Things to Do in Ushuaia, Patagonia’s City at the End of the World
The Argentinian city of Ushuaia lies at the southern tip of South America and marks the end of civilization before the continent plunges into the Antarctic Ocean. Pinched by a wall of scenic mountains on one side and the glorious Beagle Channel on the other, Ushuaia promises an immersive experience to journeying travelers and today serves as a natural jumping off point for ships headed out on a Ushuaia to Antarctica cruise. Read on to discover the best things to do in Ushuaia.
Ushuaia’s Hidden History
While its natural beauty is considered by many to be the most alluring attraction for visitors, Ushuaia’s history is equally as fascinating. Ushuaia was initially settled by British missionaries, and a penal colony was established here at the turn of the 19th century. While the prison closed in 1947, the building served for nearly half a century as a naval base, until shutting in the 1990s. Today, the prison houses one of the principal Ushuaia attractions: the Museo Marítimo y del Presidio. It recounts the building’s history, as well as that of Antarctica and the surrounding region of Tierra del Fuego. This combination of history, legend and landscapes makes the “city at the end of the world” such a thrilling destination.
Whether you arrive by air or by road from lands to the north, visiting Ushuaia will awaken your sense of adventure and your love of nature. One of the best ways to discover the area’s wildlife, boat tours in the Beagle Channel shuttle visitors to wildlife sanctuaries for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe cormorants, sea lions and the colony of adorable Magellanic Penguins that lives on nearby Martillo Island.
Several outdoor adventures start right from the edge of Ushuaia, says Chris Wallace, author of Patagonia Footprint Handbook. Some visitors choose to explore the woods surrounding the city by mountain bike or Siberian husky-led dog sled, but Wallace recommends a hike up to nearby Martial Glacier: “The route takes you up a mountain that’s a ski center in winter, and it passes along running streams before you reach the glacier,” he says. “Once you arrive at the glacier, there’s an epic view all the way out to the Beagle Channel.” Others trek through forests, grasslands and mountain landscapes on day-long trips to the teal-colored Esmeralda Lagoon.
The Journey to the End of the Earth
For those more interested in adventures further afield, the ultimate destination is Tierra del Fuego National Park. Ushuaia’s End of the World Train is a unique way to reach it—the one-hour journey, which departs from a train station seven kilometers west of Ushuaia, travels along a narrow-gauge railway.
While many visitors make the journey for the simple novelty of visiting the southernmost extreme of the continent, many are awe-struck by the panorama of shimmering lakes, peat bogs, dense forests and soaring peaks. The windswept landscape, which offers almost endless opportunities for hiking and trekking, is melancholy yet captivating, all at once.
Tasting the Local Flavor
Back in Ushuaia, the city center is, by contrast, tidy and lined with brightly painted buildings and storefronts. One of the best views is from the dock, with impressive panoramas of Isla Navarino to the south and the jagged peaks of the Martial Range to the north, beyond Ushuaia’s streets.
Ushuaia’s iconic “Fin del Mundo” sign marks the dock. But the nearby main street, San Martin, hardly looks like the end of the world, with its numerous hip cafes, bright hotels and souvenir shops. Stroll here in the afternoon, meet the friendly locals and buy some beautiful, handmade arts and crafts.
The city also boasts plenty of establishments steeped in local flavor, including the recently remodeled Mercado del Jardin, which houses several authentic shops and eateries. “Shellfish lovers absolutely must try the ‘centolla gratinada,’” or creamy, gratinéed king crab baked in its shell, Wallace says.
There’s even a slice of bohemia in this distant outpost, most evident in the mural wall art found around town. Images often feature political or social themes, with tributes to indigenous culture and photographs of the prisoners shipped here by the boatload from other parts of Argentina.
Ushuaia’s unpredictable weather can change at any moment, so while exploring, be prepared for strong winds, rain, and even snow throughout the year. The characteristic climate has even attracted Hollywood—the 2015 film The Revenant was filmed close to the city. You don’t have to be Hugh Glass to explore this incredible landscape, but you should bring a sense of adventure.