Boats in the Beagle Channel near Ushuaia with snow-capped Andean Mountains overhead.

Ushuaia Guide

Tailor-made Itineraries by Local Experts
Boats in the Beagle Channel near Ushuaia with snow-capped Andean Mountains overhead.

Ushuaia Guide

Tailor-made Itineraries by Local Experts

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Overview

Nestled in the wild and rugged environment of southern Patagonia, Ushuaia is about as far south as a city can be, and is commonly adorned the title “the southernmost city in the world”. Jagged and snow-covered mountains aside the shores of the deep blue beagle channel give this city an awe-inspiring backdrop. Its charming housing constructed with colorful timber and tin roofing completes the picture of this pioneer town at the end of the world. Despite its isolation, Ushuaia offers ample modern amenities and services making it the perfect base for exploring the Tierra del Fuego National Park and beyond.

snowy mountains overlooking the city of ushuaia

Geography and Climate

The climate in the region is naturally very cold due to the extreme southern locale, and it is advised to travel to the region during the summer months between October and mid-April. At all times of the year it can change very rapidly and travelers should always be aware that harsh conditions can onset quickly.

Ushuaia weather guide

Geography & Map

Ushuaia, city, capital and port of Tierra del Fuego provincia (province), Argentina, on the Beagle Channel. It lies on the main island of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago at the southern tip of South America.


Elevation
23 m (75 ft)


City Population
57,000

map of ushuaia

Transportation

Getting to Ushuaia

By far the most convenient form of arrival is by plane. There is a small airport that has connecting flights to Buenos Aires and Santiago. The two main operators are Aerolineas Argentinas and LAN Chile. It is also possible to arrive at the city by long distance bus from various destinations.

Getting around Ushuaia

The main parts of the town are within easy access by taxi. The Airport can also be accessed for around an $8 fare. For those heading on an expedition, various routes depart across land or over sea.


History

The Tierra del Fuego archipelago at the foot of the South American continent was first inhabited more than 10,000 years ago, with the Yaghan people being amongst the first of those to migrate from the north by foot. Many of the islands were still connected to Patagonia by land bridges, allowing the first peoples here to depend on hunting and gathering for survival the often harshly cold climate. Later groups arrived by sea adding to the ethnic diversity of the region.

A woman walking towards the impressive Tierra del Fuego mountain

During his historic expedition in 1520, Portuguese explorer Fernando Magellan gave the island grouping its namesake after he saw smoke rising from native fires (Tierra del Fuego literally meaning “Land of Fire”).

The site of the city Ushuaia was first settled in 1870 by an English missionary Wasti H. Stirling before it became a base for the Argentinean navy. It was declared as a city in 1893 after the region was split between Argentina and Chile.

In the first part of the 20th century, the city was the base for an Argentinean prison – the government set this up not only to transport prisoners to a remote location, but also to develop the economy of the region and give Argentina a stronger claim to territory that was strategically close to Antarctica. Today the economy of the city is based on lumber, sheep farming, fishing and fur-trapping. Tourism also plays an important role as many travelers venture south to explore the Tierra del Fuego and many continue on to Antarctica.


Attractions and Activities

The end of the World

The city of Ushuaia has a number of attractions that are well worth visiting during a sojourn here. Although many of these adopt the “End of the world” theme travelers should not be wary – this is merely a geographical reference. The historical center of Ushuaia has been preserved in its original layout with many mansions, museums, monuments and churches adorning the streets.

A sign reading - Ushuaia - End of the world

For a glance at Ushuaian history, a ride on the End of the World Train is a must. In the past, this smart and stylish steam engine was used to transfer prisoners to the labor camp that used to be located near the city. The isolation of Ushuaia made it suitable for deporting prisoners and their labor here indeed contributed to the development of the site. The train route begins on the outskirts of the city at the “End of the World stations” (busses leave from the Plaza Cívica on the 8km journey to the station). The narrow-gauge track slices through beautiful Patagonian landscapes – rich and diverse forests; winding rivers flowing through smooth valleys and glistening white mountains reflecting into the blue waters. The train follows the meandering route of the Pipo River – its banks still show traces of where prisoners used to cut down trees over a period of almost 50 years to supply the Ushuaia community with wood. There is a stop at La Macarena waterfall which shoots through lush green vegetation. From here an excursion can be made to a small native village which is characteristic of the settlements of the indigenous peoples who inhabited the land before European arrival.

The End of the World Museum is another place where the history and anthropology of the Tierra del Fuego region can be examined. A variety of historical artifacts are on display, ranging from the tools of indigenous peoples to more recent apparatus that were utilized by pioneers and explorers in the area. In particular, visitors will be amazed by the imposing and elegant 800kg figurehead that belonged to the English ship the Duchess of Albany which was shipwrecked nearby in 1893. There is also an extensive library with more than 3,000 works on the anthropology, history and nature of the Tierra del Fuego.

To delve further into the heart of Ushuaia history, travelers should make a stop at the Ushuaia Ex-Penitentiary/Jail for Relapsing Criminals. This is a key feature of the city as its introduction was an important phase in the development of the regional economy. This was firstly used to hold relapsing criminals, the first of whom arrived in 1896, but it expanded to include highly dangerous criminals who had to see out long- or life-sentences in jail. Prolific criminals who were held here include the 'petiso orejudo'' ("bat-eared shorty") Sánchez Godino and the anarchist Simón Radowitzky. The prison moved to the heart of Ushuaia in 1902 when inmates labored to construct the city’s first stone building over a period of 18 years. At its height, as many as 800 prisoners were held here in 380 small cells. The economy of the city boosted as a result of their forced labor – roads and bridges were engineered, electricity and phone cables were installed and essential timbering for construction was made more efficient through laying tracks for the end of the world railway, not to mention the timbering itself. All of this was made possible by the trials and tribulations of prisoners, a key component of development in the region, and making a visit to this site indispensable for those with any interest in Patagonian history.

A long hallway in the Ushuaia Ex-penitentary

The ex-prison building also hosts the Police Museum, the Antarctic Museum, the Maritime Museum, and the Penitentiary Museum and Prisons of the World, again all shedding light on the intriguing past of the southernmost city in the world.


Expeditions and Excursions

Most people who travel to Ushuaia are en-route to a Patagonian adventure in the Tierra del Fuego National Park. There is an abundance of sights in the region that are visually stupendous: snow covered glaciers; colonies of busy penguins; lush green forests of indigenous trees; and fantastic landscapes combining a spectrum of colors.

The Martial Glacier is a good place to start; this ice covered mountain 4.5 km away from Ushuaia provides drinking water to the city and is the base for a great number of sports and activities. From the Martial Glacier Resort, travelers can set off on various adventures with some remarkable trekking options through an intense natural environment. From the Resort a chair lift will take you up the side of the glacier giving fantastic views of the city. On arrival at the summit there are a number of paths leading to different walks on the glacier. This is also the point from where several good quality winter ski runs begin.

Snowy white mountain glacier in Ushuaia

day tour of the Tierra del Fuego National Park is another popular excursion - this National Park is a perfect example of the Andean - Patagonian forest. It was created in 1960 and has a surface of 63.000 hectares. In this area the final part of the Andes features a northwest - southeast orientation. The peaks alternate with valleys where there are rivers and glacial originated lakes. Two types of forests are dominant here: those of Lenga and Guindo trees, both with an open under-wood mainly consisting of moss and fern. In the spaces between the forests there is plenty of peat in the very humid and flooded areas where the sphagnum moss grows. On the seashore, the two great bays (Lapataia and Ensenada) are covered in gorges and beaches that are full of white cauquenes. There are also black-eye browed albatross (over two meters long) that cohabit with the steam duck and the diving petrel. There is also a rare kind of otter named chungungo. Other species are the guanaco and a particular Tierra del Fuego variety of red fox. The Canadian beaver, an introduced species, has caused a great environmental impact because it cuts down trees in order to build dams, which, in turn, provoke floods in certain parts of the forest where the trees also die as a consequence of the excess of water.

A snowy mountain

Boating expeditions along the Beagle Channel are always a spectacular experience, particularly in autumn when the myriad tree types are yet to shed their leaves. Amongst other sights, colonies of sea lions and birds can be admired against the picturesque glacial backdrops and the eerie yet fascinating Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse near the wreck of the German boat "Monte Cervantes", sunk in 1930. More extensive trips reach Lapataia Bay (inside the Tierra del Fuego National Park), or to "Estancia Harberton". These make several stops so that expeditions can be made inland on foot, horseback or by 4x4 to further explore the rugged Patagonian terrain. Vessels include modern sailboats and catamarans or classic ships. The tip of Cape Horn is also accessible through these most southern of waters, not to mention the frozen wilderness of Antarctica.

The Ushuaia beagle, with seals resting on the top

With such a fantastic landscape to explore, various outdoor activity options are also on offer, with trekking, horse-riding, sport-fishing, mountain-biking, mountaineering, skiing and sailing along the Beagle Channel to Cape Horn and the Antarctic Continent amongst the many adventure sports on offer.

One of the best skiing resorts in the area is Cerro Castor. Fans of the resort say that it offers one of the longest seasons, with skiing from June until October without much variation in the quantity and quality of the snow. In addition, with its bases practically at sea level, skiing can be done with the most oxygen possible - which decreases the risk of cardio-breathing problems. Located 20 km from Ushuaia, the most southerly ski center in the world is covered with thick birch forest. This is gratifying to the skiing experience: coming out of a wall of high gray trunks, their tops heavy with snow, the sea appears.

People skiing on the Cerro Castor snowy mountain

Another activity that is becoming increasingly popular amongst visitors to the area is bird watching. Various tours depart from where almost all of the species of southern Patagonian birds can be admired. There are tours centered close to Ushuaia such as on the Martial Glacier and along the Beagle Channel. One of the best circuits requires a venture to the nearby town of Rio Grande which has access to one of the most interesting observation points in the area.


Hotels

All types of accommodation can be found in Ushuaia, ranging from 2 to 5-star hotels to hosterias to cottages on the Estancia Harberton on a nearby island.

A woman enjoying a massage overlooking the ocean at the Los Cauquenes Hotel

5 star

Located right on the shore of the Beagle Channel, only a few miles outside Ushuaia, the Los Cauquenes Hotel is a gem of luxury. You will only find five star services at this full resort and spa. The 54 rooms boast front-row views of the Beagle Channel or the Andes, and are fully equipped with TVs, telephones, safe-deposit boxes, and mini-bars. Babysitting, storage for ski equipment, complementary PCs with internet access, and laundry and dry cleaning services are available. Guests will also find a health club, fitness center, drug store and gift store in this all-in-one resort. To top it off, this hotel also has a fabulous restaurant serving up international and local specialties with an impressive wine list to match.

4 star

Located on the coast of the Beagle Channel about 2 miles from Ushuaia, Hotel Las Yamanas is steeped in the history of the Yamanas people, the ancestors of the region. All rooms are decorated in a rustic style, with elegant wrought iron bed frames, gorgeous bedspreads and absolutely breathtaking views of the channel and the snow-capped Andes. Rooms are equipped with sommiers beds, color satellite TV, internet, mini-bar, telephone, safe-deposit box, and heating. Other services include 24 hour laundry service, a reading room, a fitness center including hydro-massage and water Shiatsu, steam baths, a sauna, massage, and exercise equipment. You can also take advantage of the bi-weekly Argentine barbeques, and stroll along the footpaths comprising the extensive grounds. The restaurant serves excellent wine, Fueguino lamb, fresh salmon, and many more exquisite dishes.

3 star

An intimate bed and breakfast, Hotel Macondo House, is located in a beautiful spot just a short walk from the center of Ushuaia. The interior is elegantly decorated with natural, earthy tones, and offers stunning views of the Ushuaia bay and mountains. The living room is complete with a cozy fireplace, and the hotel's seven rooms are spacious and stylishly decorated with fresh white linen and wooden flooring. Guests will without doubt enjoy the home-made Argentine breakfast, served by the friendly staff.


Food and Drink

Gastronomy wise, Patagonia is perhaps best known for its exquisite seafood and Ushuaia is not exempt from this. There is an impressive food scene in the city with a surprising number of excellent restaurants. Below are some specialties of the region.

A traditional dish from Ushuaia

Centolla fueguina: Fueguian spider crab – crustacean plentiful in area – often mistaken with giant crab
Black hake: a delicious fish with tender flesh – be warned however that this fish takes a long time to reproduce and is resultantly in danger of being over-fished.
Abadejo: similar to codfish
Besugo: sea bream
Patagonian lamb: Lamb reared in Patagonia – a local specialty
Ñandú: Patagonian Ostrich


Restaurants

Tables and chairs in The Chez Manu restaurant overlooking the lake in Ushuaia.

Kapue, Roca 470, Ushuaia $10-$17 (main course)

One of the best restaurants in town and for good reason: the food is outstanding and is matched by a warm, pleasant and welcoming environment. The menu is straight to the point offering only the best foods on offer. A must-taste is the King Crab; a gorgeous appetizer finished with crepe wrapping and saffron sauce. Main courses are chiefly based a variety of seafood such as sea-bass and salmon alongside beef and chicken dishes.

The Chez Manu, Av. Fernando Luis Martial 2135, Ushuaia $10-$20 (main course)

This restaurant has spectacular views with large windows on all sides. It is run by two Frenchmen, one of whom was a chef at the 5 star Las Hayes hotels (see above). The restaurant reflects their French influences while making use of locally sourced ingredients. A fresh supply of fish ensures a vibrant seafood selection including black hake or another fish caught nearby. The appetizers and sides are simple but inventive and the wine list has some excellent dry white wine from the region – a perfect accompaniment to the fish.

Tante Nina, Godoy 15, Ushuaia, Argentina $8 - $18

This restaurant is now considered to be one of the more “high brow” options in town with an elegant dining room and sea views all located in the city center. Casseroles containing seafood – especially the exquisite king crab – are the specialty here. Other popular dishes are beef, chicken and rabbit but the king crab remains king of dishes. Customers can rest assured they will receive swift service though the atmosphere can occasionally be a little pretentious.

Kuar, Av. Perito Moreno 2232, Ushuaia 9410, Argentina - $11-$20

The stylish architecture of this building looks slightly out of place in this more rustic area of town, but the surprise is a welcome one. And the food is a welcome comfort too: Lamb with ginger, beef and tomato stew and, of course, creamy spider crab is all on the menu. Perhaps the key reason that this restaurant stands out, however, is the delicious range of home brewed beer. Either a glass of this or a fresh coffee always makes a heart and soul warming accompaniment for relaxing with terrific views of the Beagle channel. There are stairs up to a cushioned area just perfect for this purpose.


Health and Safety

The most important piece of advice for those traveling to Ushuaia is straightforward: wrap up warm! Pack plenty of layers of warm clothing as the temperatures remain cold all throughout the year.

For those enroute to adventure, they should always check what equipment will be relevant to the activities they will be undertaking. Although trekking on ice can be easy going, care should always be taken with cracks in the ice, especially in spring and autumn.

It is a good idea to drink bottled water in Ushuaia as with anywhere through South America, especially in rural areas, to prevent contracting any harmful parasites or water-borne illnesses. If no bottled water is available, be sure to travel with water purification tablets or boil water for 15 minutes to eliminate any harmful bacteria.

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