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Part frontier town, part Antarctic embarkation point, Argentina’s southernmost city is an intriguing and rather extreme place to visit. With a couple of good museums, a wildly beautiful national park, delicious seafood and a mountain backdrop – snow-capped even on some summer days – it can easily fill a day or two.
Cruise port location
On the north bank of the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is one of those cities that looks to the water; the cruise terminal is just a pier, with space for two medium-sized (around 1,400 berth) cruise vessels, plus a couple of smaller ships. With some 36 Antarctic-bound ships visiting in a 2018, plus seven other visiting ships – making 284 visits between them – it has grown from being an oddball stop to a major tourist destination in its own right.
Can I walk to any places of interest?
You can walk to almost every place of any real interest, though the streets get steeper the further north you go. Most museums, places to eat and hotels are located in the easy-to-navigate gridded city centre four to five blocks from the port; the airport is on a peninsula just to the west – 12-14 minutes by taxi.
Taxis are useful and very affordable if you want to get to the airport, national park, or anywhere further afield, or if you need to get to one of the out of town hotels to stay or for a meal, such as Las Hayas. Otherwise, boots are all you’ll need and a decent coat and hat to keep out the chilly breezes.
Ushuaia has some quite swanky hotels, partly in response to demand from well-heeled Antarctica travellers. Las Hayas is a large Alpine-esque resort hotel with a pool and comfortable if somewhat chintzy rooms and suites. Situated just above the city, it has good views over the Beagle. Arakur – a member of the Leading Hotels of the World club – is quasi-industrial on the exterior but the rooms are stylish and modern. On a dramatic outcrop, it enjoys superb views. Down on, or near, the seafront there are lots of hotels a short walk from the cruise pier, including the mock-half-timbered Villa Brescia and slightly smarter Albatros and Lennox hotels.Tierra del Fuego national park is not to be missed Credit: Getty
What to see and do
Ushuaia is probably more interesting on paper than in reality. Once you’ve seen its two main museums and had a nice seafood lunch, go and enjoy a walk along the front, looking out for seabirds. If you have a day or two, then visit Harberton estancia and/or the national park. There is some hiking, but it’s not fully developed yet.
What can I do in four hours or less?
Ushuaia is the capital of the “Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and Southern Atlantic Islands” – though no one recognises the last two bits except Buenos Aires. Before it became a tourism honeypot, it was a mission station (English and Italian priests came to convert the local Yamana), a penal colony, and was the naval base used in the 1982 conflict. These days it trades on its “End of the World” status. A short visit – usually prior to embarking, but also as part of an excursion on non-Antarctic cruises – should include the Maritime Museum, which is inside the old prison, where the exhibitions cover prison life, sailing history, marine life and Antarctica. Azamara does a spooky-ish night visit to the prison museum. Also excellent is the “Museo del Fin del Mundo” – yes, that means End of the World – spread between the former National Bank HQ and Government House, which completes the picture with exhibits relating to the Yamana.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers horseback riding near Ushuaia, which is an excellent way of stretching a few new muscles and seeing something of the mountain scenery that frames the city.Ushuaia’s mountains are something to behold Credit: Getty
What can I do in eight hours or less?
With more time, you should definitely spend a couple of hours in the Tierra del Fuego national park – great for hiking and birding (look out for the large Magellanic woodpeckers); to get there you can either take advantage of the narrow-gauge “Train at the End of the World” or just hop in a cab.
If you’re embarking on a cruise up the Beagle you might want to avoid river excursions; otherwise, check out the boat trips to the bird-filled islets in the channel and to Estancia Harberton, a historic homestead. Azamara offers kayaking in the Beagle on a five-hour excursion. Regent offers its passengers a combined Beagle catamaran trip with a train ride to the national park and also offers the option of a five-hour hike to the foot of the impressive Martial Glacier.
Eat and drink
Locally caught spider crabs are served in cosy restaurants throughout the city, and you should also have a sample of the grilled Patagonian lamb. Fish-lovers might want to try the locally caught mero (Patagonian toothfish) and the squid is superb. Northern Patagonia produces some good wines now and there are excellent craft beers, tooUshuaia seen from Martial Glacier Credit: iStock
Don’t leave Ushuaia without…
There’s a lot of tack marked “fin del mundo” – stuffed penguins and the like – but the leatherware and sheep’s wool items are good (and useful if you’re heading south), as are the kits for drinking yerba mate green tea – gourd, bombilla (straw), tea-caddy and carrier. Though tax-free, Ushuaia is expensive for Argentina.
Need to know
Ushauia is three and a half hours non-stop from Buenos Aires with Aerolineas Argentinas. There are also flights to Calafate, the town closest to the famous Perito Moreno glacier.
Ushauaia is a small and neighbourly city – a town, really. Crime is very low and there are port authorities and police.There are plenty of “end of the world” souvenirs to pick up in Ushuaia Credit: iStock
Best time to go
The season here is the austral summer – November to April. It can still be cool, even cold, but days are long and there are long periods of rain-free and sunny weather.
Some shops close Sundays but kioskos for snacks and food and drink can be bought seven days a week. Museums close on Sundays, too, though the Prison Museum is open every day.