Ushuaia

The most southerly town in the world, Ushuaia's setting is spectacular. Its brightly coloured houses look like toys against the dramatic backdrop of vast jagged mountains. Opposite are the forbidding peaks of Isla de Navarino, and between flows the serene green Beagle Channel. Sailing those waters you can just imagine how it was for Darwin, arriving here in 1832, and for those early settlers, the Bridges in 1871. Though the town has expanded in recent years, sprawling untidily along the coast, Ushuaia still retains the feel of a pioneer town, isolated and expectant. There are lots of places to stay, which fill up entirely in January, a fine museum, and some great fish restaurants. There is spectacular landscape to be explored in all directions, with good treks in the accessible
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego
, www.tierra delfuego.org.ar
, just to the west of the city, and more adventurous expeditions offered into the wild heart of the island, trekking, climbing or riding. There's splendid cross-country skiing nearby in winter, as well as downhill skiing too, at
Cerro Castor
, www.cerrocastor.com
. And to the east, along a beautiful stretch of coastline is the historic
estancia
of Harberton, which you can reach by a boat trip along the Beagle Channel. Ushuaia is also the starting point for expeditions to Antarctica, for more information, see www.dna.gov.ar. For more about Ushuaia, see www.e-ushuaia.com.

Getting there

The airport,
Aeropuerto Internacional Malvinas Argentinas
, is 4 km from town.There are daily flights from Buenos Aires and Río Gallegos, and frequent flights from El Calafate and Punta Arenas, as well as weekly flights from other Patagonian towns to Ushuaia's airport, on a peninsula in the Beagle channel, close to the centre. Buses and minibuses from Río Grande arrive at their respective offices around town.

Getting around

It's easy to walk around the town in a morning, since all its sights are close together, and you'll find banks, restaurants, hotels and shops along San Martín, which runs parallel to the shore, a block north of the coast road, Avenida Maipú. Boat trips leave from the Muelle Turístico (tourist pier) by a small plaza, 25 de Mayo on the seafront, Avenida
Maipú between calles 25 de Mayo and Laserre. Ushuaia is very well organized for tourism, and
there are good local buses to the national park and other sights, as well as many boat trips.

Best time to visit

Ushuaia is at its most beautiful in autumn (March to May), when the dense forests all around are turned a rich red and yellow, and there are many bright
clear days. Summer (December to February) is best for trekking, when maximum temperatures
are around 15°C, but try to avoid January, when the city is swamped with tourists. Late February is much better. The ski season is mid-June to October, when temperatures are around zero, but the wind drops.

Tourist information

The
tourist information office
, www.e-ushuaia.com,  also an office at the pier (Muelle Turístico), and a desk at the airport, is one of the best in Argentina and the friendly and helpful staff speak several languages. They have a map and a series of leaflets about all the things to see and
do, and can provide bus and boat times. Next door is the
Oficina Antártica
, antartida@tierradelfuego.org.ar.
Tierra del Fuego National Park Office,
 www.tierradelfuego.org.ar
, has a basic map of the park.

Background

Founded in 1884 after missionary Thomas Bridges had established his mission in these inhospitable lands, Ushuaia attracted many pioneers in search of gold. Keen to populate its new territory, the government set up a penal colony on nearby Staten Island, which moved to the town in 1902, and the town developed rapidly. Immigration was largely Croatian and Spanish, together with those shipwrecked on the shores, but the town remained isolated until planes arrived in 1935. As the prison closed, a naval base opened and in the 1970s a further influx arrived, attracted by job opportunities in assemblage plants of electronic equipment that flourished thanks to reduced taxes. Now the city is capital of Argentina's most southerly province, and though fishing is still a traditional economic activity, Ushuaia has become an important tourist centre, particularly as the departure point for voyages to Antarctica.

Sights

There are several museums worth looking at if bad weather forces you indoors and
the most fascinating is
Museo del Fin del Mundo
, www.tierradel fuego.org.ar/museo,
in the 1912 bank building, which tells the history of the town through a small collection of carefully chosen exhibits on the indigenous groups, missionaries, pioneers and ship- wrecks, together with nearly all the birds of Tierra del Fuego (stuffed), and you can get an 'end of the world museum' stamp in your passport. There are helpful and informed staff, and also an extensive reference library. Recommended. Further east, the old prison, Presidio, at the back of
the Naval Base, houses the
Museo Marítimo
, www.museo maritimo.com, ticket valid 48 hrs
,
with models and artefacts from seafaring days, and, in the cells of most of the five wings of the huge building, the
Museo Penitenciario
, which details the history of the prison. Excellent guided visits (in Spanish only) also include a tour of the lighthouse (a life-size repliace of the original) that inspired Jules Verne's novel. Recommended. Much smaller is
Museo Yámana,
www.tierradelfuego.org.ar/mundoyamana, has interesting scale models showing scenes of everyday life of Yámana people and the geological evolution of the island, also interesting and recommended.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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