Gorgeous scenery along Route 3 north of Ushuaia

Before boarding Seaventure in March for our South Atlantic voyage (which we’ve written about here and here), we were able to spend a couple of days in Ushuaia, Argentina – a scenic and charming city at the bottom tip of South America. The world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia is known to most travelers as the jumping-off point for expeditions to the Antarctic peninsula, which lies 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the south across the Drake Passage. It’s also a popular stopover for cruise ships that are circumnavigating South America.

Ushuaia is proud of its location at the “fin del mundo” (end of the world).

But Ushuaia is a fantastic destination in its own right. Anchored by Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia welcomes hikers and lovers of water sports in the summer. In the winter, it’s a mecca for skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and other snowy adventures. Another big draw is its wildlife; you don’t have to go far to see huge colonies of marine mammals, penguins, and other sea birds.

Ushuaia’s name, from an indigenous word that means “deep bay” or “bay to background,” describes it perfectly. It’s a deep-water port situated on the Beagle Channel in the fantastic Tierra del Fuego archipelago and backed by the snow-capped Martial range (actually the southern end of the Patagonian Andes). Fun fact: Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) is named for the bonfires of the indigenous people that were spotted by the first Europeans to explore the area during Ferdinand Magellan’s 1520 expedition.

We were in Ushuaia in mid-March, just as the austral (southerly) autumn was starting to set in. The weather was cool but still bearable, and the season of enormous cruise ships was at its end. It was a quieter and less touristed time of year, the perfect opportunity for us to get psyched for a 34-day voyage.

We didn’t have a lot of time in Ushuaia, but we made the most of it by renting a car and exploring the national park and surrounding area. Here are our highlights.

Ushuaia Town

As a resort city, Ushuaia is extremely walkable and easy to navigate on foot. It has a “ski resort” feel that reminds us of Truckee, California or Breckinridge, Colorado. Stroll the main street, Avenida San Martín, and you’ll find a host of eateries, cafes, and shops catering to adventure tourists. From there it’s an easy walk down to the marina area and cruise ship terminal, where you’ll find an outstanding artisan market.

View of Ushuaia, ringed by the Andes, from our apartment balcony
A mural commemorating the famous Ernest Shackleton expedition
A mural commemorating the famous Ernest Shackleton expedition. It could use a re-touch.
Looking east toward the naval base
Harbor view. Seaventure is the smaller ship with the lighter blue hull, to the right.
Cute penguin mural near the cruise terminal. These are king penguins, and we’d see many live ones once we reached South Georgia Island. (photo credit: Ben Osborne / Polar Latitudes)

Tierra del Fuego National Park

Just a few kilometers out of Ushuaia near the western terminus of Route 3 is the entrance to Tierra del Fuego National Park, almost to Argentina’s border with Chile. The park is a microcosm of Patagonia, a wonderland of rugged mountainscapes, crystal-clear lakes and rivers, and enormous glaciers. Most of Tierra del Fuego National Park is off limits to visitors, but there’s public access along the southern edge of the park with numerous hiking trails designed for day trippers.

We saw only a tiny fraction of the park on the one day we had to spend there.  Tierra del Fuego is calling us back!

Tips: Tierra del Fuego National Park opens at 8:30. Exploring by car is easiest, but if you choose not to rent a car, you can take the End of the World Train to visit several points of interest inside the park and learn about its colorful history. There are also shuttle busses that bring tourists from downtown Ushuaia to various park stops. Your best source of information about the park is the friendly tourism office in town, located just before the entrance to the cruise ship pier.

There’s a nice hiking trail at Bahia Lapataia.
Lakeside view at Bahia Lapataia, near the end of Route 3
Contented horses. Wouldn’t you be?
I could look at this all day.
The upper reaches got a dusting of snow while we were there. Winter was coming fast.
The “post office at the end of the world” is a must-visit.
The postmaster, a real character, has been at his job for over 30 years. He put extra heart stamps on my postcard when he found out it was for my mom!

Take a Drive on Route 3

On our last full day before boarding Seaventure, we took a drive in the other direction on Route 3, heading northeast out of Ushuaia. Ending in the national park, Route 3 stretches all the way up to Buenos Aires, 3,045 km to the north. We made it as far as Garibaldi Pass, about 46 km out.

Around every bend was a view even more spectacular than the last.
More jaw-dropping scenery
Majestic Garibaldi Pass
On the way back, we made a coffee stop at Valley of the Wolves, a winter adventure outfitter that offers dog sledding, snowshoeing, nordic skiing, and other chilly activities. And yes, we got to pet some puppies!

The Beagle Channel

Cape Horn. The Beagle Channel marks the southern boundary between Argentina and Chile to the west. To the south, there’s nothing but open ocean (the Drake Passage) between Cape Horn and Antarctica.

The Beagle Channel is the vast waterway that separates the main Tierra del Fuego island (home of Ushuaia) from the smaller islands to the south. The channel gets its name from the HMS Beagle, which made the first hydrographic survey of this wild and wooly coast from 1826 to 1830. It was also the ship that carried Charles Darwin on his legendary expedition.

We remember the Beagle Channel from our sailing days, when we met some folks who were actually going to sail down and around Cape Horn, one of the most treacherous seaways on the planet. They told us the Beagle Channel and the Straits of Magellan to the north were two ways to “cheat” if you didn’t want to take on the perilous Drake Passage. I wonder if those folks made it around?

Once we boarded Seaventure, we were treated to several hours of gorgeous scenery and fantastic wildlife sightings as we navigated the channel before heading out into the open ocean, bound for the Falkland Islands.

Tip: Onboard Seaventure, we had our own private tour of the Beagle Channel. But there are plenty of tour operators that offer day excursions to view the birds and other wildlife. Here’s one that looks interesting.

Our last glimpse of pretty Ushuaia town (photo credit: Ben Osborne/Polar Latitudes)
Fur seals and sea birds hanging together on one of the southerly islands along the Beagle Channel (photo credit: Ben Osborne/Polar Latitudes
Shore-based tourists visiting a sea bird colony
One last look at the majestic peaks of Tierra del Fuego

Other Tips

Getting there: Most visitors from North America must catch a connecting flight with a local airline in Buenos Aires. We had a smooth, uneventful flight on Aerolineas Argentina from BA to Ushuaia.

The heated infinity pools at the Arukar

Lodging: We loved our stay at Polo Sur Apartamentos. Our apartment was cozy, quiet, and well-situated downtown with a view of the harbor. On our final night, we stayed in the uber-luxurious Arakur Resort as part of our expedition package with Polar Latitudes.

Tia Elvira is known for its king crab, served up in an elaborate presentation. But bring your wallet – it ain’t cheap.

Car rental: We were pleased to see that our old standby, Localiza, has a location right on Avenida San Martín, just a few blocks from our apartment. Great price and service as usual.

Restaurants: Our two favorite dining experiences were at Casimiro Biguá and Tia Elvira. Refugio de Montaña, at the foot of Martial glacier, is a great place to kick back with a microbrew and enjoy the views. We also enjoyed our breakfast at El Mercado, right on the corner from the Polo Sur apartments where we were staying.

Next Port of Call: The Falkland (Malvinas) Islands

23 Comments

  1. Janis Peace Reply

    Hi Susan and John,
    This is so fabulous! Thank you for putting this together for everyone! You two are amazing!
    I am in Kernville this week. Water is perfect for rafting. The lake is full and the river running super duper!! Wish you were here! I have not rafted since the early 90’s!! Enjoy you day! xoxo Janis

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Janis! Rafting sounds amazing – enjoy 🙂

  2. We’ve never been to Ushuaia, but it looks as beautiful as I imagine. We’ve been talking about going back to Patagonia lately, so maybe this time we’ll keep going a little further south. Garibaldi Pass interests me the most, wow!! Maggie

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We think you’d love Ushuaia. We also have a Pataagonia trip up our sleeves, and part of the plan is to end up in Ushuaia. We really want to spend some more time there. Thanks, Maggie!

  3. Wow! I have a feeling I’m going to be saying that a lot over the course of these posts. Those mountains are incredible! Ushuaia looks like a place I’d love to visit.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Diana! It’s another world down there, for sure. Just breathtaking beauty – these pics don’t do it justice!

  4. Absolutely incredible to be this far south at the very tip of the Americas! Those mountain views are stunning. And the post office- I just love the post office at the end of the world 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Meg! The post office was an unexpected treat after a day of hiking. We really enjoyed stumbling upon it!

  5. So glad you finally got to visit Ushuaia! I went almost two years ago and although I had a brief stay (and didn’t take the cruise through the Drake Passage), I still found the “End of the World” absolutely wonderful. Your apartment accommodation looks stunning, especially with that infinity pool! And I’m happy you got to see a bit of Tierra del Fuego, as it’s a must. Can’t wait to read more about your time along the Drake Passage!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Rebecca! It’s such an otherworldly, yet familiar place (and that’s down to the friendliness of the Argentines, I think!). We wish we’d had more time there.

  6. Well, I was going to write that we will add it to the list (like you sometimes do after reading my posts), but, as you can guess, Ushuaia is already on “the list”. We will drive there this coming austral summer. It’s the goal and “end point” of many overlanders driving the Pan-American Highway. We don’t quite see it that way, but we are looking forward to exploring this town and its surroundings first hand. 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      I think you three will really enjoy Ushuaia! And I think there are plenty of places for overlanders to camp. Maybe even in the national park. Just be aware there might be a lot of cruise shippers there that time of year (which isn’t necessarily bad!).

  7. Wow – absolutely amazing and your photos are beautiful. I love that one of the Garibaldi Pass – I agree it’s completely majestic 🙂

  8. Gorgeous photos! This post brought back so many memories of our time exploring Patagonia and Ushuaia. We took the train into the park, also hiked there, and did a day trip down the channel. What a spectacular place it is!
    Alison

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Alison! Wow, you did all the things when you were there. I wish we’d had more time. Maybe one of these days! We will definitely explore more of Patagonia in the near future.

  9. What an exciting adventure you’ve embarked on! The photos you included are just gobsmacking and make me want to return to the end of the earth! Can’t wait to read more of your travels.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Annie! It’s a really special corner of the world.

  10. I really appreciate this up close look at Ushuaia. It looks like the weather was mostly pleasant when you were there, which must have been a big bonus. And you certainly had a superb view from your balcony! Wow!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Bama. Yes, we timed the weather pretty well – it was cool but not uncomfortable. We could tell that winter was on its way, though. A peaceful time to visit.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Christie! The Falklands were not just beautiful, but the history is so interesting.

  11. Hi Susan and John,
    As always, what a great write-up and pictures! Though not yet retired myself, I too took a three-year sabbatical several years ago. While your adventure was on the water, mine was on a motorcycle through SE Asia, North, Central and South America. Loved Colombia! My adventure ended at Tierra del Fuego and your post brought back such great memories. I was just reading the “Boomer Couple Retired Early…” article in Business Insider article about you both and thought, hey, I “know” them. Congrats on the article! Thank you so much for your excellent articles and pictures. I look forward to every email letting me know you have a new post about another epic adventure or informative write-up (I just reread your informative article on health care costs in Colombia). Some day it’ll be South America for me too!
    Cheers, Stu

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Stu – so glad you’re enjoying our blog! What an epic adventure that motorcycle trip must have been. We’re looking at doing something similar through South America and Patagonia next year, but in a camper van. And good luck on your retirement. We have no regrets about retiring in Colombia; it’s been one of the best moves we ever made. Cheers!

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