Introduction to Ushuaia
Ushuaia is the largest, and only, city on the evocatively named island of Tierra del Fuego, which translates into English as The Land of Fire. Ushuaia’s inhabitants claim that it is the most southerly city in the world and it really does feel like a distant outpost. Ushuaia is the last point of civilization before the frozen stretches of Antarctica take hold, and once-upon-a-time this island is where Argentina’s most dangerous prisoners were sent to pass their sentences doing hard labor in the bitterly cold conditions of Patagonia. It was Tierra del Fuego’s prisoners who actually built the city of Ushuaia, and today it is an attractive and colorfully painted coastal town, where thousands of people visit every year (of their own free will!) to see the beautiful landscapes and national parks of Southern Patagonia.
The town itself is a jumbled and growing collection of steep streets lined up on the coastal stretch of land between the beautiful Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel. It is almost 100% focused on tourism and, though somewhat pricey, the services and general standards in Ushuaia are correspondingly high. You’ll find excellent hotels and restaurants and some delicious locally-brewed beers. In a place quite so open to the elements, the comfort of a warm hearth and good food and drink are extremely welcome, especially so as the main draw of Ushuaia is getting out into the elements and enjoying its stunning surroundings. Adventure activities include hiking, biking, kayaking, boating and skiing, so a roaring fire and a hearty dinner to come home to are key.
What not to miss in Ushuaia
Tierra del Fuego National Park
The Tierra del Fuego National Park is made up of swathes of sub-Antarctic tundra, ancient beech forests and jagged mountains. It has a strange and desolate beauty which is quite captivating. The best way to explore the park is by foot and taking your time. We don’t advise a group tour in the park as you’ll be rushed through.
Sail along the Beagle Channel
Sail along the Beagle Channel for beautiful seascapes, to see penguin islands, sea lions and to visit the fascinating Estancia Harberton.
Lakes Escondido and Fagnano
You may think it’s a painting, or the scenery from an adventure movie, but it isn’t…once you get to the lakes of Escondido and Fagnano, you will soon discover that perfect panoramic views do exist! Situated 37 miles (60km) away from the Ushuaia, in the middle of the mountains, Lake Escondido seems to be part of a dream. Be careful because your camera may start snapping photos on its own!
Estancia Harberton was founded in 1886 by the British missionary Thomas Bridges. Situated in a remote and beautiful spot, the estancia has an interesting history and a great natural history museum.
What you need to know
When to go
Argentina has reverse seasons to the Northern Hemisphere, with summer beginning in December and winter getting started in earnest in June. Being that it is so far south, the island of Tierra del Fuego experiences especially fierce winters, with icy winds, freezing rain and lashings of sleet and snow. Though you can go skiing in this season, the harsh winter weather makes it much more of a challenge to get out into the elements and see the countryside. It is much better to visit Ushuaia during the spring, summer and fall, when the skies clear and the temperature rises (a little!). During the fall, the beech trees turn a fiery orange, adding to the beauty of the island. The busiest time for visitors is during Argentina’s summer holidays, from the end of December through to mid-January.
How to get there
The International Airport Islas Malvinas, open since 1998, receives daily flights from Buenos Aires and other southern cities, such as El Calafate, Río Gallegos, Puerto Madryn, Trelew, and Comodoro Rivadavia. Airplanes also fly from Chilean cities, like Santiago, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas.
Getting there by bus is also possible. However, you should take into account that distances are quite long, so trips from the above mentioned cities may last approximately one day or more. Arriving by car is another alternative. Car rental outlets are available in Ushuaia to pick up or return vehicles.
Another way of reaching Ushuaia is in one of the almost 80 cruises that stop there every week during the summer season, before heading towards Antarctica, or other far south seas.
Where to stay
There are a variety of hotels, inns and B&B’s available in the city, with a wide range of prices and level. Cabins and lodges in the outskirts are also a good option for those who want to be in direct contact with nature, or closer to the Cerro Castor resort, which also has its own ski lodge. You may also want to stay in some of the camping sites inside the National Park, in the middle of lakes and mountains.
If you’re staying in the center of Ushuaia, be sure to just walk. You’ll be able to soak up the beautiful views across the water from the center of the city, see some interesting buildings and enjoy a number of pedestrian-only zones.
Buses do run throughout Ushuaia but only a few reach the main tourist sites. They are however good to get to Playa Larga or, from one part of the center to the other.
Taxis are cheap, safe, and the drivers will often provide you with information on the surrounding region and local recommendations on their favorite restaurants in the city.