Sun came out for 10 minutes so we lay down in order to unfreeze ourselves. There were more tourists passing by at that time, all having a laugh when they saw us so wasted and frozen on the rocks in the middle of the pathway. But hell yeah, I needed my deserved siesta time! Then we continued back to Valle de Lobos trying to leave the memories of the enchanting place on our minds for ever.
Apart from the strong wind that day, I was really happy there as sometimes just a marvelous landscape can provide you with the greatest feeling ever and at that moment you do not need anything else. We got back to Valle de Lobos, said to the lady that we survived the hiking so they didn’t need to look for us, and walked 5 minutes to the main road.
Now, how to get back to Ushuaia, some 25 km away if there are no buses? So we started hitchhiking. Tierra del Fuego is very safe and people hitchhike here pretty often. After 2 minutes, another backpacker girl came over to get a car with us. After no more than 10 minutes, a friendly older man stopped us and took us to the town exactly where we needed to get off. He made us save 30 pesos. Yes, my budget, I know you love me!
- The best way is to get early to the lake, so or take a van at 9 am, or start hitchhiking early morning so then you can enjoy the whole day properly, especially if you want to go all way up to the glacier.
- After we did the hiking, we found out that you do not have to pay for the entrance. There is one more entrance, a little road just a couple of metres before the one going to Valle de Lobos and there you can just go walking through the forest without the 10 pesos entrance. But this free entrance is a lot longer to do the hiking as you have to go all around to get to the main path. So choose, or money to save some time, or save money but it will take you longer.
- Bring comfortable shoes.
- There are toilets and a cafeteria only at Valle de Lobos at the beginning of the trek so bring your own food for hiking.
- It is not windy every day, but the weather in Tierra del Fuego is changing every 10 minutes so bring more layers of clothes and a hat with you.
- You could hitchhike both ways Ushuaia – Laguna Esmeralda. The lake is in the opposite direction than the National park Tierra del Fuego, following the Route 3. But it would take you longer than by van, especially the way there.
- There are a few guided tours you could get from Ushuaia to Laguna Esmeralda, but they are too expensive if you are a budget traveler (around 550 pesos with the transport).