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A Patagonia trip is a total bucket list adventure and completing it in Ushuaia Argentina amounts to a massive finish. Depending on where you are in Patagonia, you’ll need to know how to get to Ushuaia and what to do in Ushuaia once you get there.
This Ushuaia travel guide shares my journey to the end of the world, as well as gives practical travel advice about Ushuaia accommodations, Ushuaia excursions, and flights in and out of Ushuaia.
Bus to Ushuaia, Argentina
Leaving Puerto Natales, Chile on an early morning Ushuaia bus, I knew the journey to the southernmost city in the world, A.K.A. the end of the world, was going to be epic. By this point, I had been on enough South American buses to know what I was getting into.
Looking at my ticket and the time, I knew there was no way the bus could reach the connection point in time for me to catch the other bus. In my horrid Spanish, I attempted to ask the bus attendant about this. His only 2 words were, “No problem.” Okey dokey, then.
Ushuaia is at the southern tip of Argentina, one of the furthest points south in South America, as well as the gateway to Antarctica. Thus, the reason for its nickname, El Fin del Mundo (end of the world).
This distance signpost in the Ushuaia seaport gives you an idea of how far south on the planet Ushuaia is. It’s not every day you see a 1,360-kilometers-from-New-Zealand sign!
After about an hour and a half, the bus I was on met up with my bus connection along the side of the road literally in the middle of nowhere. The few of us making the connection were jolted from our seats by the sudden stop. I’d learned from my previous bus rides to follow the herd and listen for keywords…a.k.a my destination’s name. I grabbed my bag and made the switch.
Among the other passengers making the switch were two middle-aged women who had adopted me only the way pseudo-aunties can. With their no English and my 4 words in Spanish, we had “talked” for a while on the first bus and forged a bond.
After giving us time to board, the bus sped off from the connection. My pseudo-aunties glanced over with a smile. Phew!
The next 7-8 hours included a ferry, where we had to disembark while the bus boarded the boat, a few rest stops, and a border crossing on the Tierra del Fuego.
Walking to the ferry, I wondered how the bus was going to make it on! I’d never taken a bus where part of the journey is by boat!
Once across the water, the obvious benefit of traveling by bus is seeing the stunning Patagonian landscape, with the herds of sheep, cows, and horses grazing and the complete open vastness.
There were herds of guanacos just a bit more curious. They stared with their heads tilted at the shiny bus, yet were still cautious enough to back away from the roadside. Some guanacos even took time to admire the scenery.
At the border crossing from Chile to Argentina, all of us on the bus had to go through the border crossing twice, once with bags and once without. Once through the checkpoint, the bus sped through the flat, arid land of the Tierra del Fuego.
Where is the Tierra del Fuego? It’s an archipelago just past the southernmost tip of the South America mainland. The archipelago spans parts of both Chile and Argentina.
Looking out my window, a side panel of the bus along the driver’s side had opened and was flapping wildly from the force of the wind created by the speeding bus. The driver either didn’t notice or didn’t think it was a big deal. I kept watching just to make sure luggage didn’t start flying out. By now, I’d been on enough buses traveling through South America to know when to be concerned and when not to be.
Most bus trips to Ushuaia stop in Rio Grande, Argentina and require a switch to a smaller bus for the last 2 hours to Ushuaia. A few of us made the switch and we were on our way. By the time the bus arrived in Ushuaia, the temperature had dropped noticeably since departing Puerto Natales, Chile and it was drizzling.
After a full day of bus travel (12-13 hours), the bus arrived in Ushuaia. The driver was nice enough to drop me off right at my hotel. I had made a last-minute upgrade to my hotel and I was glad.
Hotel Austral was only a few dollars more per night, included breakfast, and had great reviews. Compared to other Ushuaia Argentina hotels, Hotel Austral was a solid money-saving deal for the value I go in return.
I was exhausted and my room was comfy and, by far, the most spacious of my Patagonia trip. The hotel was just a couple blocks off the main street, San Marten, and in walking distance to the harbor. I would gladly stay here again…like when I finally make it Antarctica!
Ushuaia is a bustling port town, clinging to the coast of Isla Grande Tierra del Fuego. It’s situated on a hill and squeezed between the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel.
As you consider where to stay in Ushuaia, know that walking away from the water is uphill. Choose a place to stay that’s only a couple blocks from the water or the main street San Marten to avoid walking too many blocks up the sidewalk steps, back to your hotel.
Depending on where you stay, the stairs leading away from the water can be steep and hard to manage with luggage.
Things to Do in Ushuaia
Ushuaia’s main street, San Marten, is walkable and lined with shops and restaurants. The prices in Ushuaia are noticeably higher, compared to other places in Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia regions. But, it’s worth it to spend a couple of hours strolling along, popping into the souvenir and novelty shops. Credit cards are more accepted in Ushuaia than in other places in Argentina, but cash is still preferred.
Given how far south Ushuaia is, the seaport is an attraction unto itself. With only 1,000km between Ushuaia and Antarctica, cruise ships depart often during the November and December busy season. Other boats, for fishing, shipping, or tours, are also busy in the harbor.
A Beagle Channel boat excursion is a must while in Ushuaia. Not only is it beautiful to look back on the mountains just beyond the city, but you’re also sailing away from the southern edge of the South American continent!
Check the Ushuaia weather the day of your Beagle Channel boat excursion. If the weather is bad and the water too choppy, the tour will be rescheduled or canceled. If you have limited time in Ushuaia, try to reserve on a morning boat. If the morning gets canceled, you’ll still have the chance to get on the afternoon boat if the weather and water improves.
The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse in the Beagle Channel has been in use since 1920. The island and lighthouse are now closed to the public, but most of the Beagle Channel excursions include a close-up view and photo-op of the red and white lighthouse set against the snow-capped mountains.
No tour of the Beagle Channel is complete without seeing the sea lion colonies that live on the rocky islands in the channel. They are loud, but you will smell them well before you see or hear them! Most tour boats typically pull in as close as possible to the sea lions.
Cormorants live alongside the sea lions, as well as on their own rocky outposts. These black and white cormorants may look like penguins from afar but are they’re their own bird!
Speaking of Ushuaia penguins, depending on the time of year you visit, it’s possible to do a separate Ushuaia tour just to see the penguins.
Take a Ushuaia penguin tour into the Beagle Channel to Martillo Island and walk among the penguin colonies. This tour also includes time at the oldest farm in the Tierra del Fuego and a chance to learn about more of the birds native to Patagonia. A penguin talk is one of the most popular Ushuaia things to do!
Without a rental car (and I don’t recommend renting one in Patagonia), there are half-day and full-day hiking tours to explore the natural landscape surrounding Ushuaia.
Travelers can even choose to explore Lake Ushuaia in a 4×4 and see otherwise unreachable places. Off-roading tours in the Tierra del Fuego just have an undeniable off-the-charts coolness factor!
The airport is just 15-20 minutes from Ushuaia by taxi and handles international flights to Ushuaia and leaving Ushuaia on SkyTeam and Oneworld carriers, Aerolineas Argentinas and LATAM.
It had taken time to make the journey from El Calafate to Ushuaia. and it was sad to leave knowing that my Patagonia trip was over. As my flight took off, though, Ushuaia rewarded me one more time with sweeping views of the natural beauty of El Fin del Mundo.
Would you like to visit Ushuaia, Argentina on your Patagonia trip?
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