In 1520, Magellan became the first European to navigate the southern straits. As he sailed the rugged coast, he was surprised to see dozens of glowing campfires on shore. The fires, used by the Yamana tribes to ward off the cold, prompted the area’s current name: Tierra del Fuego—the “Land of Fire.” Separated from the rest of South America by Magellan’s strait, Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago, anchored by Isla Grande. The islands are also divided politically, split by the border with Chile.
Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city (sorry Puerto Williams!), is the principle port of Tierra del Fuego. The town in sheltered in Ushuaia Bay, beneath the imposing Martial Mountains. Several museums (such as the Maritime Museum, End of the World Museum, and Antarctic Museum) are found among the town’s colorful houses, sawmills, and shops. Day cruises on the Beagle Channel (home to orcas, penguins, and sea lions) are also available.
Tierra del Fuego National Park is located just outside the city, enticing hikers with waterfalls, lenga forests, wildflowers, and glaciers. This is rich habitat for petrels, ducks, woodpeckers, eagles, condors, cormorants, foxes, and guanacos. Beavers, imprudently introduced here from North America, have damaged the slow-growing Austral forests. Still, hiking the woodland trails to visiting their dams is a thrill. The park is also home to the End of the World Train, a narrow-gauge railway originally constructed by convicts brought here to cut and transport timber.
If you’re thinking of coming to Ushuaia with family, consider staying at least three nights. Some of our family’s favorite activities in Ushuaia include:
- Day cruises on the Bay to the nearby islands and Les Eclaireurs lighthouse (wildlife viewing, a shipwreck, island hopping into Chile, and visits to creepy / historic estancias)
- Hiking in Tierra del Fuego National Park, on nearby glaciers, and the private reserves outside the town
- Skiing at Cerro Castor (June through October)
- Watching the fishermen bring in the catch at the downtown harbor
- Visiting the naval and prison museums. If we correctly understood the Spanish signs at the prison, most of the inmates were sent here for fighting with their siblings or not making their beds.
Peak season is October to April, when highs reach into the mid-50s F and sunset arrives around 9:00PM. You can fly direct / non-stop from Buenos Aires or El Calafate, Argentina. Cruises (3-4 nights) through the Strait of Magellan link Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, Chile and the Torres del Paine region of Patagonia. In town, you’ll find hotels for most budgets, including some with postcard views of the bay and the surrounding mountains.
Why We Love It
- Mountain, ocean, and glacier landscapes straight out of Tolkien
- Hiking and glacier trekking
- Amazing wildlife
- Kayak and canoe trips
- Great seafood