South America

Why Visit Ushuaia? The End of the World is the Beginning of an Unforgettable Adventure

Laura Pattara

Laura Pattara  |  25 February 2020

All you need to know about Ushuaia - why is this city so famous, the top highlights and all the wonderful experiences you can enjoy - in one handy and comprehensive guide. The “city at the end of the world’, as Ushuaia is most famously known, is not only the most popular springboard for expeditions to Antarctica but is also a sensational travel destination in its own right. The capital of Tierra del Fuego is an ideal base to explore southern Patagonia, the ease of access, flight connections and proximity to some of the region’s highlights being just a few of the best reasons to visit. Aside from its sheer convenience, however, Ushuaia also boasts a fascinating history, unique cuisine and a most ‘out-there’ feel.

The End of the World, at the tippy-toes of South America, really feels like the end of the world.

So why should you visit Ushuaia, you ask? Because at the end of the world lies the start of your unforgettable Patagonian adventure.

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Click the links below to skip through the article:

1. A traveller's overview
2. The End of the World
3. Top Things to do in Ushuaia
4. Best time to visit

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Ushuaia - A Traveller's Overview

A visit to Ushuaia always starts with an overwhelming visual spectacle, whether you reach it by plane or, even more impressively, by road. Framed by a spine of snow-capped Andean peaks on one side and lapped by the Beagle Channel on the other, the Argentinian city of a thousand adventures thrives in what is, essentially, one of the most inhospitable locations on earth.

It is almost preposterous to know this is one of the world’s most popular adventure capitals although given it acts like a travel-portal to astonishing experiences, it’s not all that surprising.

Eco-tourism and immersive travel experiences are what make Ushuaia such a coveted hub. From here, you can visit remote sea lion and penguin colonies, receding glaciers and some of the most pristine wilderness on earth – and that’s just within an hour’s travel from town. Head even further, by joining an expedition ship to Antarctica, and the world is your (literal) icy oyster. Yes, there are other places from where you can reach the southernmost continent on earth but Ushuaia is the closest and most convenient, being only 1,000km away and boasting world-class infrastructure to host the largest contingency of Antarctic expedition ships in the world.

By consequence, Ushuaia is the most affordable Antarctica springboard of all (even if you’re coming from New Zealand/Australia) and the one that offers the widest range of expedition options.

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The (maybe/maybe not) End of the World

Home to more than 150,000 people, Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, a fact local tourism initiatives have milked for years. The End of the World, according to Chile, is their military base in Puerto Williams, some 50km further south. But a military base is not a bonafide city, the Argentinians claim and, whilst the back and forth argument continues, T-shirt and souvenir sellers in town remain steadfast in their rightful pride.

And who are we to argue?

Over 95% of all visitors to Antarctica make Ushuaia their preferred port of call, with the city welcoming almost 150,000 visitors every year, most between October and March, the warmest and sunniest months of the year.

Tourism is booming in Ushuaia even though, at first glance, this seems like a place no-one would stay involuntarily for very long. Yet what the former gold prospecting town and prison outpost lacks in aesthetics, it more than makes up for in character and history. Inhabited for thousands of years and boasting a tumultuous history that mixes indigenous culture with colonial exploitation and, finally, a modern-day tourism fairy-tale that has seen it rise among the ranks of sustainable, responsible and immersive experiences, Ushuaia is inarguably one of Argentina’s most unmissable highlights.

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Top things to Do in Ushuaia

There’s a surprisingly long list of exceptional Patagonian highlights that are ideal to visit from Ushuaia so, rather than simply spend two days here at either end of your Antarctica expedition, you can easily include a weeklong stay. This is an especially genial thing to do before your cruise, as it’ll help you acclimatise to the cold and the wind, warm up your legs on short hikes and give you a chance to stock up on last-minute expedition items. It’ll also help you not stress over last-minute flight cancellations from Buenos Aires which, although not abundantly common, do happen often enough.

Come early. Stay awhile. Explore Ushuaia!

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Cruise the Beagle Channel & visit penguin colonies

The Beagle Channel is Ushuaia’s gateway to the Drake Passage, the infamous sea that separates South America and Antarctica. Along the calm bay of Ushuaia, there are several islets and rocky outcrops that attract sea lions and migrating birds in droves. Sightseeing boat trips and even kayaking outings are the two most popular activities here, highlighting the incredible wildlife richness of this region.

The single most popular destination in the channel is Martillo Island, home to one of the largest penguin colonies outside of Antarctica. If you’re visiting Ushuaia to explore Patagonia, and are not heading to Antarctica, Martillo is absolutely unmissable for penguin-value alone. Every boat trip in Ushuaia includes extensive cruising and visits to the most famous marine-life hubs, making them unmissable excursion and wonderful precursors to Antarctica expeditions. Beagle Channel cruises differ not only in duration but also activities, with some offering extensive on-land hikes and others, much shorter ones.

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Hike the Tierra del Fuego National Park

If you’re among the first (or last) of the season to head to Antarctica you will arrive in Ushuaia at a time of year when the spellbinding Tierra del Fuego National Park is at its most colourful. The resplendent wilderness here is unreal, the southernmost Andean forests boasting outstanding biodiversity and a mix of high-altitude, forested and marine ecosystems. All this unspoilt nature, replete with lakes, rivers, glaciers and high granite peaks, is home to a wide range of wildlife, including guanacos, Fuegian foxes, kelp geese, Austral parakeet, albatrosses, woodpeckers and Andean condors. Hiking trails abound but if you’d love a more sedate visit you can also simply sit on the Train at the End of the World and soak up the splendours in comfort.

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Trek to the Martial Mountain and Glacier

If you’d love to stretch your legs on your first day in Ushuaia, this is without a doubt the first place you should visit. The Martial Glacier is a two-hour (one way) walk out of town and makes for a startling highlight, especially if you’ve never seen a glacier before. All up, expect this medium-difficulty hike to take half a day, and don’t forget to stop for a delicious submarino (the local hot chocolate drink that’s to die for) on the way back at our favourite café, La Cabana.

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Take a helicopter ride to soak it all up

One of the most indulgent and magical experiences Ushuaia offers, helicopter sightseeing flights offer a truly magnificent experience at the end of the world. Fly high above the city, bay, mountains and glaciers and enjoy eye-popping views from a totally unique perspective. Although not the cheapest thing to do in Ushuaia, this is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime treat you’re bound to remember forever. A range of destinations, experiences (including heli-boarding) and flight duration makes it easy to find a flight that’s just right for you.

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Take a cheesy selfie at The End of the World sign

Well, you haven’t come all this way to ignore this cool little photo-op. You’ll find the sign for the end of the world right off Av Maipu, about a block north of Plaza de 25 Mayo.

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Check out the End of the World Museum & Feugian Thematic Gallery

Across the road and one block up from the above-mentioned sign is where you’ll find the two best museums in Ushuaia. Combined, they give visitors a comprehensive overview of the local cultural and natural history. If you only have time to fit one in, then our money’s with the Galeria Tematica, which offers a better and more informative experience overall. English-language audio guides are offered in both museums.

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Feast on delicious Patagonian cuisine

You wouldn’t think there’d be much feasting going on in such a remote place but if there’s one aspect of Ushuaia that is sure to surprise you it would have to be the local cuisine. Abundant in freshly caught seafood and responsibly farmed meat (especially lamb, the local speciality) Patagonian cuisine is one of Argentina’s most adored regional variants and Ushuaia about the best place to indulge. Culinary delights are one of Patagonia’s most unmissable experiences.

Local delights include the super creamy King Crab pie, grilled trout and toothfish, Patagonian spit roast lamb and guanaco steaks, amongst a bevy of international fare inspired by centuries of European immigration. Aside from Buenos Aires and Mendoza, Ushuaia is Argentina’s most cosmopolitan foodie mecca so do come with a ravenous appetite!

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Cruise the Chilean Fjords

Aside from Antarctica, Ushuaia cruises also explore the marvellous and lesser-known Glacier Alley, an eye-popping route through the southwestern coast of Chile home to a mind-boggling array of majestic glaciers and deep-set inlets that attract migrating marine life in astonishing numbers. The Chilean Fjords are one of Patagonia’s most prized highlights and Ushuaia one of the best gateways to explore them. Learn more about Patagonia Cruises and what you can expect on an 11-day Patagonia cruise to The Heart of the Chilean Fjords.

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Take an expedition to Antarctica

The only place that can put an end to the end-of-the-world argument between Argentina and Chile would have to be Antarctica, the real southern end of our planet. Expeditions to the south, which include visits to the breathtaking South Shetland Islands and can also include stop-overs on the penguin-capital of South Georgia Island and the Falklands, are undoubtedly what have made Ushuaia such a household name.

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From Ushuaia, a Classic Antarctic Cruise takes only 10 days and includes a crossing of the infamous Drake Passage. Fly + Cruise Antarctica options are also on offer for those who are either a little short on time or wish to totally bypass the Drake.

If you wish to cast your eyes on South Georgia and the Falklands, perhaps the most astonishing destinations of all, you’ll need to a few more days but the time (and money) spent will be absolutely worthwhile. South Georgia offers more penguin spotting than any other place on earth and, given it’s only reachable by expedition ship from Ushuaia, it makes sense to include it on a trip to Antarctica if it’s been on your bucket-list forever.

We have a range of Antarctica expeditions on offer, with itineraries and ships to suit a varying range of budgets.

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Best time to visit Ushuaia

Travel season in Ushuaia and Patagonia, in general, runs from October to March, the southern summer season facilitating outdoor adventures and wildlife spotting. This being such a rugged part of the world, however, means you ought to always expect freezing temps and bitter winds no matter when you visit. Sure, warm daytime temps mean you could be hiking up mountains wearing only a T-shirt at midday, but sudden turns in the weather also mean you must always be prepared. The notorious Patagonia climate will always keep you on your toes!

Ushuaia is one of our favourite destinations in all of South America and if you were to spend a few days here we bet you’d fall in love with it too. An odd-ball town with a vibe all its own, fantastic food, awesome shopping and crazy wilderness all around, this town at the end of the world is simply unmissable when visiting Patagonia.

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So why not come discover it for yourself?

Learn all you need to know about travelling to Patagonia, see Viva Expedition’s Ushuaia journeys and contact us when you’re ready to start planning your ultimate South American adventure trip.

 

 

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