The furthest most city in the world, a place oozing with an explorer, Frontier vibe kinda place. Its the gateway city to Antarctica, the true final frontier, but Ushuaia has many more reasons to visit other than being the starting point to the Antarctic. The mountains of “Tierra del Fuego” at the tail end of Patagonia create a cataclysmic fortified, natural wall that drops into the black frigid ocean. It is a magical display of mother nature reminiscing somewhat of a fairy-tale. The locals, Argentinian workers in search of a better future mixed with Guacho cowboys whose lineage is traced back to the local indigenous population make Ushuaia’s unique culture that much more /interesting to linger longer in the world’s last outpost.
Getting to Ushuaia – World’s End
For many this is the end of the road, literally, the Pan American highway spanning from the northern tip of Alaska making its route all the way to here ends. For the others, like myself, it’s the beginning as Ushuaia is the launching point for the majority of trips heading across the treacherous Drake Passage to earth’s last natural paradise, Antarctica.
For those who are at the end of their journey it’s most likely they came overland using their own wheels. Driving a 4×4 or motorbike here is hugely popular! Crossing South America and Patagonia to be able to say, “I have driven to the end of the world, Ushuaia”.
For myself, I flew from Buenos Aries. Landing here you cross empty mountain valleys revealing glimpses into this pristine wilderness before finally as if a mirage, Ushuaia appears on a small outlet from the black mountain walls of Tierra del Fuego.
Ushuaia town is an eclectic mix of historic fishing and art deco-style buildings. In other words, at first appearance, you will be saying to yourself “Where the hell am I?” . It is a strange place nonetheless, but once you grow to love the deeper you dig into its unprepossessing appearance.
Most travelers here stick to two main streets, Avenue San Martin, and Avenue Maipu. Here you find most of the city’s shops, restaurants, and museums. Further afield in the cities traffic-clogged backstreets you will find the better (quieter), hotels.
Where to Stay in Ushuaia
While in Ushuaia I stayed in two hotels worth mentioning. One is a budget backpacker dive and the other a five-star hotel perched atop a mountain overlooking the city. Whatever budget you have, the situation for accommodation is in abundance.
Antarctica Hostel – To be honest, I stayed here because of the name. “I am going to Antarctica, aren’t I?” was about all I thought before coming here. The rooms themselves are not bad, a little overpriced, as most budget accommodation in Ushuaia is on the expensive side. On the upside, the lobby has a fantastic, spacious bar serving up local brews. They also offer shuttles to the park. The downside, if your budget delegates you to the dorms, they are cramped, stinky and you won’t get a lot of quality sleep.
Arakur Ushuaia Resort – Like a castle looking down upon its inferior other hotels, Arakur sits atop Ushuaia’s tallest hill. Although located a short cab ride from the city it offers mountain hiking trails, insanely gorgeous views over Ushuaia Bay, and a restaurant serving up a plethora of local delicacies. If you have the budget, I highly recommend staying at this gorgeous location.
Where to Eat in Ushuaia
Ramos Generales El Almacén – My favorite food joint in Ushuaia, this small historic market turned restaurant serves up the best burgers, beer, coffee, and desserts. The atmosphere is also oozing with authenticity.
Galería Temática – Historia Fueguina – Not just a cheesy museum! The restaurant upstairs serves up plenty of local specialties! The Fish stew was particularly memorable.
Kuape – If you are interested in local ingredients mixed with Argentinian-style cuisine this is your place! I had Patagonian toothfish with chimichurri on the side.
Snow Crab – I did not pick a specific restaurant as once you arrive in Ushuaia you will see that there are hundreds of places serving up Antarctic snow crab. I tried a few and honestly, they were all great!
What to see in Ushuaia
Galería Temática – Historia Fueguina – What is better than seeing actual history itself? How about slightly offensive wax figures depicting different local indigenous tribes and erm… colonialist heroes who “discovered the area”. It is a weird but informative insight into Ushuaia’s history.
Museo Maritimo y del Presidio de Ushuaia – The prison at the end of the world and Ushuaia’s biggest landmark, this prison that closed in 1947 housed some strange criminals. Apart from being a bit spooky, the prison also offers a few side galleries into local history and exploration.
Ushuaia Harbour – This is where I spent my mornings, the harbor has a long walking path that leads to a few historical ships, but more importantly stunning views over Ushuaia Bay. It’s utterly beautiful in the evenings.
Hiking in Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego
I will be honest, I love hiking, but my time hiking in Ushuaia was not always my fondest memory. Being the world’s most southern city comes with a drawback, the weather here is extremely unpredictable. Most of my hikes ended up in the pouring rain with me cruising to the gods but saying that the scenery I did see was none less, outstanding.
Near Arakur hotel you can hike through groves of mangled-looking trees while the Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego offers seaside hikes, mountain trekking, and nature that feels very untouched. Brave the weather and hike, just have an escape plan is all I am saying.
Catamaran to Faro Les Eslaireurs – Pira Tour
My favorite experience in Ushuaia was taking the catamaran from Ushuaia harbor to the island of Martillo. As you enter the Beagle Channel the grandeur of the Tierra del Fuego mountains looms above you are displaying their enormity.
Along the way to the island, you stop at Isla de Pajaros, a small rock covered in what looks like millions of King Cormorants. Nearby is also the photogenic Faro les Eslaireurs lighthouse, also dubbed the world’s end lighthouse. The rocks jutting out from the ocean here are covered in sea lion families sunbathing and fighting. You can almost hear David Attenborough voicing over about male phallic attitudes.
Penguins on Isla Martillo – Pira Tour
After about two hours you arrive at the remote Isla Martillo, which is home to a massive Magellanic Penguin colony. There are also however a few king and Gentoo penguins who are native to Antarctica here who happened to have got lost during migration. Now, as if the Magellanic do not notice, they live amongst them, oh how the world could learn something from this.
I chose to go with Pira Tour in Ushuaia for the expedition. Being one of the oldest companies they are one of the few who have the right to stop at the island. Almost all the other companies will not allow you to step foot amongst the penguins.
Journey to Antarctica
If you are as lucky as I am and get the opportunity to sail from Ushuaia to the Earth’s last, unspoiled wilderness you will get the full Ushuaia experience. There truly is something magical about this journey, the journey explorers (and travel writers in my case), dream of doing.
Leaving Ushuaia the mountains of Tierra del Fuego slowly disappear in the distance before the unstable waters of the Drake Passage begin, but that is another story and where my story of Ushuaia comes to an end.
I traveled with Poseidon Expeditions! They operate their tours aboard a small vessel allowing a lot more access to landing on Antarctica. If you want a close and personal tour that you will never forget than this is the company you will want to travel to the end of the world with!