Geographical location of Ushuaia
54° 49′ South Latitude. Last stop before Antarctica’s immensity, only 1,000 km far. “Ushuaia, the southernmost city of the world”, as Argentineans say. For Chileans, it is Puerto Williams. Mythical Ushuaia undoubtedly attracts visitors to go where the Andes mountain range ends, 3,085 km away from Buenos Aires and 4,330 from Iguazú!
In the Yámana tongue, Ushuaia means “bay looking onto west”. The beautiful bay of the Beagle Channel widely contributes to Ushuaia’s charm. The 180-km channel links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and it is a little unsafe route that has become a truly ship cemetery. It was named after HMS Beagle, the British ship that explored its shores at the beginning of the 19th century.
Ushuaia is the capital city of the province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands, in the Argentine Patagonia. Tierra Fuego is an island separated from mainland, not only by the Magellan Strait but also by Chile, whose land gets into Argentina to the Atlantic Ocean over the strait. Tierra del Fuego is Argentine land on the East third and the remainder is Chilean land.
Climate : when to go to Ushuaia?
In January, the average temperature is 9.6° and the days are longer: with almost 18 hours of daylight. The sun rises at 5 am and sets at 10 pm but there is still daylight until midnight; the South Pole is not so far away! In summer time, the temperatures are generally quite gentle; however, as Ushuaia is characterized by sudden climate changes, the inhabitants say they can have the four seasons in one same day. In spring and autumn the weather is unstable but the colors of the forest are wonderful. In July-August, the average temperature is 1° and there is only 7 to 8 hours of daylight. The city is covered by snow and the 15 ski runways are opened at Cerro Castor and Ushuaia seems to become a truly winter ski center. The strongest winds blow between August and January. Whatever season it is, you always have to carry an overcoat and a windbreaker or waterproof jacket.
See our page: When to go to Argentina.
History of Ushuaia
About 10,000 years ago, these islands at the end of the world were inhabited by four aboriginal tribes: Onas, Haush, Yámanas and Alakalufs. There were hunter-fisher populations and lived in extreme conditions of great isolation. Magellan “discovers” the islands in 1520 and named the strait and, according to the widely spread theory, the great island was baptized Tierra del Fuego because it was enlightened by the Yámanas’ bonfires.
Up to the 19th century, the region was specially visited by sailors that went through the strait, by sea lion hunters and by explorers. Then, the first breeders came to settle down in these immense virgin lands. By the end of the 19th century, some of the ranchers decided to eliminate the natives that had survived the illnesses: an ethnic purification that ended up with the disappearance of the last American Indians in the region, at the beginning of the 20th century.
The first white colony was of the Anglican missionaries who settled down on the strait’s shores in the second half of the 19th century. Argentina officially founded the city in 1884 when the country decided to establish Argentine sovereignty over Tierra del Fuego. A lighthouse was built on Isla de los Estados (Staten Island), to the East of the main island. Ships ran aground between the two islands, in the dangerous Le Maire strait. After twenty years, San Juan de Salvamento lighthouse was abandoned but it reappeared in “The Lighthouse at the End of the World”, a novel written by Julio Verne. In 1993, André Bronner, a French traveler, discovered the ruins of the lighthouse and decided to rebuild it. It was rebuilt in 1998 with the aid of the municipalities of Nantes (where Julio Verne was born) and La Rochelle (where Bronner lived).
As from the foundation of Ushuaia, the Argentine government has sought a solution to populate this faraway region. A prison was built at the beginning of the new century and worked until 1947. The development of the city began in the first half of the 20th century with the arrival of the Spanish, Italian, Croatian, Lebanese immigrants, among others. Then, in the ‘70s, it became a duty-free area to encourage the settlement of companies. Ushuaia was built in an anarchic way somehow, with a mixture of nice patrician houses and colorful corrugated sheet homes. Nowadays, Ushuaia lives mainly on tourism, fishing and forest logging.
What to see and what to do in Ushuaia?
The avenue goes along the bay: with the port and the ships departing for Antarctica, the oldest houses of the city together with those on San Martín Avenue, the boutiques and restaurants. The entrance to the port is protected by the Time Machine: it keeps copies of 1992 television programs with messages of hundreds of Argentineans. On this pyramid you can read: “Do not open until October 2, 2492!”
Maritime Museum and Prison Museum
These two expositions are located inside the old prison facilities built in 1902. The original architecture was maintained and you can visit some cells to get an idea of what the prisoners expected to live, among whom are some of the famous Argentine criminals: the anarchist Simón Radowitzky; the first serial killer in Argentina: Mateo Banks, and “El Petiso Orejudo” (“Big-eared Shorty”), a children murderer… In this wing of the maritime museum, you will find maps and history of the expeditions, as well as scale models of the vessels.
Museum of the End of the World
The exhibition goes around Duchess of Albany, expositions about the aboriginal tribes destroyed in the 19th century, archeological objects, an ornithological collection, prison souvenirs… And as a great souvenir, you can have the “fin del mundo” seal stamped in your passport.
This small private museum shows scale models reproducing the traditional environment of Yámanas and there is also information about the first tribes in Tierra del Fuego: Onas, Alakalufes, etc.
Tours along the channel
Several companies organize some tours along the bay up to Des Eclaireurs Lighthouse and the island of the seals, a nice voyage to do some bird-watching too. Exceptional cruisers explore the channels and the fiords up to Punta Arenas in Chile.
What to do in Tierra del Fuego?
Tierra del Fuego National Park
Tierra del Fuego national park was created in 1960 and protects 63,000 hectares of sub-Antarctic forest with a rich ecosystem. The typical tree of this region is the lenga, a beech that may be up to 30 meters tall. You can see several beavers and their dikes; they are not native animals and, thus, can cause devastations in the forest. The park is located between the mountain and Lapataia Bay and is crossed by rivers and wetlands; you can enjoy stunning sceneries and several trekking paths. The bay still keeps several remains of the Yámanas. Another option is to go through the park on the End of the World Train pulled by a steam locomotive.
Many estancias in Tierra del Fuego open their doors to visitors; you may go to learn about the lifestyle in one of these enormous estancias or stay there. The oldest estancia on the island is Harberton, 85 km far from Ushuaia; it was founded by the Anglican Missionary Thomas Bridge. It still belongs to the same family who continue raising sheep in their 20,000 hectares. The main building was brought from England in 1887 and mounted on the bank of the channel, where we can see it today, some years later. It is open to the public. On the North of the island, near Río Grande, you can find estancia María Behety, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century with a typical Tierra del Fuego’s style: made of wood and with corrugated sheet roofs. Its huge barn allows shearing 7,000 sheep a day. A few kilometers from there, you can’t miss La Candelaria, a church of the Salesian Mission, built at the end of the 19th century to evangelize the native population.
As well as the promenade on the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia, exceptional cruises are proposed: to the channels and the fjords till Puntas Arenas, in Chile, boat sailing in the region, and also cruises to Antartic.
Sled dogs, snowshoes, downhill or cross country skiing, the region propose many winter activities. Downhill skiing enthusiasts, en particular, will find felicity on the Cerro Castor skiing domain. Open in 1999, it only has 17 km of slopes, but counts with efficient aerial lifts, of an exceptional snow and very good off the slopes. Ski area open from half-June to half-October.
Tierra del Fuego’s salmons are famous for their quality and turn the island into a destination chosen by sport fishing lovers. Lakes and rivers are overflowed with brown and rainbow trouts.
The authorized fishing techniques are spinning rod and fly fishing. The sport fishing season is from October to April.
Celebrations and events in Ushuaia
Between the end of April and the beginning of May : : International Festival of Clasical Music, that presents world famous artists. After Berlin and Prague, the festival welcomed the Symphonic orchestra of Moscow in 2009.
June 18-21: Celebration of the longest night of the year and the beginning of the winter, with concerts all along the night.
July 28-29: End of the World Rally, all over snow and ice.
First fortnight of August: Ushuaia Sled Dog Race, international competition of sledge racing in Tierra del Fuego valleys. And the ice-sculptors.
October 1-20:the city’s anniversary with a marathon, the selection of Ushuaia Queen, folk parties, etc.
December 21-31: Christmas and the celebration of the longest day of the year..
What to eat in Ushuaia?
Fish : grilled black hake, pollack and red bream, trout and salmon, sea bass, octopus, etc.
Seafood : the delicious spider crab and other crabs, prawns, mussels, clams, etc.
Lamb: Tierra del Fuego is a sheep-rearing region; sheep and lambs are prepared as asado (Argentine barbecue) at crossed poles placed vertically next to the grill.
Patagonian wine : the vineyard region is located on the Andean side, in the provinces of Neuquén and Río Negro, but it is an excellent opportunity to try the new Patagonian wines.
Restaurants : where to eat Ushuaia?
Reinamora, the restaurant of the Los Cauquenes Hotel, over the Beagle Channel and 4 km from Ushuaia downtown: gourmet cuisine with excellent products, a prizewinner.
Kaupé : spider crab, crab, scallop, San-Jacques nut, etc. Great Award as 2005 best restaurant granted by the Argentine Academy of Gastronomy.
Gustino : regional gourmet cuisine (spider-crab sorrentini, Tierra del Fuego trout, lamb…) and a wine bar with a relaxing environment, in front of Ushuaia port.
Chez Manu: French-Patagonian menu by Chef Emmanuel Herbin and a panoramic view over Ushuaia bay.
Tía Nina : home specialties: fish and seafood, in the port.
El Almacén: one year and a half of restoration were necessary to make this place, built in 1906, what it is today. A warm atmosphere, a nice personal, a retro decoration and french pastry, an ideal placet to make a degustation, on the port.
Hotels: where to stay in Ushuaia?
Hotel spa Los Cauquenes, Ushuaia : a great hotel built in wood over the Beagle Channel. Excellent cuisine.
Hotel Tierra de leyendas, Ushuaia : a fairy tale house, like an observation site onto the channel. Creative cuisine.
Hotel Alto Andino, Ushuaia : a new charming hotel in the city of Ushuaia. With a panoramic terrace.
Transportation : how to get to Ushuaia?
Tierra Fuego is governed by special regulations. It is forbidden to carry perishable food. You may buy booth, tobacco, perfumes… all tax free but in a limited quantity as in any other country.
Plane : direct flights between Ushuaia and El Calafate, Río Gallegos, Trelew, Comodoro Rivadavia and Buenos Aires (3,5 hours flying non-stop) with Aerolíneas Argentinas and Lade. Charter flights with the DAP, a Chilean airline, between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas. Ushuaia airport is located 5 km from the city. In good weather, flying over the channel and the island at the mountain level is magnificent.
Bus : there is no direct Buenos Aires-Ushuaia bus, you need change connections in Río Gallegos, go through Chile and cross the Magellan strait by ferry. You have to think of at least two days…
Literature about Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego
As a land of myths and legends, this southern region inspired several writers and travelers.
Jules Verne : “The Lighthouse at the End of the World” (see History below) and “Captain Grant’s children”.
Jean Raspail : “Goodbye, Tierra del Fuego”; “The King’s game”; “Me, Antoine de Tounens, King of Patagonia” and “Who will remember the People”,as a tribute to the Alakalufes: “God, who sees the island from heaven, knows the time is approaching.. His look goes through the grey clouds, then the black and furious clouds pushed by a storm wind, the dull veils of snow and hail that bury all this piece of land. It is three o’clock in the afternoon. The night is approaching. A small canoe is hardly moving along the deepest part of a long channel with vertical and icy walls. Only one man is on the canoe, he is almost naked, his face is soaked, he is bent over the bank, and his fists are on the rows. There is no other living soul within thousand miles”.
Francisco Coloane : The Chilean writer described the southern lifestyle in more than one book: Cap Horn and Antardida, retell the lifestyle of sailors, and Tierra del Fuego, “Tierra del Fuego” is a compilation of tales about the last Onas, the seal hunters, the gold prospectors, the gauchos at the estancias, etc.
Luis Sepúlveda : “The World of the End of the World”, is a detective novel about a whaler’s shipwreck near Tierra del Fuego.
Charles Darwin : “A Naturist’s Voyage round the World” was written onboard the Beagle Ship from 1831 through 1836. It is about his logbook of the 5-year voyage that made him study the evolution of the species and develop his famous theory about the natural selection.