Ushuaia: The City At The End Of The World

2 December 2014

If there is one thing to remember about travelling to the world's southernmost city, it's not to make jokes about the Falklands War.

As recently as October, controversial BBC TV personality, Jeremy Clarkson, and the crew from Top Gear were obliged to leave Ushuaia ahead of schedule over controversy about one of the car's number plates, H982 FKL. Locals took this to be an insensitive reference to the 1982 Falklands War when the UK militarily humiliated Argentina during their failed occupation of the disputed South Atlantic islands.

Nowadays expedition cruise ships from many nations set out from this remote port en route to the Antarctic Peninsula, the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas if you prefer) and South Georgia. Ushuaia has enjoyed the distinction of being the most popular maritime jumping off point for travellers heading out on their Antarctic cruise of a lifetime due largely to its superior airport named, coincidently perhaps, Malvinas Argentinas International Airport.

On days coinciding with connecting flights from Buenos Aires, commonly called turnaround day in the business, the harbour is chock full of expedition ships waiting to rotate their crews and passengers. Larger cruise ships will also visit the port occasionally, but only for day visits.

 Sunrise over the harbour town of Ushuaia

Ushuaia, with a permanent population of around 60,000, is located at the very foot of South America in the region of Tierra del Feugo and makes the claim of southernmost city based on its larger number of residents, even though Puerto Williams in Chile is further south but supports only around 2000 locals.

Historically, Ushuaia was first settled by British missionaries in the second half of the 19th Century after first being surveyed by HMS Beagle in 1833 while carrying Charles Darwin around the world. The missionaries came to live with the Yámana indians who had inhabited the area for thousands of years. Epidemics of typhus and measles wiped out the Yámana in the space of a generation, rendering the missionary work redundant, so the Argentinian government came and opened a penal colony.

While the majority of Australians travelling to Ushuaia do so to join an Antarctic cruise, there are plenty more activities available for those who wish to extend their stay in this spectacular region.

Cruises run all season through the fjords between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas in Chile, exploring the magnificent and world famous glaciers of the Patagonia region. One of the bragbag inclusions is to drink whisky poured over thousand year old ice from the glacier.

Tierra del Fuego National Park, as one might suspect, is the world's southernmost national park, and a wonderful resource of flora and fauna found nowhere else on the planet. Unique species of woodpeckers, ducks and geese can be seen here among the sub-Antarctic forest vegetation that includes rare species of beech trees, mosses and grasses.

 Tierra del Fuego National Park

While it may be rare to find Aussies skiing the slopes of Glacier El Martial or Cerro Castor, a fully fledged ski resort offers superb opportunities for intrepid skiers and snowboarders. At Cerro Castor it is possible to ski just 200m above see level, while on the glacier at El Martial, you can ski year round.

Another novel feature of the park is The Southern Fuegian Railway or the Train of the End of the World. This very unusual railway was originally built by the inmates of the penal colony to haul freight and timber, it now enjoys heritage status and the notoriety of being the southernmost functioning railway in the world. The line sat idle and fell into disrepair for most of the second half of the 20th Century, but was rebuilt in 1994 as a tourist attraction in a new 500-millimetre gauge and hauling luxury carriages with new locomotives brought from England. Further extensions to the line are planned.

 The Train of the End of the World chugging along

While air is by far the most likely mode of transport used by Aussies, the famous the Pan-American Highway reaches its southern conclusion inside the bounds of the park. Adventurous motorists can sometimes be seen celebrating their arrival after having driven all the way from Alaska. What do they do next? Drive all the way back, I guess.

In town, there are hotels, restaurants and bars for every budget, although nothing is particularly cheap in Ushuaia.

Looking for a nightcap? Try these popular spots.

  • Dublin Bar, on 9 de Julio.
  • Galway Bar, on San Martin, is an Irish-style pub.
  • Nautico, on Maipu, is Ushuaia's only proper nightclub and is open until late.
  • Bodegon Fuegino offers locally-sourced, homestyle meals and tapas with a decent wine selection.
  • Bar Ideal is another Irish Pub. What is it with this Fuegian preoccupation with Irish pubs?
  • Macario 1910 Pub is located in an old residence with excellent food and ambience. On weekends, a DJ provides a party atmosphere.

Again, restaurants are not cheap either, but the views are incomparable from some of the tables as you gaze out across the Beagle Channel and Andes mountains. Look out for such establishments as Altos Restó, Kaupé and Kuar where it is probably a good idea to book ahead.

Accommodation is a mix of B&B and pensions up to the relatively posh Albatros Hotel right on the waterfront.

 Ushuaia with Cinco Hermanos in the distance

Strolling the streets while waiting for your ship?

Shopping and retail is located near the waterfront. There are duty free stores, clothing, the usual souvenirs plus some decent locally produced arts and crafts. There are also several museums in and around town.

  • The old prison, the Presidio, is now a museum and also houses a maritime display.
  • The Museo del Fin del Mundo has a display of birds from the region as well as history and nature of Tierra del Fuego. It is near the Museo Mundo Yámana, a privately-run museum showing the traditional, now extinct Yámana people and how they lived.
  • Estancia Harberton has a pioneer display and is only open only in the summer months and is located more than 50 kilometres east of town. Dedicated history buffs only.

Crazy stuff to do for no better reason.

    • Scuba diving. Next to Antarctica itself, possibly the southernmost diving anywhere in the world.
    • Ushuaia Golf Club is your chance to swing a club further south than any of your mates back home at the 19th hole.

Unless you are a bad-mannered BBC TV presenter, you can expect a warm, hospitable reception and, in any case, it never hurts to say you are Australian.

Roderick Eime

Rod began his adventures at the age of two, slipping his harness and making a run for it from his ever-suffering mother while in Adelaide’s busy Central Market. While she recovered him numerous times thereafter, he’s now been on the loose for more than four decades. His travels may be less haphazard, but they are still often driven by spontaneity and an inextinguishable quest for something. During his many escapades, he has flown, driven, walked, rode and sailed millions of kilometres across every meridian, every ocean, lots of rivers and more than 70 countries.