The port town of Ushuaia is a special place. Surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains and the Beagle Channel, not only is it the gateway to Antarctic cruises, but it’s also the world’s most southern city. Or, if you want to put it more dramatically, it’s the end of the world (no, really – there’s a sign that says exactly that).
Here in Argentina, history mingles with culture. Nature’s grandeur surrounds you constantly. And in spite of cold, often rainy weather conditions, I always found something great to do there (as will you). After all, with scenery this dramatic, it’s not hard.
Here’s everything you need to know about Ushuaia, and everything you should do there.
A bit of history
For a very long time, only the Selk’nam and Yahgan (Yámana) indigenous tribes lived in this remote part of the world. British missionaries arrived in the early 1830s and established the first European settlements.
For a long time, Ushuaia was little more than a remote outpost. After the Brits came, it was then used by the Argentinian government as a penal colony. Offenders were sent there, and later, regime opponents. The city grew around it to host the families of those manning the prison. Closed in the middle of the twentieth century, the prison now hosts the Museum of the Ex-Presidio. Prisoners’ stories are told on the walls of their cells and there’s a replica of the End of the World lighthouse in the gardens. Well-documented and highly interesting, the museum is, for me, an absolute must-see in town.
What was once a small sleepy town has grown a lot in recent years, mostly thanks to tourist development in the area. That being said, Ushuaia itself is modest and unassuming, with just one main street and the star of the show, its waterfront.
A handful of outdoor activities
Nowadays, Ushuaia boasts a wide range of outdoor activities that have made up its worldwide reputation. Though you can board a ship bound to Antarctica from here (and get even colder), you’ll still find many ways of enjoying yourself in and around town.
Five miles north of town, Martial Glacier overlooks the bay; hiking is very popular on its flanks as well as skiing in the colder months. I particularly enjoyed sipping a hot chocolate at the tea-room at the bottom of the slopes while marveling at the view.
Tierra del Fuego National Park is an awe-inspiring recreational area, open year-round with entrance that’s free during winter. Although most of it is not open to the public on conservation grounds, the southernmost tip is home to 25 miles of hiking trails. There’s gorgeous scenery here; think waterfalls, lakes, mountains and glaciers. Camping is big here, as is bird-watching – I remember fondly seeing my first ever wood-peckers here!
And if you visit the national with Intrepid, you can go trekking to the scenic Lago Roca, followed by a canoeing trip down the Lapataia River. Special stuff.
For fans of wildlife and boat rides, I recommend taking a trip out to the famous Beagle Channel to catch a glimpse of Bird Island, Sea Lion island, Les Éclaireurs lighthouse, which proudly signifies the southern tip of Argentina. Rain or shine, the views are spectacular and the animals as amazing as you’d imagine. Who doesn’t love a sea lion?
Activity options are endless here. You can visit a Magellanic penguin colony on Martillo Island. You can go horse riding along the coast. Or you can go rogue and explore Ushuaia’s hills and forests by mountain bike.
If you haven’t had enough yet, hop onto a kayak tour of the bay or even consider scuba-diving in some of the coldest waters ever.
Enjoying Ushuaia even when raining
With its mild oceanic weather (the climate is similar to that of Reykjavik, Iceland), the temperatures in Ushuaia never exceed 62°F (17°C) in summertime, and the rain and clouds are common sights. This makes for fabulously lush National Parks and spectacular shots of the bay. It also makes for more than a few rainy days.
Do not worry, though, there’s enough to do that you won’t be stranded inside your room. On my third visit, the rain was a constant companion. I headed to one of the tourist information buildings (on Maípu street, open every day from 8am to 5pm, or on San Martín street, open every day from 5pm to 9pm) where I got my passport stamped with the 4 different “Ushuaia, World’s Southernmost City” stamps. I’d advise you to do it too – it’s a sweet, memorable activity.
I also wandered the arts and craft market by the tourist information building on Maípu street; there’s plenty of shawls, wool hats and socks to choose from. Here, one can even succumb to the Argentinian custom of drinking mate, the country’s national drink and a caffeine-rich concoction that’s a little like a herb tea. If you want to drink it like the locals, you share it with them – metal straw and all.
Also visit the History Thematic Gallery, which provides a great introduction to the area’s history. It’s very interactive, and you can feel like one of the first explorers on Tierra del Fuego, helped by the life-size wax figurines on all three levels. Audio guides are available in many languages, so you can learn about the native people, the arrival of European settlers and more, with ease.
Museum lovers will also enjoy a visit to the Yámana Museum on Bernardino Rivadavia street to learn more about the first indigenous tribes.
Ushuaia’s gourmet gems
There are plenty of restaurant options in town where one can devour delicious Fuegian cuisine and relish on dishes made of pollack, trout, salmon, sea bream or toothfish, king crab or Patagonian lamb. Have an empanada – small pie with meat or vegetable filling – as an entree, then finish up dessert with dulce de leche – caramelized condensed milk – or anything involving the calafate berry. You can even take a cooking class at Los Cauquenes to learn all of the area’s gastronomic secrets.
Upon a friend’s advice, I chose El Viejo Almacen bar as my headquarters after a long day of wandering. Situated in front of the bus terminal on Maípu street, it’s a cozy bar with delicious treats, old-fashioned decor, and tasty home-made dark beer.
Foodie tip from Fernando, Intrepid’s Operations Manager in South America: “For a beautiful final dinner visit KAUPE restaurant. There is a set menu that includes appetizer, main course, dessert and three different wines. Also included is champagne at the end, just to make it that bit fancier!”
The city’s motto states, “Ushuaia, end of the world, beginning of everything”. I’ve got to agree – it’s hard not to see it as the beginning or end for one heck of a beautiful adventure.
Inspired to visit this epic corner of the world? Check out our range of small group adventures in Argentina.
Image Credits (top to bottom): iStock, Julie Klene x3, iStock, Julie Klene