There are few places on the planet like Ushuaia. It is one of those places you don’t accidentally end up visiting. It is a village of beginnings and endings.
Perched on the southern tip of Argentina, Ushuaia claims the title of the southern most city on the earth. It is often called the “fin del Mundo” (end of the earth). Tourism provides the lifeblood of the village. Ushuaia and her sister city Punta Arenas, Chile, are key departure points for tourist, scientific and activist departures to Antarctica.
Ushuaia is far from just a transit port. It is a beautiful and interesting area all on its own. The backdrop for the city are dramatic peaks, dense forests, and alpine lakes. The Beagle Channel marks the southern border of the city. The dramatic scenery attracted the eye of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarriu who shot his famed film, The Revenant, here in 2015. Even an ill fated edition of Top Gear was filmed here (until they were run out of the city for making references to the Falkland War.)
According to tradition, the word Ushuaia comes from the Yaghan language: ush and waia (“bay” or “cove”) and means “deep bay”. This name is very fitting. Its port hosts expedition ships with flags from around the globe.
A Storied History
The city was founded by British explorers and settled by missionaries. It was later converted into a penal colony that housed the worst of the worst offenders due to the fact that escape was impossibly dangerous. The prison was done away with by President Peron in the late 1940s. The rough edges of the city’s former residents remain. Plucky year round residents face harsh winters of isolation.
Instead of a place to avoid, the city now attracts flocks of Northface and Helly Hansen clad wanderers. Wide-eyed and well-healed journey men and women crowd the many eateries along the port docks. High tourist season runs October to March during the southern summer. Hotels of every level of hospitality dot the front of the mountain range that plays host to the city.
The city sports a sizable international airport. With connections to major hubs like Buenos Aires, Rio, and many other key South American cities, getting there has become much more easier. Do be aware, the city sits smack dab between a cold and warm ocean. This causes turbulence on the water and in the air. The video below was taken on our flight. It was bumpy! There are a fleet of taxis that ferry folks from the airport to downtown or to lodging. We also used Uber, which was very affordable.
Getting There the Hard Way
As you begin to spend some time in Ushuaia you start to notice the abundance of long distance road bikes and converted VW and sprinter vans. Ushuaia is the southern terminus of the Great Pan-American Highway. Brave motorists begin north in Alaska and take the epic journey that crosses the equator and delivers them to the end of the road literally in Ushuaia.
Ushuaia is not a center of learning and art; nor is it a place of culture and refinement. It is a place of stories. Whether you are sitting in a pub or eating empanadas overlooking the bay, conversation is king. Skilled waitstaff speak the basics of dozens of languages. Spanish, English, and German seem to be the most common in our limited experience. There is a kaleidoscope of different backgrounds and nationalities.
During our visit, a Greenpeace frigate was docked at harbor, two oil tankers and a half a dozen expedition boats headed across the Drake Passage en route to Antarctica. This made for a wide array of viewpoints at dinner. This clash of ideas is what makes Ushuia magical. Pull up a chair and join the scrum!
Chile Border Crossing
There are numerous day trips you can take to see southern Patagonia. Ushuaia is the perfect launching point for these excursions. We will highlight one. A very special one. We took the Hito XXIV trail into Chile. It took us the morning to hike in and out. It was one of the best hikes I have ever done. The beauty of the alpine lake, and the waterfalls along the trail were stunning. If you are country collectors like us, this is an easy one to add to your collection with minimal effort. There is a lodge at the trailhead that has excellent cheesecake.
An Ode to Ushuaia
Few cities in this world have left an impression like Ushuaia. It is a unique place. It is a beautiful place. But most importantly, it has a soul that is made up of all those that congregate on her steps as they conclude or begin their journey of self discovery.
The city’s motto is: Ushuaia, end of the world, beginning of everything. I have found this to be true.