In contrast to Laguna Encantada, the hike to Laguna Esmeralda is the most popular from Ushuaia outside of the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Transfers to the trail head are scheduled to leave from the main bus terminal near the Tourist Information Centre at 9am, 10am and 11am (returning at 4pm), but need a minimum of 3 people to run.
I was there at 9am, but unfortunately I was the only one ☹ So I went and sat in the sunshine overlooking the wreck of the St Christopher in the Beagle Channel for an hour listening to Frederik Elsner on continuous repeat.
By 10am there were enough people for the transfer to run, so we finally drove the 22km out to the start of the hike. With strict instructions to be back at the carpark at 4pm (or we would be walking back to Ushuaia), off we headed on the very well signposted route to the lake.
This hike is by far the easiest I’ve done around Ushuaia so far, but is very interesting as it passes through 4 distinct landscapes. First up – a native lenga forest that was logged in the mid-20th century.
This gives way to the Carbajal-Tierra valley, one of the largest peatbogs in South America.
Peat forms when vegetation (in this case, mostly Sphagnum moss) doesn’t fully decay in anaerobic conditions, and if you have ever tried to walk across it you know that it is very wet and spongy! For this reason, and due to the popularity of this hike, they have built log “roads” to help hikers across the worst of it.
There are also loads of beaver dams
and the turquoise colour of glacial meltwater is always beautiful.
The third vegetation landscape is native primary forest, though I have to admit that it looked pretty similar to the Lenga forest to my untrained eye. I guess the tree trunks are thicker…
And then you reach the high peat bog, which apparently has some very specific species of plant that are only found in areas under extreme conditions (according to the sign at the start of the hike). Although I usually want a Geologist hiking with me, there are times when a Botanist would also be very welcome!
The final ascent to the lake is back on dry ground
with an amazing turquoise river running beside
and an incredible view of Laguna Esmeralda once you crest the rise.
It must be very special to camp there overnight (the camping spot looks great!) and experience this landscape first thing in the morning before the clouds come over and the wind picks up. Next time!
Behind the lake sits the Ojos del Albino glacier
and although I didn’t have enough time to hike all the way there, I did hike past the lake for a while to see what I could see. Mostly more forest with fallen tree “hurdles”, and non-wind-swept parts of the lake that had a spectacular milkiness.
This is another out-and-back trail, so the return journey was the same as the hike in. Was much faster though, so we ended up having to sit in the carpark (not the prettiest spot) for about 45 minutes waiting for the minivan to come and pick us up.
This is a really easy and beautiful day hike – great for people who don’t do a lot of hiking but would like to get out into the nature around Ushuaia.
Time: The suggested time is 2hrs each way, but if you have some fitness you can do it in less. In total, there was 5.5 hours between being dropped off and picked up – which is more than enough time to visit the lake, but not enough time to hike all the way to the glacier.
Cost: The transfer from the main bus station near the Tourist Information Centre costs 350ARS per person for the return journey.
Maximum elevation gain: 158m