Spending a few summer days in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

By | Category: Travel destinations
sea lions in the Beagle Channel

sea lions in the Beagle Channel

Tierra del Fuego, on the southernmost tip of Patagonia, straddling Argentina and Chile, enjoys a rather outrageously short summer, so needless to say they make the most of it while they can.

Admire the scenery

Ushuaia is blessed with a fantastic location and the surrounding scenery is one of the main draws, luring visitors here to experience the Patagonian summer season December – February. The city sits pretty on a bay in the Beagle Channel and has slowly started creeping up the slopes of the nearby lofty, snow-capped peaks, part of the Martial mountain range, in the Southern Andes. While the very centre is flat and easy to amble around, as soon as you leave the main streets near the harbour behind, you’re in hilly territory, the lanes climbing steeply to offer spectacular views over the city, mountains and waters across the channel to Isla Navarino in Chile.

Get a hefty dose of history

Ushuaia's colourful houses

Ushuaia’s colourful houses

Despite its remote location, Ushuaia has a fascinating history and a lot of it can be experienced in several well-kept and cleverly laid out museums, in and around town. The area was first settled some 10,000 years ago and by the time the HMS Beagle dropped by on its maiden voyage in 1833, it was inhabited by the Yaghan, or Yámana, tribe. British missionaries were some of the first non-natives to try and live in what is today Ushuaia, in the late 1860s. By the 1890s Ushuaia had become a penal colony, home to some of Argentina’s most notorious criminals (who must have seemed rather too much like hard work for the missionaries, as there is little mention of the good servants of the Lord after the 1890s). The prison, Presidio, which closed in 1947, is now open to the public as a museum; there is also a Yámana museum and a new, large-scale “themed gallery”, Galería Temática, in the main street, depicting the full range of Fuegian history from the early settlements to Darwin and Shackleton.

Take sneak peeks at the gardens

Ushuaia can be cold, wet and windy any time of year, so do wrap up, but should it happen to be sunny, head out and check out the surprisingly abundant gardens. People here simply adore bright colours, be it in their gardens, or covering their entire houses. With cloud-cover 200+ days a year, it’s perhaps understandable that Fuegians enjoy every splash of colour they can get and grey appears to be “banned” from home decoration colour schemes. A block or two away from the busy main street, Avenida San Martín, you’re surrounded by pleasant one- or two-storey abodes, where, during the short summer season, every effort is made to turn the gardens into lush havens, full of multi-coloured lupines, orchids and violets.

Take to the waters and view the wildlife

Tematica garden

Tematica garden and a man doing what?

Assuming the sunny weather continues, one of the key things to do in Ushuaia is to hop on a boat and sail the Beagle Channel (or beyond, if you’re not pushed for time). There are plenty of outfits selling fairly similar tours from little booths in the harbour. Choose from trips onboard catamarans, wooden schooners, modern yachts or sailboats, buy your ticket and off you go. Most boat trips last 2-3 hours and leave mornings and afternoons. The Chilean border runs right through the middle of the Beagle Channel, somewhat limiting the voyages you can undertake – all the companies stay on the Argentine side to avoid passport controls etc – but a 3-hour trip typically takes in plenty of birdlife, a visit to Les Eclaireurs lighthouse and time to view sea lions on the barren rocks of the channel. A boat trip is worth it for the views across Ushuaia with the backdrop of mountains alone.

Chill out with ice cream, warm up with tea

It might seem bonkers to have ice cream in chilly southern Patagonia, but Ushuaia has some of the best ice cream parlours in the country. The huge variety at Gadget Café, on the main street, could have you returning for days on end, just to try new flavours and if it all gets too nippy, tea drinking is another popular pastime with plenty of pleasant cafes offering copious amounts of that refreshing afternoon brew. Looks like those missionary Brits left a legacy behind after all, in the form of tea converts.

Other groovy things to do in the area

the Beagle Channel with a moutainous background

the Beagle Channel with a moutainous background

Take the Tren del Fin del Mundo, the Train at the End of the World, a wholly touristy, but very pleasant, train ride on a narrow gauge railway, just outside of town. Ushuaia is also a great, if cold, place for water sports – the diving is good, there are plenty of shipwrecks, or you could take a guided kayak trip on the Beagle Channel. Sheep farming is big in Tierra del Fuego and several working estancias offer accommodation where you can even take part in the daily activities – how about a spot of sheep shearing before breakfast? Estancias often have some of the best food in the area too and any carnivore will find Tierra del Fuego’s meat-grilling traditions exceedingly satisfying. There’s a local brewery for the craft beer lovers and Patagonian wines and fruit liqueurs for the rest, and of course tea for the teetotal.

For further information, click here.

Getting there:

Ushuaia is just over three hours flight from Buenos Aires and can be reached by Aerolineas Argentinas  and LAN Chile

Where to stay:

Galeazzi-Basily, Gob Valdez 323, T423213, www.avesdelsur.com.ar. Beautiful, family-run B&B in a pleasant area 5 blocks from centre, 4 rooms with shared bath. They also have excellent cabañas in the garden.

Tzion, Gob Valdez 468, T432290, tzion_byb@hotmail.com. B&B with 3 rooms, 1 with bath, slightly outside the centre, nice family atmosphere, cheaper in low season, laundry service, English and French spoken. Great views from the common/breakfast room.

Hostería Posada Fin del Mundo, Rivadavia 610, T437345, www.posadafindelmundo.com.ar. Family atmosphere, comfortable rooms, good value.

Antárctica Hostel, Antártida Argentina 270, T435774, www.antarcticahostel.com.
Central and welcoming hostel with dormitories or private rooms, spacious chill-out room, excellent 24-hr bar for guests.

La Casa de Tere, Rivadavia 620, T422312,  single, double or triple rooms, open fire, cosy.

 

Story and images  © Anna Maria Espsäter

First UK Rights

 

 

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