Ushuaia. The southernmost city in the world. Capital of Tierra del Fuego. Close to incredible hiking trails, ski resorts and the stunning Tierra del Fuego National Park. And the best-known gateway to Antarctica. There is so much character to this city that a short crossover trip on your way to Antarctica won’t be enough to allow you to enjoy everything Ushuaia has to offer.
Our stay in Ushuaia was extended from just two days to five after our trip to Antarctica was cancelled last minute due to staff and crew and passengers contracting Covid-19. You can read more on that here. And, while we managed to fit a lot into our short visit, there’s still so much more to do in this colourful city, so we are so glad we’ll be returning next year.
Here are some of my top picks, including activities we managed to do and things we intend to do when we return in January 2023.
1. Walk with penguins on Isla Martillo
If you’re on your way to Antarctica via Ushuaia, then this tour won’t be necessary because you’ll see plenty of penguins on the icy continent. But you don’t have to travel all the way to Antarctica to see penguins. In fact, huge numbers of Magellanic and Gentoo penguins can be seen on Isla Martillo, which is a short bus journey from Ushuaia. There are a number of tours that will take you by boat to the island and allow you to view the penguins from the water, but only one company – Piratour – will allow you to step foot on the island and walk among them. The tour will also take you to a museum at the end of the world and the Harberton Ranch, where you’ll learn a lot about the history of Ushuaia. Read more about this tour here.
2. Go hiking or paddling at Tierra del Fuego National Park
Tierra del Fuego is renowned for spectacular scenic landscapes that feature coastline, forests, glaciers, lakes, mountains, and waterfalls. The park is also home to a host of wildlife, including 20 species of mammals, 90 species of birds and a huge variety of marine wildlife. There are numerous tour companies in the city that will offer a range of trips to the park. Read more about our experience here.
3. Learn about the history of Ushuaia at Historia Fueguina museum
There are a number of museums in the city and, while I didn’t visit them all, I would highly recommend Historia Fueguina. The museum spans a number of floors and, via a handy audio guide, tells the history of Ushuaia via a large collection of life-size dioramas. You can even stand into some of the scenes for pictures. My personal favourites were those that depicted scenes of Ernest Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance on their expedition to Antarctica. Read more on my love of Shackleton here. To top off your visit, there’s an old-style tavern on the top floor where you can get some lunch or a drink. There’s also a lovely gift shop downstairs but make sure you go out the back door to see more beautiful dioramas.
4. Visit the Museum of the Prison of Ushuaia
Of the various museums in Ushuaia that I didn’t visit, the one of particular interest to me is the Museum of the Prison of Ushuaia. The military prison that used to operate in Isla de Los Estados, first in San Juan de Salvamento and later in Puerto Cook, was transferred to Ushuaia in 1902 for humanitarian reasons. The prison is steeped in history and in various parts of the town you will see murals of men in blue and yellow striped prison uniforms. You can even purchase a t-shirt with those colours as a souvenir in many of the gift shops around town.
5. Get a ride on Tren del Fin del Mundo
Tren del Fin del Mundo – the train at the end of the world – was on my bucket list for January 2022 when we visited Ushuaia. But, unfortunately, as Covid-19 started to spread throughout the city, we were informed we could not book a trip on the train due to staff contracting the virus. But it will be on our to-do list for 2023. This beautiful 7km journey will take you through Tierra del Fuego National Park, offering stunning views. Be aware, there is a ‘train ride’ around the city, but it’s not the same thing. This tram on wheels brings you around Ushuaia so you can get panoramic views of the city. It also stops at the prison museum. We took this tour just to see what was around us and, while there are some nice views of the city and audio clips giving information about the history, there are other ways to see and learn all of that, so don’t feel like this is a must when visiting Ushuaia.
6. Take some time to explore the city itself
Ushuaia’s main street is filled with lovely gift shops where you can pick up some souvenirs from your trip. There are also plenty of outdoor activity stores where you can purchase whatever gear you might have forgotten for a trip to Antarctica or whatever you might need for some of the stunning hiking trails around the city. While you’re exploring, there are plenty of restaurants to suit all tastes, with crab being a particularly popular dish with tourists. To walk off a big meal, take walk down by the waterfront and watch the ships come in as people begin their journey further south or return from their trip of a lifetime. And, after dark, the Ushuaia sign is perfect for a photo opportunity. It’s not far from the waterfront and lights up different colours. One tip for shopping in Ushuaia – bring your euros or dollars in cash and get them exchanged to pesos while you’re there. We were withdrawing pesos from ATMs or paying by card until a tour operator told us we could get twice as many pesos for our euros if we exchanged them physically. Fortunately, we had some cash euros – and dollars – so suddenly our money went twice as far.
7. Hike to Glacier Martial for stunning views
This is an activity on our to-do list for next year. We’ve read a lot about this hike and the views it offers when you get to the top. While it is possible to hike from the city itself all the way to the top, I’ve read plenty of recommendations that suggest getting a taxi to the base, as the walk from town is not very scenic and the hike upwards can be quite taxing. Many reviews on Google state it’s a difficult uphill hike but worth it for the views. Others say it’s an easy hike. I’m slow and steady when it comes to upward hikes, so I’ll update you all when I’ve done it.
8. Hike the Laguna Esmeralda trail
Another lengthy hiking trail on our bucket list, this 10-kilometre trek through ancient forests to the beautiful turquoise waters of Laguna Esmeralda is a must for our next visit to Ushuaia. It is a challenging route, from what I have read, with sections of wild terrain and some upward stretches. But it’s something that will again be worth the effort.
9. Book a stay at Arakur Ushuaia Resport and Spa
After what should have been our epic Antarctic expedition, we had planned to stay at the Arakur Ushuaia Resort and Spa as a way to relax and wind down before heading home. Unfortunately, because our trip was cancelled, we didn’t get a chance to enjoy the luxury the resort has to offer. Arakur is situated above. the city and offers luxurious facilities and incredible panoramic views of Ushuaia – a perfect way to relax after a very active adventure.
10. Visit the lighthouse at the end of the world
Another item on the agenda for our next visit, Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse is an iconic image of Ushuaia. It stands on a small island in the Beagle Channel and, while it isn’t open to the public, a boat tour from the city will get you there. This postcard-perfect lighthouse is almost a century old and still operational.
Have you travelled to Ushuaia and got some experiences to share? Recommendations are welcome in the comments. Or feel free to get in touch to share your story.