Ushuaia

Ushuaia and the surrounding mountains

Situated on the Beagle Strait, Ushuaia is the largest city in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, and arguably the southernmost city in the world. In the past, the town has been a missionary base, penal colony and naval base for the Argentine navy. Ushuaia is now a major tourist town, complete with casinos and nice restaurants, and commonly used as a base for hiking, winter sports and cruises to Antarctica.

Understand

Ushuaia is the capital of the Argentinian part of the Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago at the southern end of South America. The city of some 56,000 inhabitants has in the last decades transformed from a sleepy village to a lively tourist center, so you will not feel quite like you are at the end of the world. The scenic landscape around the city, with good outdoor sports including one of the southernmost winter sport resorts in the world complete with a view to the sea, make Ushuaia a place worth visiting.

The area

The city borders one of the southernmost legs of the Andes and has several urban centers. The mall is about 2km long and stretches from the freight port past the Avenida Alem (National Road 3). East of downtown there is the industrial area, and the western side is dominated by residential buildings and the airport. Most hotels and resorts, particularly at the upper end of the price scale are on the road to the Martial Glacier.

The world's southernmost city?

Traditional Patagonian house at the shopping street San Martín. Left of it there's a sign showing distances to major cities in the world
View of the harbor on a rainy day in January - even in the middle of the Austral summer snow is possible in the area

You might wonder if Ushuaia really is the southernmost city in the world. This depends on how "city" is defined. On the southern side of the canal is the Chilean town of Puerto Williams which, however, has just 2,000 inhabitants and is therefore often not regarded as a city, nor does it market itself as such. Still further south there's the village of Puerto Toro with fewer than 100 inhabitants, and on Antarctica there are several research stations with hundreds of "inhabitants".

History

Prior to the late 19th century, the land that is now called Ushuaia was inhabited entirely by Yámana people and a handful of missionaries. Due to outbreaks of typhus, pertussis and measles, by 1911, the Yámana had effectively disappeared; as of 2007, there was allegedly one pure-blooded native-speaking Yámana left.

In the late 19th century, the Argentine government established a penal colony in Ushuaia intended for repeat offenders, serious criminals and some political prisoners, following similar examples by the French and British. The prison population became forced colonists who spent most of their time chopping down the now-protected lenga trees, which they used to build the town. The prison was shut down in 1947, but it and the railway to the settlement have now become the Museo Maritimo and the Tren del Fin del Mundo respectively.

Today the town is growing fast as a result of increased tourism since the 2002 economic crash. The government has encouraged this growth by designating Tierra del Fuego a virtually tax-free zone to encourage people to settle; many of the inhabitants of today's Ushuaia come from Chaco, in the north of Argentina. The cost of living, however, is relatively high as all goods have to be transported long distances, usually by container ship.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 15 14 12 10 6 5 5 6 9 11 13 13
Nightly lows (°C) 6 5 4 2 0 -1 -1 -1 1 2 4 5
Precipitation (mm) 31 33 48 50 55 55 46 61 40 35 35 41

The city experiences 146 days of precipitation and 206 cloudy days per year, with many cloudy and foggy days. Ushuaia's average humidity is 80% with very little seasonal variation. Daylight in the city varies from 18 hours in summer (Nov–Mar) to 7 hours in winter.

Climate-wise, Ushuaia is warmer than many assume; although (arguably) the southernmost city in the world, it is no further south than Belfast is north, and temperatures rarely drop below -10°C. However, it is still cooler and more unstable than on the drier northern half of the island. In the summer, there are hardly any clear days: On most days there are sun, clouds and short rain showers, with temperatures around +15°C. The winters are somewhat clearer, with temperatures around -2°C and a lot of snow. The ski resorts have snow from May to early November. As in all of southern Argentina, strong winds add a significant wind chill factor.

If you plan to hike, you should have weatherproof clothing, and even if you are just visiting the city, you will need both a pullover and a jacket even in the summer months of January and February. In January, the city is full of domestic tourists (which means you should book your accommodation beforehand). There are fewer visitors from mid-February until the start of the ski season in June.

Tourist office

There are several tourist offices. Aside of the central one on the main street (currently closed, the nearest is in the port next to the 'end of the world' sign) there are smaller ones on the airport and the port.

Get in

By plane

There is one major airport serving the city:

By bus

Buses from all destinations except Puerto Natales stop at Rio Gallegos. It can be cheaper to just buy a ticket to Rio Gallegos and purchase an onward ticket from there. The ride from Rio Gallegos costs $425 and involves crossing into Chile and taking a ferry across the Magellan Strait. There are three daily departures and the journey is advertised as taking around 12 hours, but it is often much longer in practice.

By car

Argentine National Route 3 connects Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, ending at the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Tierra del Fuego is an island, and the route requires crossing into Chile and taking a ferry to cross the Magellan Strait. There are two ferries connecting Tierra del Fuego to the South American mainland: a short crossing at Punta Delgada at the northernmost point of the island and a longer crossing from Punta Arenas in Chile to Porvenir on the island's west coast.

By boat

A number of cruise ships stop at Ushuaia, either as an attraction or as the destination.

Get around

By bus

There are city buses within Ushuaia, but they reach few of the tourist attractions. They are good to get to Playa Larga, for example, or from one part of the center to another, along the east/west axis. The bus lines are nowadays labeled with letters, though numbers were previously used and the old numbers may still be visible at some bus stops. The bus fare is $2.20 as of 2010, and tickets are bought from the driver.

Tours/transport to the main tourist attractions can be booked through the Tourist Office (on San Martin) or through many of the hostels. Regular minibuses leave for the National Park, Glaciar Martial, the trailhead of Laguna Esmeralda or other places from a parking lot at the corner of Maipu and Fadul.

By taxi

Taxis are another option, costing, for example, AR$120 to get from the city centre to the airport and AR$130 to the Glaciar Martial. There are plenty of taxis and remises, the fares being somewhat higher than in Buenos Aires.

By car

There are also several car and bicycle rental companies. Be aware that in Ushuaia, all vehicles on hillside streets automatically have the right-of-way. In most places there are signs, but even if there isn't, this rule still applies. This is intended to prevent accidents due to ice and snow on the steep mountain roads.

See

Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse

There aren't really any architectural sights in Ushuaia. The city is modern, but the architecture is Scandinavian and positively different from other cities in southern Argentina.

Buildings

Memorials

Museums

Do

Penguins on Martillo Island
The path to Monte Martial. The sign warns tourists not to walk on the glacier without a guide
Laguna del Diablo, a small bog in the middle of the city, in the background the Club Andino, a ski club
Tren del Fin del Mundo in the winter

Summer

The area around Ushuaia is excellent for hiking and there are several marked paths. The most popular one leads up to the Glaciar Martial, a 1300m high snow covered peak with a small glacier and a spectacular view of the city and the surroundings. If you are going up the mountain you need sturdy and waterproof shoes - the path is steep and often slippery. You can pick up a map in the tourist office which is sufficient for shorter and popular hikes.

For serious hiking you should invest in the "Ushuaia Trekking Map," which can be purchased for around AR$230 at many stores downtown. You can head to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, 12km west of Ushuaia, or hike the valleys around Estancia Haberton (where many paths aren't marked).

Water

Winter

In the winter, the area turns into a large ski resort. In Ushuaia itself there are two pistes on Glacial Martial, both with sea view.

Buy

The main shopping district of Ushuaia is near the waterfront, mostly on San Martín. There is a smaller center west of the city, north of the airport, where the locals mainly shop.

Prices in Ushuaia are higher than central Argentina, but there is no sales tax (IVA). Furthermore, due to low tariffs on imports in Tierra del Fuego, imported goods (electronics) are a comparative bargain. There is a duty free store on San Martín that sells perfume, alcohol and cigarettes, but keep an eye on the prices as some items may be cheaper elsewhere.

While Antarctic travelers should arrive with proper gear already in their possession, quality winter gear including boots, coats, and other necessities — as well as souvenirs — can be purchased from a variety of shops.

Eat

Most Ushuaia restaurants are centrally-located, clustered around San Martín and Maipú. The western part of the city offers affordable rotiserías (pre-made/fast food) with standard Argentine dishes such as pizza and empanadas.

Seafood and meat dishes are very typical, as fruit and vegetables have to be transported from thousands of kilometers away and, as such, are rarely tasty and rather expensive. Be sure to try the centolla (king crab) for price around AR$350.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

There is not much of a nightlife in Ushuaia; most bars and pubs close early.

Sleep

Hotels in Ushuaia are often fully booked, especially during peak tourist season, so it is advisable to arrive in Ushuaia with reservations. On the other hand, hostels (albergues) are numerous, so even in midsummer you should have no problem finding a bed.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Work

Ships in Ushuaia harbor preparing for departure to the Antarctic Peninsula

Both industry and tourism were until the 1990s major draws for workforce from elsewhere. As some tax privileges were removed, this had a negative effect on the employment market. Today it isn't as easy to get a job in Ushuaia as it once was, but there are still job openings in the tourism and restaurant sectors, especially if you can speak many languages.

Stay safe

Usuaia and the region in general isn't entirely free of crime, but significantly safer than most of Argentina. There aren't any slums, and businesses seldom have bars installed in the front of their windows. Potential criminals from elsewhere would have a hard time getting out of Tierra del Fuego undetected, as the only ways out would be via the airport or Chilean territory.

Stay healthy

There are two hospitals in the city:

There are no particular health risks in Ushuaia; the biggest threat would be catching a cold due to the varying weather conditions. But also note that especially in the summer and when trekking in the mountains, you should protect yourself from sunburn, as the ozone layer is relatively thin in this part of the world.

Cope

Connect

Go next

River Lapataia in Tierra del Fuego National Park
This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, March 13, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.