Best things to do in Ushuaia
Ushuaia, the city at the end of the world, the last frontier, the gatekeeper of the frozen continent Antarctica. Unbeknownst to most, the city is probably one of the best-hidden gems.
The city has many things to offer. For nature lovers, Ushuaia has one most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. For the animal lovers, there are penguins and countless wildlife. Plus, Ushuaia is even a great place for foodies. Here are the best things to do in Ushuaia! The article also offers great tips to discover this beautiful region in 3 days.
Ushuaia was born where the Andes Mountains meet the sea and is constructed in the mountains, on the shores of the Beagle Channel. While the city on itself is not very charming, the nature surrounding it is the highlight of your trip. At every corner, you will discover a new mountain peak or a part of the channel that you have not seen before.
The buildings are a mix match of different architectural styles, some are similar to alpine wooden houses with bright colours while others look like containers. The vast majority of the houses look like they were handmade, built during the ‘80s industrial boom. The city does not have a cohesive urban planning as you can see that the city was built at different booming times with little public resources. While going up and down the city, take the time to admire the numerous street arts and graffitis that give a vibrant touch to the city.
A little bit of history
Ushuaia means “bay that enters to the west” in Yaghan language, a local indigenous language. It was the Englishmen who first settled this territory and implanted a missionary hub to evangelize local tribes. This sentiment of race superiority, sadly, is still visible in the ways that history is narrated in museums and on monuments.
Later, the Argentinian government took possession of the territory and decided to create a maximum security prison to incarcerate notorious criminals but also political prisoners during the dictatorship. After closing the prison in the mid-‘50s, the population of the city grew and grew and witnessed an economic boom during the ‘80s since the government gave generous incentives to live in this remote location. Now, the city lives of manufacturing electronics and tourism. While visiting, you will see that Argentina still reclaims Las Malvinas, the Falklands islands, with numerous propaganda messages on buses, murals and monuments. Argentina considers Ushuaia to be the regional capital of these small South Atlantic islands which belong to the U.K (even after a murderous war in the 80’s). To better understand the intriguing past of the city, head to one of the museums such as the Maritime Museum, the Museum of the End of the World, the Prison Museum or the Think Malvinas Museum.
Things to do in Ushuaia
Ushuaia is a city nestled among natural beauty so of course, the main thing to do is to go hiking!
Arakur Ushuaia Resort & Spa
Who doesn't love a spa with astonishing views? Enjoy the heated pools of the Arakur Hotel with a view of the city, the Andes Mountain range and the Beagle Channel. There is a swimming pool inside and the ones that steal the show are the 2 hot tubs on the outdoor deck with panoramic views. The spa is located in a luxury hotel, Arakur. The hotel is located in a natural reserve, Cerro Alarkén. So before heading to the pools, take the time to do the hikes around the hotel with viewpoints of the city and the Beagle Channel, valleys, glaciers, and Mounts Cortes, Olivia and Cinco Hermanos.
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego National Park has countless trails, some can last various days while others are shorter, around 5 km. Through the numerous treks, you will enter virgin forests, rivers, lakes, glaciers and see an array of birds and if you are lucky, foxes.
We chose to do the Bahia Lapataia trail. Close to the Bahia, you will see where the national highway, la Ruta Nacional 3, ends. The highway starts up north in Buenos Aires and ends in the national park as it crosses almost the entire country for more than 3.000 km. This easy trek is around 7 km and lasts around 3 hours.
Another popular attraction here is the End of the World Train. This is a replica of the prison train that once transported dangerous prisoners to the southernmost prison.
This is said to be one of the most beautiful views of the mountains with an emerald green lagoon in the middle. We, unfortunately, could not do the trek because it started to rain with thunderstorms so we decided to postpone it and eventually did not have time to do it.
The hike lasts around 4 hours and takes you through different vegetation zones, beaver dams and peat bog. Did you know that beavers were introduced by men in Patagonia and now they are considered a pest?
Only 5 min from the lagoon, take the time to go to the Olivia River Bend, the view is worth the stop! The location was used for one of the scenes of the Revenant, the confrontation between Glass and Fitzgerald.
This glacier is only 7 km from the city. From the top, you can appreciate the views of the city and across the Beagle to Isla Navarino. You can ascent to the top with the many trails but keep in mind that the higher you go, the more difficult it gets. When we went, the wind was very strong and the trail was on the limit of the unpleasant as it was getting colder and colder.
To get warm after the hike, go to the tea house, La Cabaña Casa de Té, at the foot of the mountain. The tea house has a great tea selection alongside some yummy pastries.
Navigation through the Beagle channel
The Beagle Channel is one of the most iconic parts of the city. To take full advantage of it, take a navigation tour and enjoy the views. Most of the tours will take you through the Isla de Lobos, the island of preference of the sea lions. The second island approached is the Isla de Pájaros, birds islands, where you will be able to see more than 20 species of sea birds on this rocky outcrop. The route continues to the iconic Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse. Finally, the tour stops on a small island in the middle of the Channel.
This is definitely a must do during your stay in Ushuaia!
Walk among penguins in Ushuaia
Yes, you read it right! You can walk among penguins in Ushuaia! Can you imagine walking close to these cute animals that walk funnily balancing from side to side? There are many tours that will take you close to the pingüinera, the island where the penguins have their colony, but there is only one tour company, Piratour, that will take you ON the island.
Piratour has numerous tours and activities through Patagonia but if you want to go see the penguins, you will need to book either Penguin Rookery - Harberton Ranch or Penguin Rookery + Beagle Channel. We decided to do the latter one so we can navigate through the iconic Beagle Channel. You can read my experience with the penguins and the channel is my other article.
This beach is off the radar of many travellers. It was the owner of Patagonia Villa, the hotel we stayed in, that recommended it to us. And we were grateful for this recommendation! Playa Larga has spectacular panoramic views of the bay with the distant snow-capped mountains. There are many hiking trails but this spot is also great to have a barbecue or a picnic. This is the hang out spot for many locals. From there, you can see some of the arboles bandera, the famous flag trees. These are Fuegian trees that are drastically bent by the high-intensity winds of Ushuaia, hence their name. This is a place that you would want to come with a car since you can spent as much time as you want there, without worrying about how you are going to get back to the city.
Where to eat in Ushuaia
With all the hikes that you will do, you will get hungry! Well, Ushuaia is the place for you if you love fish and seafood!
The must eat dishes are the Centolla (king crab), merluza negra (sea bass) and cholgas (large mussels.) Of course, the dish of choice in the rest of Patagonia is the slow-cooked lamb. And like in the rest of Argentina, beef and asados are a must try. I love crab so this was a great food highlight for me!
Try the restaurants by the pier, you will think they all are tourist traps but they are delicious. We tried Tia Elvira which as been opened for more than 30 years. The restaurant offers home-cooked meals with fresh fish from the Ocean. El Viejo Marino is always characterized by a long waiting line to go inside. I would recommend to go early! The restaurant offers a simple menu but with great quality! The restaurant closes during the afternoon to prepare for the night shift. Of course, a visit of Argentina without eating an Alfajor, will be a crime! If you have a sweet tooth, I will recomend going to Chocolates Abuela Goye, they are one of the best Alfajores, I’ve tried!
After the spa, head to one of the two restaurants of the hotel Arakur. We decided to eat at the buffet section of the La Cravia restaurant. The buffet has only fresh products from the region and is full of savoury and healthy options. Forget the cheap and greasy buffets that you have in mind, this is a high end one. The buffet has a salad bar, slow-cooked asado and several cooked meals like salmon and paella. My favourite dish was the king crab salad. The restaurant also has a great local wine selection that will perfectly pair with your meal. Like the upper deck pools, the restaurant has tall windows with a view on the Channel. The views will be as delicious as the food!
One of the most famous restaurants of the city. Their most try dish is the ceviche de la puta madre, a spicy ceviche with the freshest elements from the sea. The food is simple but cooked to perfection. The restaurant is decorated with elements of old newspapers and old memorabilia.
These are two restaurants, we ate at the Perito Moreno, by the industrial pier. The restaurant has a great view and good food. I took the king crab ravioli. To have a table with a view I would recommend to call in advance and ask for the table on the first floor.
Ushuaia also has great craft beers as the two biggest brands are Beagle Beer and Cape Horn. These two beers can easily be found in Ushuaian restaurants. To try smaller breweries, go to Santos, they have a great selection of craft beers from the region.
The most practical way to move around is by renting a car. This will give you great flexibility to go from one park to another. However, you can easily navigate the city and the parks by taxi or remis. Remis are a sort of taxi cooperative. The driver calculates the price by zones and not with a meter. These are much much cheaper than taxis.
We decided to do a combination of both, we rented a car on the first two days and on the rest we used remis and taxis.
how many days to stay?
We stayed for a total of 4 days but I found that it was too short. I wished I could have stayed at least 2 more days to enjoy everything that the region has to offer. I guess we will have to go back.
WHEN TO GO
Ushuaia is located at the southern tip of South America and the temperatures are on the colder side. Argentina has 4 seasons, so it all depends on which season you prefer to travel. When we went to Ushuaia, it was summer and the temperatures were around 5°C. The region has a lot of wind so do come with the right clothing for your trip to the end of the world.
Where to stay in Ushuaia
If luxury hotels are in your budget, then you definitely should stay at Arakur! The rooms are said to be one of a kind, plus you will get access to the restaurant, hiking trails, spa, game rooms, gym and free shuttle to go to the city.
However, we decided to stay at Patagonia Villa. This is a small cabin complex located in the Patagonian forest. The wooden cabins are only a few minutes drive from downtown. Since we were a group of 4, this was perfect since we had a whole lodge for us. You can read more about Patagonia Villa here!
Getting to Ushuaia
The easiest way to get to Ushuaia is by plane. Malvinas Argentinas International Airport has daily flights. Getting to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires takes around 3h30min. You can also take a bus but it will take you a few days to arrive.
IS IT DANGEROUS?
The city is super safe as it still has this small town vibe where everyone knows each other.
You can drink tap water so ditch your plastic bottle and fill your reusable bottle at the hotel, or fill it up in our of your treks, the water comes directly from the glaciers.
The currency of the country is the Argentinian Peso. The sign is $, so don’t get mixed up with USD or CAD! Due to the monetary crises that have constantly beat Argentina in the past decades, it is very hard to find pesos outside of the country since they need to stabilize their monetary reserves. I would suggest exchanging money upon arrival. You can also pay with credit card in most of the places.
In Argentina the power plugs and sockets are of type C (characterized by 2 pins) and I (characterized by 3 pins, it kind of looks like a crying smiley face). The standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
So, do you need more reasons to visit magical place called Ushuaia?
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Disclaimer: We enjoyed a free entrance to the pool and to the buffet of Arakur in exchange for visibility. All opinions are my own
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