Thanks to its location—on one of the southernmost points in South America—Cape Horn has played a major role in navigational history. The Strait of Magellan to the north was discovered first, but that route’s narrow width was challenging to navigate. Cape Horn, discovered by the Dutch in 1615, became the primary route for trade ships traveling from Europe or the east side of the Americas to the American West Coast.
Cape Horn marks the entrance to the Drake Passage, where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. Until the Panama Canal opened in 1914, this was one of the planet’s major shipping routes. Strong winds, currents, waves and icebergs made the passage fairly treacherous in the days of sailing ships. Even today, “rounding the Horn” remains a challenge for the many yacht races that pass through its icy waters. Hornos, the island where Cape Horn is located, may look desolate and treeless, but it’s home to a vast number of gulls and other seabirds.