During the 1980s, the last sign on the way out of Porvenir said simply, “El ultimo apaga la luz.”
If you’re the last to go, turn off the light.
So much of the population of this small Chilean town fled to the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego in search of work during that time, Porvenir could easily have become a ghost town. Not everyone left, however, and three decades later there are roughly 5,000 people living here. It feels more like a ghost town, in an eery yet exciting way. Unlike the large Chilean city of Puntarenas across the Straight of Magellan, or Ushuaia, the southernmost city on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego, Porvenir is isolated, there are no cruisers squawking around the city on their South American cruise around Cape Horn or adventure seekers ready to jet off to Antarctica. Visitors here are bird watchers or those Transamerica cyclists who detour here on their way from Alaska to Ushuaia. Porvenir truly feels like the end of the world.
A beacon on a hill
Perched high on a hill in the center of town, this just slightly oversized yellow house can be spotted from just about anywhere. While it doesn’t exactly stand out, it is clear from its refurbished look and fresh coat of paint that Yendegaia is something special. We could not have been more relieved when, once inside, this Bed and Breakfast was so well-run and cozy that it felt more like we were in an English B&B than here at the end of the world.
The bedrooms are all en-suite, with clean, bright bathrooms and showers with scalding hot water – a detail of utmost important here. Our visit was in mid-March, which is only early autumn in the southern hemisphere, but between whipping winds and pounding rain, the weather was bone-chilling for the two of us summer-chasers.
Luckily, along with warm showers, carpeted floors, strong heaters, fluffy towels and thick, pillow-y blankets for refuge, Vicente’s priority when refurbishing the house two years ago was putting in double pane windows to keep out the weather, whose presence here is always palpable.
Upstairs there are ten bedrooms just like ours, each with a TV and a set of oversized twin beds. The absence of queen beds irked me at first, until I realized that, with guests almost exclusively groups of birdwatchers, the beds are in fact quite practical. This isn’t really a couple’s retreat spot – yet. Porvenir, which means future in Spanish, has quite a future, indeed, Vicente assured us.
Time moves slower here and we have plenty of time to chat during our two-night stay, so it is easy to see why he is so enthusiastic, no matter how bleak things looked to us outsiders on the surface.
The future is bright
During our stay the hotel was full with a group of eight French tourists, birdwatchers, of course, but we imagined how quickly things would change if there were just one smart entrepreneur who opened a tourist information office and created tours our into the true Patagonian wilderness. With absolutely no public transportation in this area of Tierra del Fuego there is no way for tourists like us to see much outside of the town (which boasts exactly zero tourist sites). There is plenty to be experienced, it just needs to be packaged better: in addition to the birds, there are penguin colonies, and there could be plenty of guided hikes and adventure sports set with a backdrop of that incredible, otherworldly Patagonian landscape. With not much to do, had there been a ‘city’ tour, we would have taken that, too, in order to learn more about life in this isolated but interesting place.Attracting tourists should become less of a challenge with the great-value accommodation of Hosteria Yendegaia already in place, which also boasts the best kitchen in town. Vicente’s brother-in-law is the live-in cook and the only other person to talk to during those stretches without guests. Our first dinner was a delicious soup and bread, while the French group devoured a sophisticated three-course menu of various succulent meats. After chatting about Chilean food with Vicente that next afternoon, they threw together a special vegetarian version of Chorillana, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink dish set on a bed of french fries that is typically piled high with meat. It was an interesting result, but we just so pleased with their playful experimentation, all on our account.
Breakfast was the only aspect that was not as good as a British bed and breakfast, but miles beyond the usual hotel breakfast in Chile because, in addition to white rolls, butter and jam, we were also served two eggs any style. Tea, coffee or hot chocolate are available all day at no charge, and it was so comforting to fill our bellies with warm green tea throughout the rainy afternoons.
Stand Out Feature: A True Refuge
You go to end of the world, to a place like Porvenir, because you want a feeling different to bustling Puntarenas in Chile or tourist-saturated Ushuaia in Argentina. And you certainly get it. For hundreds of miles around Porvenir there is nothing but wilderness, an almost unsettling barrenness. In the town itself, there are no places where people gather together, no cafes, and very few, very empty restaurants. For us, this solitude could easily become one of loneliness without knowing we could return to the comfort of Yendegaia, after a day fighting 30-40 mph winds, cold and rain on walks around town each day.
Coming back in to this safe haven made us feel the right balance of comfort and adventure. In fact, when we said our goodbyes and began our hitchhiking adventure across Patagonia (we’ll cover that in a post soon) we both found ourselves dreaming of Yendegaia’s comforts and hoping that, should we successfully arrive in Ushuaia that night, our hotel would provide the same comforts (it wouldn’t, no where near it, in fact).
Room for Improvement: Living Room
This is a big reach, as the hosteria is as good as it gets anywhere. But…the only thing we can come up with to improve upon is the downstairs area. Next to the dining room there are several chairs around two coffee tables, but these are covered in books that Vicente and his photographer father co-authored and published, and native artwork his mother creates. These products are gorgeous, top quality and worth purchasing, but it feels more like a store than a living room, so all relaxing has to take place in the bedrooms upstairs.
At the time of writing, Hosteria Yendegaia is the absolute only choice to stay at in Provenir. A beacon of warmth and friendliness, this is exactly the type of accommodation we would recommend anywhere in the world; be it in the British countryside, a world-class city or here at the end of the word. If you are nearing the end of your trans-americas cycling trip, planning a bird-watching adventure or just curious about Tierra del Fuego, you should definitely stay here!
Location: Croacia 702, Porvenir, Tierra Del Fuego, Chile
Price: Double rooms are CLP$35.000 in high season (US$70), single rooms CLP$22.000 (US$44), triple rooms CLP$45.000 (US$90)
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly: Yes – this is easily the fastest wi-fi in connection in all of Porvenir!
Amenities: Breakfast included, TV in room, private bathrooms with toiletries, living room, free wifi, tours can be booked