Inspiring Locals with Adventure Tourism in the Cape Horn Commune
With tourism about to increase in this remote and beautiful area, Cape Horn Adventures is showing local people the potential on their doorstep with free kayaking courses.
Located at the very tip of Patagonia’s rugged wilderness, Cape Horn Commune is the southernmost municipality in the world. In this untouched and dramatic landscape sits the port ‘city’ of Puerto Williams, against a remarkable backdrop of rocky mountain peaks jutting out of the snow. Founded in 1953 as a Chilean naval base, Puerto Williams gradually expanded as civilians and indigenous Yaghan people joined the naval personnel and their families living here, bringing the population up to about 3,000 people today.
From merely naval beginnings, the activities here have gradually – and then quickly – expanded over the last 70 years. Puerto Williams maintains local navigation, supplying weather stations and lighthouses from the Beagle channel down to Cape Horn and the Diego Ramírez islands in the south. The local economy depends mostly on government services such as these and King Crab fishing. In addition, Puerto Williams has also become a hub for scientific and touristic voyages to Antarctica and all the uninhabited islands in between.
In recent years however, increased tourism has brought the potential for new types of activities here. Professional adventurers have come from all over the world to hike the beautiful and lonely trails, and navigating the local fjord has became an experience that’s attractive for worldwide tourism. Expedition cruise ships such as Hurtigruten’s had recently begun to call in – until the global COVID-19 pandemic brought the nascent tourism industry to its knees.
Rekindling the spark of tourism
After enjoying just a tantalising taste of a future in the tourism trade, the people of Puerto Williams are keen to restart it. In fact, this territory is expected by local operators to become the most developed tourism spot south of Tierra del Fuego.
Consequently, the Chilean government declared this southern archipelago a Zone of Tourist Interest (ZOIT) in 2019, the same year Puerto Williams was recategorized as a city – enabling it to arguably take the title of ‘world’s southernmost city’ from Argentina’s nearby Ushuaia. Moreover, there’s clear international recognition as well, with the UNWTO awarding Puerto Williams a "Best Tourism Villages" certification in 2021, recognizing the city as an example of a rural tourism destination with cultural and natural values.
Paddling their own canoes
Given this interest in the area, one local company – Cape Horn Adventures – is taking on a big responsibility: to create sustainable and environmentally friendly activities for the area’s future guests, while also involving the local community of Puerto Williams.
To ensure there are good opportunities for the Cape Horn community to take part in the burgeoning tourism industry, Cape Horn Adventures wants to inspire local people. They want to help them see what is possible by showing them the kinds of activities that tourists want to do, such as hiking, camping, mountaineering, climbing, and kayaking. This, they hope, will encourage locals to take part in offering such activities to the tourists.
Helping local youngsters see tourism as a career
With support from the Hurtigruten Foundation of NOK 65,000 (approx. USD 6,400), Cape Horn Adventures will purchase equipment and offer a range of free activities to residents of Cape Horn Commune. These include kayaking adventure tours for 20 youngsters and 24 elders, and certified American Canoe Association kayak courses for 20 youngsters.
In addition, the project will see Cape Horn Adventures coordinate three volunteer beach cleaning events. Hopefully, these will help foster environmental stewardship and awareness, and help to get people in the mindset of the environmentally conscious tourists who increasingly come to experience this pristine wilderness.
In the longer term, all these activities will benefit the locals with a better appreciation of the expedition ship business, enabling the whole community to work more closely together with the ships coming here. By helping and training people to provide quality local services to tourism operators, Cape Horn Adventures will thus help bring direct economic benefit to their community.
About Cape Horn Adventures
Cape Horn Adventures are qualified professionals based in Puerto Williams who have been working for Hurtigruten since 2016, and whose dream is to be able to contribute to the cause of locally based tourism. They seek to create better opportunities for the Cape Horn community to take part in the outdoor activity tourism industry.
Where can I learn more?
You can find out more by following @kayak_maurice on Instagram.
If you want to learn more about Cape Horn, see Cape Horn’s History.