Ushuaia’s (pronounced oo-swy-ah) claim to fame as “the most southern city in the world” draws tourists in, but the town’s charm is much more complex than the cutesy phrase. Although, be sure to indulge and get the Ushuaia passport stamp saying “Fin del Mundo” or “End of the World” in the tourist information building a few blocks from the bus station. More than just an item on your travel checklist or a quick stop before a luxury cruise to Antarctica, Ushuaia keeps visitors’ interest with its many on and off land activities.
Hiking and Tierra del Fuego National Park
Hiking in Ushuaia can entertain for weeks on end as paths lead you to beaver dams, ice caves and crystal clear lakes on terrain ranging from easy to difficult and, at times, treacherously muddy. There are a few different options when searching for a trail.
The Tierra del Fuego National Park is accessible by booking transportation through your hotel or a travel agency. Paying the park entrance fee is required and with it, you will find no shortage of routes to explore the forest, mountains, and glaciers.
Laguna Esmerelda is not a part of the National Park, but is one of the most popular day trips in Ushuaia as the trail through the forest leads you to a transparent lake surrounded by mountains. If you plan on taking a break and eating your lunch by the lake, be sure to bring some warm clothes!
If you are not looking to leave the center of Ushuaia, take a taxi 7km to Glacier Martial. The road will leave you at the bottom of the mountain and you can choose to take the chairlift for about $3USD which takes 15 minutes or hike 90-minutes up to the top with a view of the city and the glacier.
The Beagle Channel
On the other side of town, away from the mountains, is the port to Antarctica, evoking a feeling of mystery and adventure. A variety of water excursions are offered to see the wildlife in the summer months (late November-February).
The boat cruise through the Beagle Chanel is one of the most popular tours. Boats go to the Isla de los Lobos (Sea Lion Island), Isla de los Pajaros (Bird Island), and the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse for US$50. Other boats add an extension taking passengers to the Isla de los Pinguinos (Penguin Island) and putting the price at US$75, add a further extension for another US$25 and the boat will stop at Estancia Harberton where you can tour the 50,000 acre coastal estate and its grounds as well as visit the Museo Acatushún de Aves y Mamíferos Marinos Australes, a bird and marine mammal museum. Boat tours on the Beagle Channel are easily booked the day before or the day of through your hotel or by walking down to the port and selecting the agency of your choice. There are a healthy handful of operators and you can get information from them there each day, or try the tourism office next door on the port.
Ushuaia’s history as a penal colony is central to understanding the towns mystifying location. The Museo Maritimo y del Presidio de Ushuaia (Prison and Maritime Museum) is an easy walk from the center of the city. The prison was built in 1902 and few structural changes have been made to the building, allowing visitors to explore the original architectural design. The museum’s interactive touch screen computers provide a detailed account of the particularly dastardly criminals who resided in the prison and their way of life including the food they ate, the jobs they worked, and the healthcare they were provided. A guided tour in Spanish takes place a few times a day and is the only way to access the lighthouse room of the museum. Upstairs are the Maritime and Antarctic portions of the museum which provide a substantial amount of information on the marine life, marine history, and fishing economy of Ushuaia.
How to get there
If you’re flying into Buenos Aires and your next destination is Ushuaia, a one way flight costs US$300. If you’re busing from Puerto Natales after doing the W in Chile, you can book a bus through company Bus Sur for US$75 and in 14 hours you will arrive in Ushuaia.
Quite a few travelers book their cruise to Antarctica as they are making their way around Argentina and Chile- it’s not too late! It is possible to place yourself on a waitlist for a cruise while in Ushuaia or online in order to get a deal. For example, a 10 to 14-day cruise that typically costs US$10,000 to $20,000 could cost $4,000-$5,000 if you book the cruise last minute. A cruise that limits its amount of people to 100 is ideal because only 100 people at a time are able to disembark and explore the icy continent.