Of all the places that I have seen over the last year one area, I had my eyes especially set on:
While doing research, I started to realise
a) how big the area was and
b) that I better catch a flight from Buenos Aires.
The question was where to?
From what I had heard, the top areas where the Torres del Paine National Park on the Chilean side and the mountains, especially Mt. Fitzroy at El Chaltén. Bariloche, another hotspot was in the North and as I was definitely going to travel South-North it wasn’t the smartest to fly in there.
However, another area to visit came up. Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. That reason alone already sparked my interest; however, I hadn’t heard much about the city, other than it being the starting point for many cruises to Antarctica (which as a backpacker you can only dream about).
I started looking into information online and talked to friends I knew who had been.
Eventually, I googled ‘Is it worth visiting Ushuaia’
Why did I do that? Because traveling that far south meant that you would have to travel up north quite a bit and busses in Argentina are not exactly the cheapest, especially not in remote areas.
Not getting to any conclusion (really, why would I form an opinion from other people?), I decided to go.
And I did not regret it.
I’m going to tell you a little about the areas I visited. I’ll tell you the areas I skipped and what my reasons were. I’m not telling you to go, but I want to give you an idea, what this area can offer.
Let me start by saying that the area in ‘Tierra del Fuego’ is very different from Central Patagonia and Northern Patagonia. The climate is rather fresh and even in summer, you have to prepare for temperatures that rather feel like winter.
The area is all about nature and hiking, so if you’re not into that, then maybe look into other places 😉 Ushuaia itself as a city isn’t what I’d call a ‘highlight’ yet the surroundings make the place.
The main natural highlights to visit (except for Antarctica) are glaciers, mountains, lakes and the Beagle channel.
Compared to Central Patagonia, the area will feel a little more ‘barren’ and the glaciers won’t be as sparkling white as, say ‘Perito Moreno’ close to El Calafate (which you absolutely should visit, no matter how touristy. It’s the most beautiful glacier I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few). However, there is a certain mystical feeling to it, being at this place so far from everywhere else. I felt like exploring places that weren’t overrun by tourists (yet) and very close to nature. It had a basic and ‘barebones’ feeling to it, making you connect with yourself and nature at its basic level.
Staying at hostels was very comfy, like staying in mountain huts, despite being in the city. Everyone goes out for hot chocolate or to stock up on hiking gear. The stores cater snacks and food for hikers and the general atmosphere reflects that. It is for outdoor people (in case you haven’t gotten that by now ;)).
I stayed in Ushuaia for 4 days. I had planned in 1 or 2 rest days as I hadn’t properly hiked in about 2 years and wanted to make sure my body could adapt.
When deciding upon the places to visit, I chose according to a) price and b) exposure to tourism.
That left out a few popular places. The Beagle channel, for example, offers boat tours to a nearby small island with birds. I wasn’t particularly interested and it was a little pricy, so I skipped it. I heard from other people though, that they were happy with the tour. There are many little stands at the port, each advertising for different tours, so just shop around. Apparently, if you arrive right before the tour leaves you might be able to get one of the last spots at a discounted rate (that’s how a friend of mine did it).
The other place I didn’t visit was the National Park. The mini-shuttle bus to reach the park seemed expensive and from what I felt, it was probably one of the most touristy places as it was easy to reach and tours would go and visit. Pictures looked quite nice to me, but nothing I had never seen.
Which places did I actually end up visiting?
My favorite place was probably the least known: Glacier Vinciguerra and Laguna de Los Témpanos
When I enquired about the hike at my hostel, they told me, it was a little tricky to find and that just the day before four people had gotten lost on the trail and had to be rescued by helicopter. They did recommend a tour which we declined. Eventually, they said that we would be ok as long as we had the offline map of the trail on maps.me and made sure to stay on the trail (this was the moment that I finally downloaded this amazing app!!!)
Seeing that it wasn’t one of the main tourist attractions, there was no direct bus to the start of the hike, so we’d have to reach it by a combination of bus+walking an extra 7km or catching a taxi.
A friend and I opted for the cheaper version (of course). We had no trouble finding the start of the hike, which was located next to a café. First, you walk through an (extremely muddy) valley and then you ascend the mountain which is marked by a clear sign. Up to this point, it was very easy but after a while of hiking on the mountain, we realized why we needed the GPS. There was hardly any clear ‘trail’, yet rather colorful markers on the trees that you had to look out for and follow. This was sometimes easy, sometimes a little tricky. We did end up going off trail a little but with the help of maps.me and the GPS got back on track. The hike finally ends up at the gorgeous ice-blue Laguna de Los Témpanos with the glacier as its backdrop. Note, that despite it being sunny and warm in the valley it was very windy and cold on top. You can approach the glacier and I saw some people walking on it, yet we didn’t go too far as it started raining. The view was fantastic though, somewhat surreal or from a sci-fi movie, not a ‘saturated’ colorful view but rather a stark contrast between the ice-blue lake and the white and black glacier. Personally, I absolutely loved it and found it pretty unique.
On the way back, we went off trail a little half-way through to go to another smaller laguna that we found on maps.me. That was a nice cute resting point until we decided to head back down the mountain. By that time, we realized that even though the mountain wasn’t overrun by people, the valley now was. It was a gorgeous day and pretty warm, so many local families were hanging out by the river. It would have been a great picnic spot, hadn’t we already devoured all of our food on the way 😉
We managed to share a ride with someone back into town, otherwise, we would have taken taxis that were waiting around.
This is definitely a full-day hike of about 7h, so make sure you start early!
Grab a friend and maps.me and discover this beauty!
Among the other places I visited was the Glaciar Martial right above the city. This one you can easily reach by taxi and walking (if you share the taxi with friends it’s really affordable as the ride isn’t far and it saves you walking up the asphalt road towards the start of the hike). It is probably one of the most-visited areas in Ushuaia and the glacier is very small and not particularly spectacular, however, the view over the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia are extraordinary. Top tip: There will be a trail leading to your left when you descend the mountain. Take it and walk for 10-20 minutes. You’ll be rewarded with a much more panoramic view than from the glacier. Return the way you came and then descend the mountain.
The third place I visited was ‘Laguna Esmeralda’. Again, a rather popular spot but not too overrun. It was easy to reach by shuttle bus (400 pesos return from the bus station next to the harbor). In hindsight, it would probably have been possible to hitch-hike as the road out of town led right next to it.
This hike was about 4h and you walk through marshland towards a blue lagoon. The lagoon itself was unfortunately quite busy with tourists hanging around, listening to music when I was there, however, the walk was very scenic, with an ice-blue gulping river running through the area and majestic mountains as a backdrop.
A final piece of advice: No matter where you go hiking, it will be extremely muddy, so don’t take shoes that can’t get dirty and best, wear water-proof shoes. Always take a raincoat and a wind-proof jacket, as well as a hat and gloves, you might need it, no matter what the weather looks like in town!!
These were my experiences in Ushuaia. I’m really glad I got to visit this little corner of the world and I hope it helped you decide whether it is for you or not. Happy travels!