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What are the best things to do in Ushuaia, Argentina? It’s the southernmost city in the world, but how do you commemorate that? Is Ushuaia worth a trip on its own, or just a brief stopover on your way to Antarctica?
Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations for Ushuaia, what to do or what to see. I was just there for a few days before my life-changing Antarctica trip and while I was curious about the city, I didn’t think it would be that impressive. After all, aren’t there much more beautiful places like Torres del Paine and El Chaltén?
I was wrong. The scenery surrounding Ushuaia and the southern tip of Argentina is STUNNING. It began with a flight that descended through a web of jagged black mountains reminiscent of crow feathers. Soon the mountains gave way to grassy hills, bright blue seas, and peaks of all colors in every direction. And the lakes! Tierra del Fuego National Park introduced me to bright teal lakes and the turquoise coastline leading to the Beagle Channel.
Ushuaia, was definitely worth a few days of my time. Here’s how you should spend your time there.
Why You Should Visit Ushuaia Before Antarctica
When scheduling my flights for my Antarctica trip, I made sure to arrive in Ushuaia one full day earlier than necessary. Why? I was terrified that my luggage would be lost. Antarctica is NOT a place where you can pop over to H&M to pick up some essentials (even though there is a shop with winter gear on board). I wanted the extra day just in case I had to wait an extra 24 hours for my luggage.
Turns out I didn’t have to worry; my luggage arrived with me on my flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia Airport. But soon I realized I had lucked out — giving myself a full extra day in Ushuaia allowed me to book a sightseeing excursion and check out things to do in Ushuaia!
If you’re on your way to Antarctica, there’s no need to book a penguin cruise in Ushuaia — it will pale in comparison to Antarctica. Plus, you might get to see the lighthouse on the way out and on the way back. Instead, prioritize land-based excursions, like the gorgeous Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Don’t plan on doing any sightseeing when you come back from Antarctica. After 10+ days with no internet access, you’ll probably want to go straight to a coffeeshop with wifi and catch up on everything you missed.
Ushuaia Argentina FAQs
Ushuaia is located at the tip of Argentina on the Beagle Channel and is known for being the busy port city for Antarctica cruises. It also holds the title as the southernmost town on the American continent and in the world.
By far, the best thing to do in Ushuaia is to visit Tierra del Fuego (land of fire). Other memorable activities include exploring Ushuaia, seeing penguins on Martillo Island, and cruising Beagle Channel.
The easiest way and most direct way to get to Ushuaia is via one of the daily flights from Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. You can also fly from Rio Gallegos (1 hour) or take a bus and boat from Punta Arenas, Chile through the Magellan Straits (a long trip of 12 hours).
If you’re heading out on an Antarctic expedition, I recommend giving yourself at least one extra day in Ushuaia but two is better for exploring. If you’re visiting Ushuaia itself, 3 to 5 days is perfect, depending on which activities you’re planning.
Things to Do in Ushuaia
If you’re traveling to Ushuaia and not going to Antarctica, just go for everything! See penguins, go on cruises, see the national park, do it all.
If you’re traveling to Ushuaia without going to Antarctica, you’re probably doing a longer Patagonia trip. In that case, it’s smart to plan out what activities you can do in each of your destinations and seeing what you should prioritize in each place.
In that case, I would prioritize seeing the Beagle Channel and seeing penguins — these are the best things to do in Ushuaia that you can’t replicate in other parts of Argentina.
I would not prioritize glacier trekking in Ushuaia if you’re already planning to visit Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, further north in Patagonia. Perito Moreno is a better experience.
Tierra del Fuego National Park
Visiting Tierra del Fuego National Park was my favorite activity I did in Ushuaia. (Tierra del Fuego translates to “land of fire”.)
I had no idea that it was so beautiful in this part of the world! This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in Latin America. And it definitely helped that the weather cooperated that day!
There are several versions of this tour that take place; mine lasted a half day. We began with a ride on the Tren del Fin del Mundo (train to the end of the world).
Ushauia used to be home to a prison penal colony, and the prisoners cut down trees as part of their labor. This train was used for transporting the timber.
Today, the prison is closed, but the train has reinvented itself as a way for tourists to explore the national park.
We got to see some nearby waterfalls — and that is my oh-so-bad attempt at a waterfall when I didn’t have my tripod with me. HA.
From there we took a ride to a lookout. I would SO love to bring a picnic out here…
After this we took a trip to the post office, where I got my passport stamped and sent a postcard (see more on that below). Next up was a gentle hike through the park, taking in the many colors of the landscape.
A wooden path built over the marsh took us to our final destination…
…this glorious bit of coastline on the shores of the Beagle Channel. Doesn’t it make you want to take a dip?
I loved this tour. I love that it covered so much different scenery and some of the quintessential experiences in the area within a short time period. This tour really made me fall in love with Tierra del Fuego in a way that I didn’t expect. And if you only have one day, this is what to do in Ushuaia.
The only problem is that the lighting conditions weren’t great for photography. But honestly, with Ushuaia being so far south, if you visit in the summer months, you’re going to struggle with the light.
If you have longer to explore and are heading to Chile after, you can take a cruise from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, Chile that will take you through Tierra del Fuego to Chile, with a stop at Cape Horn.
Fun fact: Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego but the park itself is split between Argentina and Chile.
Patagonian Cuisine at Kalma Resto
If you want to have one special meal in Ushuaia, I highly recommend Kalma Resto. This place is outstanding — probably the most interesting meal you could find in town.
I’m not a huge fan of Argentine cuisine in general — the steak is fantastic, as is the red wine — but move beyond that and it’s a carb parade of pizza, pasta, empanadas, bread, and sweets. This fresh, creative Patagonian tasting menu was an antidote to traditional Argentine cuisine.
Pictured above, I started with nuts and levistico bread, canelo, focaccia and lactonesa.
It was followed by the following courses:
Cured lamb loin, sambayon, centollón little ball. Centollón is a kind of crab — these were basically fried crab balls!
Wild salmon tartare, forest berries, vinegar gel. This was my favorite course and reminded me of many dishes I’ve had in the Nordic countries.
Fuegian centollón cappelletti with vegetable extract and levistico pesto. I love that this soup was served with panache, poured right into my bowl!
Fin del mundo “Entraña,” spring carrots and alfalfa sprouts. Entraña is skirt steak, one of the most popular cuts in Argentina. So juicy and delicious.
Three milks cake, sea celery meringue and dulce de leche. The perfect quirky end to a perfect quirky meal.
Everything was fantastic, from beginning to end. At one point the chef came out and we chatted about the menu. Nobody was around when I sat down (at around 8:00 PM, very early for Argentines), but by the time I left the tourist groups were arriving en masse. I have the feeling Kalma Resto is going to be on lists of what to do in Ushuaia soon. Definitely make a reservation here if possible.
In March 2018 I paid $1100 AR (around $50 back then) for the tasting menu, with an additional $500 AR (around $24 back then) for wine pairings. However, the exchange rate of Argentine pesos has fluctuated wildly since then, so I didn’t want to compare the price back then to the exchange rate today.
Other top-rated Ushuaia restaurants include Puerto Pirata Aldea de Pescadores, Restaurant Orange, and Restaurante Le Martial.
Explore the City of Ushuaia
Ushuaia is a fun city to explore for a day or two. The population is about 60,000, but 50 years ago it was closer to 5,000. In short, the city of Ushuaia is a new city, a young city, and a city built around the demand for tourism. The population swells during the southern hemisphere’s summer months (December to March).
Walk around main street and downtown Ushuaia, take photos, and enjoy the colorful homes and street art. Sit in cafes and enjoy some coffee with medialunas (little Argentine croissants). If you’re looking to do shopping, Ushuaia is one of the better places to find outdoor gear and souvenirs in Argentina.
If you want to so some sightseeing in Ushuaia, I recommend the Museo del Fin del Mundo (museum of the end of the world) and the Museo Marítimo (Maritime Museum). These are good things to do in Ushuaia if it’s raining.
Have a Guinness at the Southernmost Irish Pub in the World
Man, is there anywhere on the planet that DOESN’T have an Irish pub?! You may scoff at the sight of an Irish pub in Paris or Rome…but sometimes they’re welcome sights when you’re exhausted and need something familiar.
And in Ushuaia, an Irish pub called Dublín claims to be the southernmost Irish pub in the world. That’s an interesting statistic. What better place to grab a Guinness?
There is a nice selection of beer here and a very lively crowd, especially in the evenings.
Send a Postcard From the End of the World
There is a tiny post office on stilts located in Tierra del Fuego National Park, and if you’re on a tour, you’ll likely stop there. They sell postcards at the shop and you can buy postage to send a postcard right from there.
This is what to do in Ushuaia if you have kids in your life — they’ll be excited to receive a penguin postcard from the bottom of the world!
Don’t expect your postcard to arrive in a timely manner. My friends actually got my Antarctica postcard (which traveled from a British base south of the Antarctic Circle to the Falkland Islands, then Britain, then the US) before they got my Tierra del Fuego postcard.
Get a Giant Souvenir Passport Stamp
It can be fun to get a souvenir stamp in your passport! I’ve gotten them from Liechtenstein and Stonington Island, Antarctica. I had room to spare in my passport, so I got this at the post office of Ushuaia, Patagonia, in Tierra del Fuego National Park.
I had NO IDEA it would be this big, though! I thought it would be a tiny one-square stamp! Just make sure you have enough space in your passport before you get it.
Some people recommend not getting souvenir passport stamps these days, so double-check the pros and cons before you get it.
See the Penguins on Martillo Island
If you’re not heading to Antarctica, this is as south as you’re going — so you might as well see some penguins while on the way! Just a short boat trip away are penguin colonies. Martillo Island is one of the best spots to see them, and you’ll learn the most while on a day trip tour with a naturalist guide.
Penguins are sociable animals and while you should never walk up to them, they very well may approach you out of curiosity! Perfect for getting the penguin selfie you’ve always wanted.
Martillo Island is easily done as a half-day excursion from Ushuaia. You can see the top-rated Martillo Island excursions below:
Cruise the Beagle Channel
Ushuaia is perched on the Argentine side of the Beagle Channel. Look straight ahead and you’re actually looking at Chilean land.
On shorter visits, you’ll get to marvel at the scenery, sail past colonies of sea lions, pass the Lighthouse Les Eclaireurs, and stop for some brief hiking. Some of the best views of Ushuaia are from the channel.
Hike Vinciguerra Glacier or Albino’s Eye Glacier
With all the heavy Argentine cuisine you’ll be consuming, you’ll want to burn it off — and is there a better way to do so than hiking through the countryside to a glacier?
This hike to Vinciguerra Glacier is more about climbing through the valley. You’ll climb upwards through the Andorran Valley and past a river and the Tempanos Lagoon until you reach the glacier. You’ll want to be in shape for this one as it’s fairly intense.
Alternatively, book a longer glacier trek to Albino’s Eye Glacier. This trek involves more climbing on the ice and lasts longer (10 hours as opposed to 8). This is one of the best things to do in Ushuaia if you’re looking for a physical challenge.
Trek to Laguna Esmeralda
When you think about lakes in Patagonia, the bright turquoise lakes of Torres del Paine, Chile, probably come to mind. But there is a scintillatingly beautiful lake close to Ushuaia: Laguna Esmeralda. This is one of the best Instagram spots in the Ushuaia region.
To get here, you’ll need to trek. It’s about a two-hour trekking journey from the road if you want to do it independently. Otherwise, you can join a group with a guide.
Argentina is considered one of the world’s best ski destinations and the world’s southernmost city is no exception when it comes to winter sports. This is a very seasonal activity, with the ski season lasting from late June to late September, so keep that in mind when planning your trip. (This is also the opposite of the best time to visit Tierra del Fuego.)
Popular areas to ski include Martial Glacier (Glaciar Martial) and ski resorts like Cerro Castor.
Try to Get a Discount Antarctica Cruise at the Last Minute
Warning — this is a very risky gamble, but it can pay off! Ushuaia, as the southern tip of South America, is the starting point for most Antarctic cruises. Antarctica expeditions are extremely expensive, but if you show up at the Ushuaia offices of the major expedition companies, you can often get a last-minute discount if they have seats to sell. Nobody wants empty spots on their Antarctica cruise ships, so they’d rather sell it for less than let it go empty.
How much of a discount can you get? It varies. One passenger on my cruise showed up at the office last minute and got a private room at the rate of sharing a triple.
How much of a discount should you expect? Around 25-30% seems to be the average, depending on how busy it is, and definitely don’t plan on a discount of more than 50%.
Ushuaia weather never gets too warm, even in the summer months, when the vast majority of tourists tend to visit.
In the summer months (November to March) Ushuaia temperatures tend to range from a low of 40-43 Fahrenheit (4-6 Celsius) to a high of 52-55 Fahrenheit (11-13 Celsius).
In the winter months (May to August) Ushuaia temperatures tend to range from a low of 30-34 Fahrenheit (-1 to 1 Celsius) to a high of 38 to 41 Fahrenheit (3-5 Celsius).
Ushuaia weather tends to be cloudy and windy year-round. It’s always a good idea to wear layers and sun protection in Ushuaia.
Where to Stay in Ushuaia
Ushuaia has a variety of accommodations at every price level, from luxury resorts to hostels with dorms and private rooms. Be sure to book in advance, especially if you’re visiting during high season (December to February).
I stayed at Hotel Los Acebos, which was the included hotel for my Quark Expeditions cruise. This was a very nice, very comfortable hotel — and the views were phenomenal — but I didn’t like staying so far from town. There were free shuttles, but only a few per day, so I had to pay around $10 each way for a taxi. Next time I’d choose an Ushuaia hotel right in town.
The best high-end hotels in Ushuaia are located far enough outside town, but the majority of other Ushuaia hotels are located in town. Here are some recommendations:
Top-Rated Ushuaia Hotels:
- Luxury: Los Cauquenes Resort & Spa
- Midrange: Tango B&B
- Budget: Las Retamas B&B
- Hostel: Antarctica Hostel
Is Ushuaia worth it?
Ushuaia is definitely worth it! I had no expectations for Ushuaia — and I was thrilled when it turned out to be far better than I expected! Ushuaia was one of the biggest surprises of my time in South America and I hope that you have just as good a time as I did.
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Many thanks to Quark Expeditions for covering my two nights at Hotel Los Acebos. I covered all of my other expenses in Ushuaia. All opinions, as always, are my own.
Have you been to Ushuaia? What was your favorite thing to do?