As the prime gateway to Antarctica expedition cruises, Ushuaia is, by default, one of the most visited cities in all of Latin America. Although many Antarctica cruise guests seem intent on spending little time there, preferring to include other destinations on their multi-country itinerary, the City at the End of the World is actually a top place to explore for a few days. A gateway to a great many things, Ushuaia is a fantastic base for tours of Tierra del Fuego, boat trips along the Beagle Channel, cruises through Patagonia’s Glacier Alley and sailing trips to the Chilean Fjords. The city itself is also steeped in interesting history and, given its location and cultural heritage, also boasts plenty of sightseeing highlights and, let’s not forget, sensational culinary delights.
Ready to see what this enticing seaport town has to over?
Where exactly is Ushuaia?
Ushuaia sits at the heart of a bay in the very south of Isla Grande, on the northern shores of the Beagle Channel.
Ushuaia through the years
If you thought convicts in Australia had it tough, spare a thought for the criminals sent to Ushuaia at the turn of the 20th century. Forced to build their own prisons in one of the harshest regions on the planet, the convicts of southern Patagonia were ultimately responsible for building the infrastructure the city would rely upon to grow and, eventually, thrive. Once you travel to this very remote city, you’ll be surprised to discover that there’s very little you won’t find here and you’ll find hotels, resorts and restaurants cater exceptionally well to all visitors’ needs. Crazy, considering how removed Ushuaia is, and feels, from the rest of the world. The local history museum is a great place to visit if you wish to learn more about this interesting city.
Things to see and do in Ushuaia
What we love about Ushuaia is that it is, in essence, an overgrown village, where getting around on foot is still the preferred method. There’s a great deal to be gained by just strolling the main drag and, thanks to the modern influx of expedition ship passengers, checking out all the cool boutiques and cafés concentrated in the centre. Moreover, the city now offers a wide array of fantastic activities and day trips in the surrounding areas, hiking in stunning national parks and exploring glaciers and penguin colonies. For although Ushuaia is the best gateway to Antarctica, there is so much more to the city than expeditions to the glistening White Continent. Incidentally, should you wish to pack a little lighter for your Antarctica cruise from Ushuaia, then note that there are several outfitters in town which sell and rent expedition gear such as heavy down jackets, boots, scarves, gloves etc. This is particularly ideal if you’re planning to include more exotic destinations in your itinerary, either before or after your cruise, and don’t wish to lug heavy gear around.
Here’s a list of our favourite things to do in Ushuaia:
Tierra del Fuego
One of Patagonia’s prized gems and a fantastic Latin America highlight, the Tierra del Fuego National Park is the world’s southernmost nature reserve and a heavenly maze of lakes, rivers, snow-capped peaks and glaciers. Hiking trails abound – as does endemic wildlife – so pack comfortable walking shoes and spend a day (or three) immersed in its very dramatic landscapes.
Beagle Channel Cruise
Yes, you will likely be in Ushuaia to set sail for Antarctica BUT you won’t get the chance to explore the Beagle Channel properly, so take an afternoon off to cruise the bay in search of colonies of seals and sea-birds who have made their home on the protruding rocky islands of the Beagle Channel. Choose a cruise that stops over to visit local archaeological sites of the Yamana (Tierra del Fuego’s fierce indigenous inhabitants) and add an excursion by kayak if you want to get up close and personal with the local marine life.
Visit the penguins of Isla Martillo
One of the most popular excursions is to the island of Martillo, home to large colonies of Magellanic and Gentoo penguins, among others. Yes…you’ll see plenty of penguins in Antarctica but, seriously, when is it ever enough?! Pick a cruise that includes landings on Zodiacs so you can stroll among the noisy little fellas. Isla Martillo is actually part of Estancia Haberton’s property, which you’ll find detailed below.
Indulge in Ushuaia's foodie scene
From craft beers to delectable lobster and crab; from hand-made chocolates to French baguettes, Patagonian lamb and all the deliciousness in between: Ushuaia is a real foodie paradise! Given the high influx in immigration in recent years – and the city’s history –Ushuaia offers an impressive array of delectable delights, so scour the waterfront for the best seafood restaurants and don’t miss the smaller bakeries and cafés along the main drag. Check out the local Irish Pub for a true ‘out there’ experience and we’ll guarantee your taste buds will have a field day.
Take the train to the End of The World
Gimmicky and totally fun at the same time, the Tren del Fin del Mundo is actually a piece of Ushuaia’s history, with the train track originally built to transport building materials to…you guessed it…the end of the world. Besides being kitschy-unmissable, the train ride (which takes about an hour) is a great way to access the Tierra del Fuego National Parks and makes for a great full day excursion. Hop on a morning service, spend the day exploring the park on foot and return to town in mid-afternoon.
Spend a night in Estancia Haberton
The oldest farmhouse in Tierra del Fuego is one of the most distinctive accommodation experiences around. Founded by missionaries and still run by their descendants, the 50,000-acre cattle farm offers guided tours and a luxurious (and rather unforgettable) night’s sleep, along with gorgeous gardens and fantastic views across the Beagle Channel. Estancia Haberton is about an hours’ drive out of Ushuaia’s city centre and can be combined with a visit to Isla Martillo.
Walk to the Martial Glacier
A hearty walk on a sunny day in Ushuaia is a fabulous way to soak up the sights and breathe in the fresh Patagonian coastal breeze. To this end, set your sights just a few km out of town and reward your efforts with magnificent views of Martial Glacier and beyond across the Beagle Channel. The walk is a little challenging (there are some steep and slippery parts) and takes at least four hours all up, but you could always organize private transport to the starting point and then walk back into town.
Visit the Galleria Tematica Historia Fueguina
The town’s history museum is set on the grounds of former prison buildings and retraces the history of its earlier inhabitants through brilliant displays and plenty of fascinating info. A must-see to learn about the ancient inhabitants, the hapless convicts sent here and even the most famous explorers who used the city as a base-point for Antarctica explorations.
Go souvenir shopping
Everything in Ushuaia is just a little bit cooler, both literally and figuratively speaking. From locally-branded hiking gear to hand-made crafts, wares and artisan products, Ushuaia is an underrated shopping delight. You’ll find a small and very enticing local artisan market near the port and plenty of upmarket boutiques in which to splurge.
Ushuaia is both a gateway to Antarctica and a fabulous destination of its own accord, with our above-mentioned highlights barely scratching the surface. There are tons of options for day-long trips to nearby ski fields, lakes and mountains and plenty more options for boat trips and hiking excursions. So do yourself a favour: if you come this far to join a cruise to Antarctica, make it worth your while. Include a few days’ stay in Ushuaia and come discover how magical the end of the world can be. Visit our Cruises to Antarctica page for more details and contact us for any help in planning your journey.
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