Ushuaia, Argentina: Much More Than Your Gateway to the Antarctic

June 9, 2017 Amanda Wells

Located on the Beagle Channel, on the southern coast of Isla Grande Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia is considered the southernmost city in the world. As it’s the port providing the fastest and most direct access to the Antarctic Peninsula, Ushuaia is also very likely where your Antarctic expedition will begin!

More than just a stopping-off point, Ushuaia is a great place to spend an extra day or two exploring the Fin Del Mundo--the end of the world. If you’re taking a traditional Quark Expeditions itinerary, you may come into Ushuaia on Day One of your expedition (the day before embarkation) and spend a night in the included hotel. There, you’ll have a pre-embarkation briefing and meet some of your fellow passengers.  Or, if you’re flying in from Buenos Aires, you may arrive a few hours ahead of your departure.

The sun sets over the port of Ushuaia, Aeropuerto Malvinas Argentinas and Beagle Channel; clouds settle in over the Chilean mountains beyond.

The sun sets over the port of Ushuaia, Aeropuerto Malvinas Argentinas and Beagle Channel; clouds settle in over the Chilean mountains beyond. Photo: Miranda Miller

Whatever time you have in Ushuaia, get out and explore this Patagonian paradise! Famed Portuguese explorer Magellan called this area Tierra del Fuego for the many fires he saw burning along the bottom tip of the South American coast in 1520. These days, it’s the fiery sunsets that give the name enduring relevance. Here’s how to get the most out of your time in Ushuaia.

Explore Ushuaia’s Fascinating Port & Prison Town History

Ushuaia is the Capital City of Tierra del Fuego and was for many years a prison town, a heritage you might recognize in some of the street art and graffiti you’ll see.

A building mural on San Martin street in Ushuaia depicts a haunting tale of the town’s prison history. Explore Ushuaia on foot for a deeper appreciation of its unique culture.

A building mural on San Martin street in Ushuaia depicts a haunting tale of the town’s prison history. Explore Ushuaia on foot for a deeper appreciation of its unique culture. Photo: Miranda Miller

The prison closed in 1947 and the former home of thieves, murderers and political prisoners has been converted into a marine museum that celebrates the maritime heritage of the area. A number of cells have been left intact; some still contain items left behind by the prisoners who lived there.

Don’t miss a visit to La Ultima Bita, a fairly sizable souvenir shop on San Martin with an exceptional backyard. Life-sized figurines and interactive exhibits let you party with early 1900s Ushuaian rabble rousers, get a taste of the penguins you’ll see once you reach Antarctica, and pretend you’re part of a jail break.

Quark passenger Richard Thomas, on Day One of his Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent expedition, visits the backyard of La Ultima Bita and poses with a life-sized ship’s captain figurine on a self-guided tour of downtown Ushuaia.

Quark passenger Richard Thomas, on Day One of his Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent expedition, visits the backyard of La Ultima Bita and poses with a life-sized ship’s captain figurine on a self-guided tour of downtown Ushuaia. Photo: Miranda Miller

Where is Ushuaia and What’s It Like?

Ushuaia, Argentina, is your jumping off point for most Antarctic expeditions.

Ushuaia, Argentina, is your jumping off point for most Antarctic expeditions.

Ushuaia is an eclectic, bustling port town built up into the hills. Understanding how the city is laid out will help you find what you need quickly. If you’re looking across the water with the town and mountains at your back, you’re looking out over the Beagle Channel and beyond, to Chile.

The four lane street that runs the length of the waterfront is called Av. Maipú. Here, you’ll find walkways along the water, monuments to the region’s history and famous political figures, a staffed tourist centre, and various shops facing the water. It’s a great place for an easy walk and taking pictures off the coast.

Exploring Ushuaia pre-embarkation; surveying the colorful street art on San Martin.

Exploring Ushuaia pre-embarkation; surveying the colorful street art on San Martin. Photo: Miranda Miller

Ushuaia is casual and laid back, with lots of tourists and plenty of English-speaking shopkeepers and locals. Your expedition clothes are just fine for touring around the town, so don’t worry about packing anything special. It’s cool this far south, so you’ll want to dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes while you’re out exploring.

The best ways to explore the area are on foot (in town) or with an organized tour or rental car, if you plan on seeing more of the area.

What is There To Do and See in Ushuaia?

Visit the Ushuaia Artists’ Co-op on your walk around town to browse local arts and crafts including tapestries, paintings and jewelry.

Visit the Ushuaia Artists’ Co-op on your walk around town to browse local arts and crafts including tapestries, paintings and jewelry. Photo: Miranda Miller

Plenty! Take a walk down Av. Maipú and explore the monuments and sculptures at the waterfront. You might see local families playing in the playgrounds, stop and visit the local Artists’ Co-op, or stop and watch the seabirds swoop around the cruise ships and freighters.

One street up (away from the water) is San Martin, where you’ll find most of the coffee shops, banks, souvenir stores, pubs and restaurants. Many coffee shops offer free wi-fi--just ask the counter staff for the password. You can use U.S. dollars here, and most places accept major credit cards.

Ushuaia restaurants and food

Seafood is fresh and plentiful in this beautiful port town, with a wide variety of options for both lunch and dinner. Visit Kaupe for rich, delicious King crab and spinach chowder, scallops lyonnaise, black hake and more.

At the nearby Paso Garibaldi, you’ll find freshly baked breads, crab and octopi risotto, delicate pastas in authentic cream sauces, spicy shrimp with chorizo, and an excellent wine selection. Head to Kalma Resto for an exceptional 5-course ‘Menu Degustacion,’ complete with wine pairings (call ahead to reserve a table--it tends to fill quickly!).

Wooden stairs and viewing platforms every few blocks guide you down the hills of Ushuaia to explore the port area.

Wooden stairs and viewing platforms every few blocks guide you down the hills of Ushuaia to explore the port area. Photo: Miranda Miller

Remember, if you’re at a hotel higher up the hill, heading down towards the water will get you closer to the shops, restaurants and museums. Wooden walkways and platforms guide you down the hills and offer fantastic photography opportunities on the way down. If your visit to Ushuaia is part of your transfer, you’ll already be parked near the water and can walk up the hill towards town.

 

Get Out of Town: Hiking & Exploring Opportunities for Visitors to Ushuaia

If you have time, the “Train at the End of the World” is an iconic local tourism experience that takes you on a meandering 8km route from the End of the World station into Tierra del Fuego National Park. Give yourself a few hours; you’ll need to take a taxi to the End of the World station, and total time for the tour is a little under 2 hours. The main attraction of the ride is a leisurely ride through dense forest, so if you’re accustomed to that kind of scenery (think Canadian wilderness or German forests), there may be other things you’d rather do.

If you really want to explore this wilderness area, combine the train ride with a National Park tour.

Daniella the Dog (pictured above) is an Arakur resident who receives regular vet check-ups and loves walking the Mt. Alarkén trails with passengers.

Daniella the Dog (pictured above) is an Arakur resident who receives regular vet check-ups and loves walking the Mt. Alarkén trails with passengers. Photo: Miranda Miller

Immerse yourself in Ushuaia’s mountainous wilderness at the Cerro Alarkén Nature Reserve. Taxis from downtown Ushuaia up the mountain to the Arakur Hotel are inexpensive and just to the left of the hotel entrance, around the side of the building, you’ll find the Mt. Alarkén trails. It starts as one trail at Arakur and splits after about a ten minute walk. From there, either continue on to the summit or enjoy a gentler walk with a rewarding views from the peat bogs partway up.

For a more challenging hike and a great vantage point over the area, head to Martial Glacier. It offers unbelievable views of Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel and Isla Navarino in Chile. Grab a cab the 7km from downtown to the base of the ski hills. From there, you can hike to the top.

There are also many excursions available. Boat tours from the harbour can take you to a Magellanic penguin rookery at Martillo Island (a species you won’t see in Antarctica), or a Beagle Channel tour, which includes a trip around Alicia Island with its large colony of sea lions, to the Eclaireurs lighthouse and then around Isla de Los Lobos (Sea Lions Island).

Where Can I Learn More About Visiting Ushuaia?

Don’t waste a minute on your arrival in Ushuaia! Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, grab a water bottle and get out exploring. Still have questions?

About the Author

Amanda Wells

Amanda is Director of Marketing at Quark Expeditions, a recent MBA grad, and a practitioner of positive psychology. In addition to her passion for travel, Amanda brings to Quark her belief that travel helps people push their growth boundaries, both literally and figuratively, and is always looking to connect with like-minded individuals.

Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn here

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