Depending on how you’ve booked the flight itinerary for your trip, you may find yourself shuttled from the airport directly to the port, with very little time to explore this little city on the edge of the Beagle Channel. That’s certainly convenient—but you’ll miss out on what Ushuaia has to offer. It’s quite a pleasant place to pass a day or two.
First things first. In case you’re suffering the misfortune of lost luggage (heaven forbid) or you just forgot to pack some creature comforts, rest assured that it’s all here. All of it. From your sturdy waterproof hikers to dental floss. And then some. You can stock up on penguin-branded souvenirs (many made from rose quartz), postcards, fridge magnets, ham and cheese sandwiches, locally-made chocolates, Dramamine. There is nothing you may need that you can’t get in Ushuaia, and there are a lot of things you don’t need (like the aforementioned rose quartz penguins).
Ushuaia is one of those crossroads towns for travelers where backpackers fall out of the bus and rub shoulders with higher-end travelers on all kinds of cruises. A group of bicycle tourists geared up in the café where I ate lunch the day I arrived (Tante Sara on San Marino. Cool wood bar, great service, giant salad). Retirees ate elegant pastries and local guys drank beer at the bar. People from all over the world shopped along the main street and, in the afternoon, local teenagers joined them and everyone eyed the name-brand sportswear for sale—and each other. A couple of sturdy walkers carried their packs into the Turkish place (El Turco, also on San Marino, delicious empanadas). It’s a comfortable place to be a traveler.
Ushuaia’s history feels vaguely similar to that of the American West or Australia. A native population—the Yamana—was decimated by disease, their culture weakened by missionaries. Prisoners in this remote place built the tiny rail line and harvested the local resources. There was a micro gold rush, and a lot of seal harvesting. Then, came the age of Antarctic exploration—not just Amundsen and Scott, but Argentinean explorers too. All this—and a lot of other regional issues—are covered at the Maritime Museum at the end of town.
Candidly, I found the museum a little weird; the empty cell block wing is unsettling and feels haunted. The other displays—all in a facility that once held hundreds of prisoners—are a bit haphazardly organized, but there’s lots of English translation and it’s good to have more context for this place than just calling it the “End of the World.” There are a handful of other museums —though if you only make time for one, visit the prison.
There are many other things to do in Ushuaia. You can take a cab to the chair lift at Martial Glacier and go hiking to enjoy the spectacular views. You can take the little train—built by convicts—on the short run into Tierra del Fuego National Park and back. You can take a day trip—or longer, if you’ve got camping gear—out to the national park.
I enjoyed having the additional time to catch up to myself after the long journey from Seattle to Ushuaia. Your itinerary may not be as wearing as mine, but even if you arrived completely refreshed, it’s nice to take time to enjoy this relaxing port city at the southern tip of Argentina. I appreciated having the extra time. Plus, it gave me a chance to duck into the tourist office. There, you can get your passport stamped with “Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.” A perfect souvenir to mark your arrival at this far away place on the edge of the map.