A Complete Guide To Hiking Laguna Esmeralda

The one to Laguna Esmeralda easily qualifies as the best hike in Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. It’s not a strenuous trek at all – it is fairly short and with very little ascent. The stunning scenery and the challenges of the trail, however, make it one you will remember. If you plan to just go on one hike when you visit Ushuaia, make sure it is this one.

Laguna Esmeralda is a gorgeous glacier lake located in Tierra del Fuego, at a little less than 20 km (12 miles) from Ushuaia. It’s surrounded by the mighty Albino Glacier and by the peaks of Las Torres and Cordón Toribio.

The lake can be access via a trail that goes through a lenga forest and then along the peat moss. It’s a much easier hike compared to many in Patagonia, such as that to Mount Fitz Roy. However, the very muddy terrain and the peat moss that you’ll inevitably walk through do represent a bit of a challenge.

In this post, I will highlight all the information you need to prepare for a hike to Laguna Esmeralda, providing a lot of practical tips.

Laguna Esmeralda
Laguna Esmeralda: the views are simply stunning

Hiking To Laguna Esmeralda

The starting point of the trail to Laguna Esmeralda is in Valle de Los Lobos, at about 17 km (10.5 miles) east of Ushuaia, along Ruta 3, where you’ll see a small parking lot and a very clear blue sign pointing to the trail. You’ll have to follow the blue marks to get to the lagoon.

The initial part of the trail to Laguna Esmeralda goes through a beautiful, somewhat eerie lenga forest. You’ll be walking through the forest for roughly 45 minutes before getting to the river.

After a short while, you’ll enter the forest again. The trail through this part of the forest to Laguna Esmeralda is very easy to follow, though you have to pay attention as it is very muddy (it rains a lot in Tierra del Fuego, even during the summer months).

Once you cross this other bit of forest, you find yourself in the peat moss. There is no really visible trail there, as the peat moss takes over for most of this part of the hike. Either way, all you have to do is continuing on – it’s fairly straightforward.

After crossing the peat moss, you’ll have to walk up a hill. Once at the top, the view will finally open up for you to see Laguna Esmeralda in all its glory.

You will have to walk back from Laguna Esmeralda via the same trail, and it will take you just the same amount of time to get to the starting point at the parking lot.

Laguna Esmeralda
The views along the way to Laguna Esmeralda are nothing short of amazing

The Sights Along The Trail To Laguna Esmeralda

The sights along the trail to Laguna Esmeralda are gorgeous. You’ll first be crossing a beautiful lenga forest, which will lead you to a plain where the scenery finally opens up to incredible views of Tierra Mayor and Carbajal valleys. The surrounding mountains are not as tall as those of other parts of Patagonia, but the sight remains impressive all the same.

Right by the river you’ll get to see the beavers damn. They are impressive, but keep in mind these animals, which are not native to Tierra del Fuego, have done a lot of damage to its natural landscape and environment, threatening its primeval forests.

Once you cross the plains and the river you find yourself once again in the forest, until the moment you reach the peat moss.

Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut as you walk through the forest, trying to make as little noise as possible. Red foxes live in the forest and there are good chances you’ll encounter one!

At the peat moss, the view opens up once again: you’ll see a beautiful stream and the Albino Glacier and Cordón Toribio mountain in the background, and a small hill which you’ll have to climb to get to Laguna Esmeralda. From the top of the hill, the views are simply spectacular: the water of the lagoon is of a splendid emerald color, and the surrounding mountains add to the beautiful landscape.

Laguna Esmeralda
The peat moss is the main challenge when hiking to Laguna Esmeralda

What To Expect When Hiking To Laguna Esmeralda

The hike to Laguna Esmeralda is not a strenuous one for the most part. There is a short ascending bit, but this is not where the real challenge is. It’s the massive field of peat moss that you’ll have to struggle with, and there hardly is any way around it: you’ll have to walk over it.

It will take you a good half hour to 45 minutes to cross the peat moss, each way. An easy to follow wooden trail will allow you to walk through the peat moss, making this hike easier than it used to be (when I did it the first time, crossing the peat moss was a real nightmare and took a long time!).

Should you somehow get into the moss, the best way to avoid getting trapped in the peat moss is to keep moving. Walk as fast as possible – in any case, there’s no way you can avoid getting muddy.

The hike to Laguna Esmeralda is an easy half day trip, so you can combine it with other activities in the area (ie a guided tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park, or a boat tour along the Beagle Channel). The good news is that during the summer months there are a lot of hours of light in Tierra del Fuego, so you can even plan to take it very easy and, if the weather cooperates, have a proper picnic at the lagoon.

Laguna Esmeralda
The river and the mountains at the back, during the trail to Laguna Esmeralda

Practical Information For Your Hike To Laguna Esmeralda

Hiking to Laguna Esmeralda independently

The hike to Laguna Esmeralda can be done independently, as the trail is fairly easy to follow – just make sure to always keep an eye for the blue marks as at times they are not so visible. In any case, I recommend not to hike alone.

Check out my post 11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone Is Actually A Bad Idea.

Guided hikes to Laguna Esmeralda

If you prefer, you can also join a guided excursion.

You can book your guided hike to Laguna Esmeralda here or here.

Guided hiking tours of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

One good option if you are short on time or would rather leave the organization of a trip to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego to the experts is that of booking a guided tour. This way, someone else will take care of accommodation and transportation bookings, and you’ll have a guide to help you navigate the trails.

Getting to the beginning of the trail

Unless you have your own car, you can count on the excellent shuttle services that connect Ushuaia to the beginning of the trail to Laguna Esmeralda. These depart from the parking lot by the gas station, at a short distance from the tourist information center, at 10:00 am (there may be more leaving later on, but you’ll have to double check at the office). The round trip costs around $1500 ARS (more or less $7 USD).

The shuttle back departs from the same point where you’ll be dropped off at 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm, and usually around 4 hours and a half after you start hiking – the driver usually specifies the pick up time, but make sure to double check and to be there by the time he’s meant to be back!

Alternatively you can get a taxi, but you’ll have to specify what time you want them to pick you up. The fee is actually ok in case you can share the costs with your friends.

Laguna Esmeralda
The beautiful view on the way to Laguna Esmeralda

Overall walking distance

The overall walking distance to Laguna Esmeralda and back is around 9.6 Km (6 miles).

Overall walking time

It takes around 4 hours to walk the entire trail, including stops for photos and to take in the magnificent views.

Food and drinks

There are no kiosks or places that sell food along the trail, so you’ll have to carry enough water and food for the duration of the hike. Depending on the day, there is a small street foot vendor standing right by the starting point of the trail, selling choripan (similar to a hot dog), empanadas and cold drinks.

Other practical information

For the most part, this is an easy hike so it is also suitable for families with children (I saw several during my hike).

As Laguna Esmeralda is not part of Tierra del Fuego National Park, dogs are actually allowed on the trail, though I recommend you keep them on leash as there tend to be stays around.

There are no toilets along the way, nor garbage bins. Make sure to carry a bag to dispose of your garbage, and take it back to town with you.

When To Hike To Laguna Esmeralda

There is no escaping the elements in Tierra del Fuego. On an average summer day, you may get strong winds, rain and at times even snow. It is plain cold! Having said so, the best time of year to visit Tierra del Fuego is in the summer, between late October and March, when the days are longer and the weather conditions less adverse. That’s when you should plan to hike to Laguna Esmeralda.

I recommend to spend a few days in Tierra del Fuego, as it is truly a magical place. If you have time, do wait for a sunny day to hike to Laguna Esmeralda, or at least make sure it hasn’t rained for a day or two, so that you can avoid drowning in the peat moss!

Laguna Esmeralda
Make sure to gear up for your hike to Laguna Esmeralda

Essential Items To Wear And Carry On A Trek To Laguna Esmeralda

As I have already explained, the first consideration when planning to hike to Laguna Esmeralda is that the weather in Tierra del Fuego is hardly cooperative. I recommend to make sure to be properly equipped for rain and even snow.

Here’s a list of essentials items you should be wearing and/or carrying:

  • A good backpack. I like Osprey Daylite Plus as it fits everything I need and sits nicely on my shoulders.
  • A pair of excellent hiking boots. They need to be waterproof, as the terrain will be wet. I suggest you also wear a pair of galoshes, for extra protection especially when you cross the peat moss.
  • A pair of waterproof hiking pants. I like by my new Kuhl Kontour Straighticon or my Kuhl Weekendr Tighticon
  • A pair of thermal underwear. Yes – it can be that cold!
  • A base layer such as Kuhl Akkomplice Krewicon– it’s comfortable and lightweight.
  • A good fleece – I like Kuhl Alskaicon. I suggest you also take an extra one along, in case it snows.
  • A snow jacket.
  • A good wind and rain proof jacket to wear above the snow jacket. I use Hydroflex Rain Jacketicon
    jacket and love it.
  • A beanie, a scarf and gloves.
  • Sunscreen and lip balm.
  • Sunglasses – you never know the sun may come out.
  • A camera. I use a Nikon D3300 and on for landscape photography I use a 18-105 mm lens. If you are not a photography geek, a smartphone with a good camera such as iPhone X will do. Make sure to take a power bank as well!
  • Tissues or toilet paper, and a good antibacterial hand gel. If your feet tend to blister, make sure to take compeed with you.
  • Enough food and water for the hike, and an extra spare bag to put all your garbage.

Have you hiked to Laguna Esmeralda?

Further Readings

If you are planning a trip to Argentina, make sure to check out my other posts:

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Discover what you need to know to hike to Laguna Esmeralda. Tierra del Fuego - via @clautavani

6 thoughts on “A Complete Guide To Hiking Laguna Esmeralda”

  1. Hi Claudia,

    We hope you’re well during the pandemic. It was great to read your blog about Laguna Esmeralda. It helped us to reminisce about the hike we did there earlier in the year. We loved our trip to Ushuaia. Did you have a favourite hike that you did in Ushuaia?

    We really enjoyed the Tierra del Fuego National Park. I think our favourite hike in Ushuaia was combining the Senda Costera trail with the Cerro Guanaco trail. Although Laguna Esmeralda wasn’t too far behind in terms of enjoyment!

    Cheers, Dan & Beck from Travel Made Me Do It

  2. Oh mine was by far the hike to Laguna Esmeralda! I loved the views, and the fact that a fox showed interest in my backpack definitely entertained me. BTW, have you seen the Magical Andes series on Netflix? It starts in Ushuaia. I saw it last night for the first time, and loved it!

  3. A couple of things are already dated:

    1) the shuttle price is up to ARS 5,000 return for 2023

    2) no more slogging thru the peat – the wooden walkways you show have been replaced by new, stable ones with handrails – one really has to try to go astray

    Additionally I’d suggest going as early as possible as much the trail gets churned into a muddy mess as the hundreds of daily tourists pass thru

  4. Just an update to the cost of a taxi as of 1/20/2023: 16,000 ARS round trip from taxi hub. Shuttle pricing is roughly the same but with much less flexible timing. For 2 people the cost of a shuttle was 20,000 ARS round trip.

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