Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, often calls itself the ‘end of the world’. Yet, when we arrived here, the city had anything but an end-of-the-world feeling. It was big and lively, with shops selling everything you could possibly need. And since residents have tax advantages over the rest of Argentina, the city has grown over the past decade.
For tourists, Ushuaia has a lot to offer. We stayed for two and a half days but could easily have found something to do for another two or three days. Upon arrival, I suggest you stop by the tourist information to get a map and excellent free info brochures about Ushuaia. And then go out and check out the following sights and activities:
#1 Hike Tierra del Fuego National Park
Beautiful Tierra del Fuego National Park is located west of the city. To get here, you either need to take a minibus or the train. Ask for a list of trails at the tourist information before heading out, so you don’t get lost.
Inside the park, paths are well labeled. We walked along coastal path number 2, following the coast past bays and rocky outlets. There were many viewpoints from which we could look across the Beagle Channel and at the end, we arrived at a visitor centre featuring an excellent free exhibition about Tierra del Fuego.
The national park offers many more free trails, some easy and others more challenging. We met hikers who went out here a couple of days in a row to take in as much of the beautiful scenery as possible.
#2 Take a walk around Ushuaia
The first thing we did in Ushuaia was take a walk around the city. We started by going down the main street (and picking up some churros along the way) and then passed along the waterfront where we had a great view of all the cruise ships waiting to depart for Antarctica.
From the waterfront, we kept going west, until we reached a lagoon in front of a ‘historic district’ with lots of wooden brown houses. This turned out to be a great spot to take pictures of Ushuaia with its colourful church, the cruise ships and the snow-covered mountains in the background.
1 – 2h
#3 Take the Tren Del Fin Del Mundo
The End-of-the-World train is the world’s southernmost train. Shortly after Ushuaia was founded, it became a prison town, with Argentina’s most dangerous criminals being sent to the end of the world. From prison, the inmates were transported into the woods by train, to chop down trees for heating and to run the local power plant.
The train fell into disrepair after the prison was closed, until around twenty years ago, when a restoration project repaired the last eight kilometers of tracks. These days, a steam train takes visitors along those tracks into the Tierra del Fuego National Park. A commentary in Spanish, English and Portuguese as well as a brochure in various languages explain the history of Ushuaia and its prison.
We took the train to the entrance of the national park, went hiking and then returned by minibus. If you are planning on doing the same, you will still have to buy a return ticket for the train as one-way tickets are not available. Also, you will always need to pay entrance to the national park, even if you are planning on returning immediately by train without staying in the park.
#4 Learn about Ushuaia’s history at the Museo del Fin del Mundo
Everything in Ushuaia is about its location at the end of the world, so it does not come as a surprise that there is an end-of-the-world museum. This excellent free museum has a lot of information about Ushuaia’s history, from the Ice Age to colonisation. It also houses the most complete collection of photos and stories about the native inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego that I have seen anywhere.
If you walk down the street westwards from the museum, you can find another outpost of the museum. This one deals with the history of Ushuaia as a prison town and is also worth taking a quick look at.
30min – 1h
#5 Visit the lakes
On our last day in Ushuaia, we went on a day trip to the lakes east of town. Our bus followed the national route number 3 (which starts in Ushuaia and ends in Buenos Aires). Our stops included a viewpoint of the Andes, a ski centre known for its husky breeding and, of course, viewpoints next to the lakes.
The Andes are not very high on Tierra del Fuego, but once you cross them, the landscape changes and, especially if you arrived by plane, this is your chance to see a different side of the island.
You can go here either by rental car or with an organised tour. If you go with a tour, I recommend that you avoid Tolkeyen. Their biggest selling point for the tour was the all-you-can-eat lamb that we were supposed to get for lunch. But once we started the tour, lunch was suddenly not included anymore and we would have had to pay 30$ extra (so lesson learned: make sure to get written proof of what people promise you to be included).
There are lots of different tour operators in town, so you can compare their offers before committing to one.
#6 Cruise the Beagle Channel
Going for a boat ride on the Beagle Channel is a popular option for everyone visiting Ushuaia. We decided to skip it, since we knew we wanted to see the penguins in Punta Arenas, but if you want to see sea lions, beautiful scenery and penguins, you should go for one of those tours. I met travellers who went there and they all loved it.
Depending on how much you’re willing to pay, tours take in more or less of the Beagle Channel. You can do short 1-hour boat rides or excursions that last all day long.
1h – 1d
#7 Send a postcard from South America’s southernmost post office
South America’s southernmost post office is located in Tierra del Fuego National Park. Here, you can buy postcards and send them home, with a ‘Fin del Mundo’ stamp on them. If you like, you can also get your passport stamped for a small fee. Just keep in mind that in theory, this invalidates your passport (not that I’ve ever seen any border officials care).
#8 Eat Fuegian lamb
Tierra del Fuego’s local specialty is lamb, roasted next to a fire. Some of the winter centres along national road 3 offer this kind of lamb, and if you’re lucky, you can even see how they prepare it, with the lambs on spikes next to an open fire.
While we did not order any lamb for ourselves, a nice Argentinian woman shared a piece with us. It was some of the most tender lamb meat I’ve ever had, so you should not miss out on the chance of trying it. It was served on a hot stove, so it wouldn’t get cold, and since this lamb is usually all-you-can-eat, once she had finished her piece, the waiter instantly came to ask if she wanted more.
1 – 2h
#9 Visit Glaciar Martial
Glaciar Martial is one of those things near Ushuaia that I would have loved to see but didn’t because we didn’t have the time. I still decided to include both this and Laguna Esmeralda in the list because it was recommended to me by several travellers.
The glacier is located just above the city, at an altitude of 1050m. To get here, you can either walk (it should take around 2 hours) or take a taxi to the Casa del Té. From here, you can go up by chairlift and enjoy the view of the city and the Beagle Channel. In winter, a ski resort opens, but even in summer, it is worth coming here for the great view.
2 – 6h
#10 Hike to Laguna Esmeralda
The hike to Laguna Esmeralda is the other day trip I would have loved to do but didn’t get around to. As I said, it is easy to spend four or five days here without getting bored. From Ushuaia, you can take a van to get to the starting point of the trail. You have around five hours to get to the lagoon and back again before your shuttle takes you back to town.
The pictures I have seen of the lagoon are ridiculously beautiful, so if you have enough time, I can highly recommend this hike. Just make sure you bring enough warm clothes, as the weather can change quickly and you don’t want to freeze out there.