Things to Do in Ushuaia
Lapataia Bay is where Argentina’s RN 3 road ends, a road that is a continuation of the Pan-American Highway, which stretches all the way to Alaska. Roadies are always stopping to pose next to the sign here in Lapataia Bay, and it’s worth thinking about how far they’ve come to get there! According to the sign, the distance between this spot and Alaska is a whopping 11,090 miles (17,848 kilometers).
Most visitors don’t take the land route to Lapataia Bay, however, and instead fly into Argentina. The bay is within Parque National Tierra del Fuego, a popular day trip from Ushuaia, which sits only 10 miles away. The park offers a chance to get out into nature, overlook azure lakes and bays, walk through native beech forests and in season, catch both the firebush, which blooms bright red, and the spooky-looking orange “pan de indio,” golf ball-sized mushrooms that grow on some of the trees.
The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse marks the dangerous rocks at the entrance to Ushuaia Bay in the Beagle Channel. Locals often wrongfully call this the Lighthouse at the End of the World, which is technically incorrect because the lighthouse Jules Verne made famous in his novel lies further east, but it’s oddly accurate, too; it’s the last mainland reference most sailors see on their way to Antarctica.
Located just five miles from Ushuaia, Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse is a common destination for short tourist sailing trips. The waters surrounding the lighthouse are a sea-goers dream, as penguins and both South American and fur sea lions are spotted regularly. Bird life is abundant, too, with black eyebrow albatrosses, steamer ducks and upland geese often seen on the nearby islands. Many tours also include landing on Karelo Island.
Lago Escondido, which translates to Hidden Lake, is surrounded by the Fuegian Andes just north of Ushuaia, Argentina. Many tourists choose to visit on a day-trip from Ushuaia; however, Hosteria Petral provides a lakeside basecamp for anybody interested in taking advantage of its status as a popular sport-fishing destination.
Brown and Rainbow trout can be caught in the lake itself, while brook trout are most often landed near stream inlets or around the many beaver dams that surround the lake.
Other popular activities in the area include horseback riding along the lakeshore, boat and kayak tours on the crystal-clear waters, and, oddly, Canadian-style wildlife watching. Lago Escondido is an excellent place to watch Canadian beavers, which were introduced to southern Patagonia in 1946 with false hope to spur a declining fur trade.
For the ultimate end of the world adventure, ride the world’s southernmost train to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. The one-hour narrow-gauge journey leaves from outside Ushuaia, following the 100-year route of the historic Convict Train. The route crosses the Pip River across a wooden bridge, past the Macarena Waterfall and a reconstruction of a Yamanas Indian campsite. Once inside the national park, the train passes beech forests, peat bogs and reminders of the timber-felling worksites worked by Ushuaia prisoners from 1901 to 1941.
The route then returns to the End of the World Station outside Ushuaia or travels to the National Park Station. Along the way, an informative bilingual guide (English and Spanish) provides a history of the Convict Train and this remote part of the world.
Overlooking the icy waters of the Beagle Channel, Estancia Harberton offers a glimpse into the history and wildlife of Argentina’s far-flung Tierra del Fuego. The oldest estancia (farm) in this part of the world, the still-working property dates back to 1887 and was established by English missionary Thomas Bridges. Bridges founded the Anglican Mission at Ushuaia in 1870.
Today, the estancia remains in the hands of Bridges’ descendants, and it was declared an Argentine National Historical Monument in 1999. A visit reveals the original buildings of wood and corrugated iron, and terraced gardens. The sheep have long gone but the cattle remain. While you’re here you can also walk amongst a penguin colony at the estancia’s Yecapasela Reserve.
The Ushuaia Maritime museum shows off much of Tierra Del Fuego’s impressive maritime history with few original artifacts. The majority of the displays include scale models of tall ships and merchant vessels that first plied these waters, maps and charts used by early explorers, including Ferdinand Magellan, Francis Drake, Thomas Cavendish and Oliver van Noort, and the first voyage of the HMS Beagle.
Outside, a replica of the San Juan de Salvamento lighthouse stands alongside a decaying example of canoes used by the island’s American Indian populations.
The Maritime Museum is one of four museums housed in Ushuaia’s Old Prison Building, so it’s fitting that the final exhibit tells the story of the Argentinean navy vessel 1 de Mayo, which carried the first prisoners to Tierra Del Fuego in 1896. It’s a natural transition, as the next exhibit marks the entrance to the Old Prison Museum.
Celebrate your visit to the world’s southernmost city by exploring the Museo del Fin del Mundo. The museum focuses on Ushuaia’s natural and indigenous history, including a menagerie of stuffed animals and the tools used to hunt them. The collection is displayed in a series of interconnecting rooms, starting off with travelers and ethnography, including mementos of past visitors such as the shipwrecked figurehead of the HMS Duchess of Albany, which came to grief off the coast of Tierra del Fuego in 1893.
The grocery store exhibit is a hit with kids of all ages, displaying the essential shopping items of Ushuaia’s far-flung citizens in times gone by. Seabirds like albatrosses and petrels are featured in the Birds of Fire room, along with penguins, shorebirds, ducks, swans, flamingos and waterfowl. The final exhibit displays the safes, security doors, sturdy furniture and log books of Argentina’s National Bank.
More Things to Do in Ushuaia
The Martial Glacier sits high above Ushuaia, but it's still only a few kilometers away. It’s open year-round, too, but the different seasons do bring about a striking change of scenery.
In the summer, the chairlift that runs from the end of Martial Glacier Road to the glacier itself is little more than a sightseer’s ticket to the alpine environment, where several hiking trails lead either across the glacier ice or into the nearby mountains. The black gorge trail offers stunning views of the Beagle Channel, while it’s also possible to skip the chairlift ride down and slowly descend with panorama-views of Ushuaia.
Throughout the winter, there is a little-used ski center that access terrific off-piste terrain for experienced backcountry skiers. There is also a Club Andino Ushuaia refugio, which often becomes a basecamp for skiers looking to truly explore the surrounding areas, including the Andorra Valley and Vinciguerra Glacier.
Completely surrounded by the Guanaco and Piramides Mountain Ranges, both sub ranges of the Andes, Lago Roca is a stunning emerald-green lake protected by Argentina’s Tierra Del Fuego National Park.
The Lago Roca hostel and campground is the easiest starting point to explore this section of the national park. Fishing is popular on the lake, while several trails lead around the lake and into the surrounding mountains. The Cerro Guanaco Trail is a steep climb to a mountain summit. The views from the top are massive, overlooking Lago Roca, the Beagle Channel, and across the border into Chile.
It’s a lake with an identity crisis, too, as Lago Roca – named for former Argentinean president Julio Argentino Roca - is just the most recognized of its three names. The western most portion of the Lake crosses the international border into Chile, where the lake is known as Lago Errazuriz, after Chile’s former President Federico Errázuriz Echaurren.
Lake Fagnano sits directly above the Magallanes-Fagnano Fault, which marks the boundary between the Scotia and South American tectonic plates. The 98km long lake also sits upon the Chile/Argentina border; however, the majority of the lake belongs to Argentina. It’s also the largest lake on Tierra del Fuego.
Lake Fagnano is surrounded by virgin Patagonian forest but there is still a striking landscape change between the south and north shores. The south is marked by the steep Fuegian Andes, while the northern shore is much gentler as Tierra de Fuego transforms into rolling steppe. While boat trips and sport fishing are popular on the lake, most visitors still opt to visit Lake Fagnano the same day they visit Lake Escondido, on a lengthy daytrip from Ushuaia. The small town of Tolhuin sits on the lake’s easternmost point. Although little more than a stopping point between the two larger cities of Ushuaia and Rio Grande, the Panaderia La Union bakery has become famous.
Garibaldi Pass, located on Tierra del Fuego, is the only paved route across the Fuegian Andes. Surprisingly enough, it’s also the highest point on Argentina’s Ruta Nacional 3. The views from the summit are stunning; to the north, the massive Lago Fagnano stretches 98 km west, across the Magallanes-Fagnano Fault and into Chile, and to the south, the often-missed Lago Escondido reveals its picture-perfect location surrounded by mountains.
The mountain pass also marks an abrupt transition in Tierra Del Fuego’s Geography. To the north, the island is mostly rolling steppe and sprawling sheep farms are the only things that interrupt the large distances between settlements. Heading south, the road snakes its way through the Fuegian Andes for the final 60km into Ushuaia before descending to the Beagle Channel.
The Old Prison of Ushuaia isn’t just a museum. It’s four walls hold the history of Ushuaia, as its inmates literally built the city streets and public buildings. It had Tierra del Fuego’s first printing press, telephone, and electricity, too.
For the most part, its inmates were a surly bunch, made up of serial offenders that Buenos Aires police wanted to ship out and never see again. There were also political prisoners, sent to the end of the world where their ideals would be ignored. But rumors also claim that Carlos Gardel – the most prominent voice in Tango – also spent a stretch in this bleak outpost.
Today, the Old Prison building houses several different museums, but two wings of the building are dedicated to the incarcerated history. One wing has been left as is, so it takes visitors into the past by showing both the living conditions and cramped quarters that found 800 prisoners living in 360 cells.
The Fuegian Andes, which cross the entire Tierra Del Fuego Archipelago, are the southernmost chain of the Andes Mountains. Although quite small compared to other areas of South America’s mountain chain, its tallest peaks still look quite formidable because they rise straight out of the ocean to heights just over 2,500 meters.
Lago Escondido and Lago Fagnano are two popular summer destinations in the region, especially for keen sport fishermen as both lakes support tremendous populations of Rainbow and brown trout. Endless hiking trails and several backcountry refugios make exploring much of the mountain range closer to Ushuaia possible throughout the summer months. Wildlife is quite limited, but there is an abundance of rabbits, guanacos, condors and non-native Canadian beavers throughout the mountains. Mountain lions – known locally as pumas – are rarely seen.
Founded as a penal colony, Ushuaia is the southernmost town in the world. This rustic town is also the jumping off point for cruising to Antarctica or exploring the Tierra del Fuego (“Land of Fire”). As such, it is a major tourist destination for Argentinians and foreigners alike.
When you dock, you will already be in the heart of Ushuaia – and just a block from the main shopping street, San Martin. Taxis are available to take you further afield, but they are not metered, so you will need to negotiate your price.
The official language is Spanish, but it is common to hear English, German and Portuguese as well. The currency is the Argentinian peso. ATM's are widely available and credit cards should be accepted in most places. There is a visitor information center at the dock with maps and information about the area, as well as an internet kiosk and handicraft vendors.
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