Wanderlust Wendy

Argentina Patagonia Part I: 4-Days in Ushuaia

Day 1: Travel from Salta to Ushuaia

We concluded our whirlwind road trip in Northern Argentina and headed South to explore Patagonia. The first stop was to Ushuaia, a city located at the furthest southern point of the world, and thus claims its “End of the World” title. Argentina is approximately 3,600km (2,300 miles) in length. Traveling from North to very Southern tip took us nearly 12 hours door-to-door. From Salta, we flew into Buenos Aires for a connection to Ushuaia. 

As soon as we stepped out of the airport, the crisp air signals a change of scenery. I had booked a cabin at Cabañas del Martial. After changing hotels every night on our road trip, we were glad to stay put for a few nights. Our taxi took quite a few twists and turns to arrive at our cabin situated on the hilltop. 

After a long travel day, we were delighted with a gorgeous view of snow-tipped mountains. Since there weren’t many restaurants, or much of anything, nearby, we were glad to have our own kitchen to prepare meals. The only downside is the need to call for cars every time we want to go into town. The owners were very kind and helpful, so that process wasn’t complicated. 

Cruise ships for Antarctica depart from Ushuaia. The city center feels like a typical ski town, with restaurants and bars targeted mainly for tourists, and gears shops for hiking, cameras, etc. We took advantage of the late sunset (at nearly 10pm), and hunted around for groceries to make dinner. In this part of the world, fresh produce, other than seafood, are mostly imported and hard to come by. 

Tip: To get around Ushuaia, I recommend taking a Remis, they are taxi with predetermined fare based on neighborhoods. We find them generally cheaper than a taxi with meters. You can find both transportations right outside of the airport. When roaming in the city, the Remis has a white sticker with numbers on the side of its door, and drivers have walkie-talkies. Once, a nice Remis driver who’s waiting for her passenger called another over for us.

Day 2: Cruise Down the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia

We had the idea of going on a boat tour around the Beagle Channel but hadn’t made any bookings. The owner at our cabin suggested that we simply arrive in the morning, and they have boats that leave every day. We arrived at 8am at the tour-operator kiosks located across from the Tourism Office in town. 

Not many kiosks were opened yet, so we went with one that has a boat leaving the soonest – Tolkeyen Patagonia Tourism. The pricing was reasonable, and off we went. Since we had minimized all of our possessions to travel, mostly to summer places, we didn’t own many winter gears. I was glad to have layered on nearly every piece of winter clothing that I owned – windbreakers, down vast, leggings, hiking pants, etc. Despite the height of summer, the overcast days had temperature hovering just around 10ºC (50ºF). 

We opted for the basic Beagle Channel boat tour that cost 3,500 pesos, or around US$60 per person. Other options existed to get off the boat and walk around the penguin colony, or visit Estancia Harberton, an estate built by English missionaries in 1886. Our plan for penguins was reserved for later at Punta Tombo, and the price difference was not worthwhile. 

Sit Back and Enjoy Nature

The tour departed from Puerto de Ushuaia, passed Faro les Eclaireus where the iconic white and red lighthouses stood, sailed down Beagle Channel, witnessed the impressive penguin colony on Isla Martillo from afar, and eventually reaching Estancia Harberton. The majority of the tour descended the boat to visit the estate, and the rest of us had a quiet ride back to the port. 

Being so close to penguins, puffins, and sea lions in their natural habitat, and our relative proximity to Antarctica gave me the chills, both literally and figuratively. Zoos will never be the same again. More bewildering is hearing stories of early explorers who discovered these islands in the late 1800s, pre-electricity, GPS, or wifi. The human capacity for exploration continues to amaze me and put life into perspective. 

The tour ended around 2pm. We explored the city center a bit and found a proper grocery store in Ushuaia, La Anónima, to prepare a decent meal and headed back to our cozy cabin for the evening. Watching the city glistens in the evening light with a cup of warm tea in hand was blissfully relaxing after a long day of a journey at sea.  

Tip: I was initially quite overwhelmed by the number of tours offered online. Choice paralysis led me not to make a decision at all, and I was quite happy with the last-minute tour that we booked. The pricing was also better than what I had seen online. Unless there is a specific tour that you are very keen to go on, I would take a little chance and go with last-minute availability, especially if you around for a couple of days.

Day 3: Hike the Costera Trail in Tierra del Fuego National Park 

After a leisure morning, we packed a lunch and then headed into town for a bus to Tierra del Fuego National Park. The bus station has a map of various routes. We bought tickets for the next departing bus for the Costera Trail and waited. The drivers informed us what time they would come to pick us up. 

Within 15 minutes or so, we were off. The drive only takes around 20 minutes. The driver manages the ticket, and all we had to do was pay the entry fee. The Costera Trail was only around 8km long. We had plenty of time, so we took it slow to marvel at the small details. I was particularly intrigued by these orange mushrooms that were growing everywhere. I had never seen them before. 

A little research taught me that these unique orange mushrooms’ scientific name is Cyttaria Darwinii, clearly named after Darwin, who apparently discovered Tierra del Fuego National Park. Beyond strange mushrooms, I also marveled at purple seashells, beautiful bark patterns, vast seagrass, etc. How fortunate we were to have time to see this world and all that it has to offer! 

The hike took us near the Chilean border. Hiking beneath snow-capped mountains was a sure sign that we were in Patagonia. Along the way, we also encountered some serious hikers with all of their gears. Perhaps one day, but for now, I was happy to return to the town, We waited for our bus pick-up at the visitor center that arrived right on time.

Dinner at El Viejo Marino

Once we got back to the town center, we had dinner at a somewhat kitschy but delicious fish restaurant, El Viejo Marino. This was the only meal that we ate out since prices were quite high in Ushuaia. I had read good things about this classic seafood joint. We got back from the park and had some time to kill, so we got in line early before the restaurant re-opened for dinner at 7pm, and were able to have a table and enjoyed our meal in relative peace. I loved the classic family vibe, and we had fun reviewing flags while waiting for food! 

Day 4: Explore Glacier Martial & Departure for El Calafate

On our final morning, we visited the only site that is walking distance within our lodge – Glacier Martial. It was a fitting preparation before heading off to see Perito Moreno. The pleasant hike, or rather, a leisurely walk, concluded our visit in Ushuaia. 

Tourism to Antarctica is becoming ever-so-popular, and Ushuaia is the kick-off point. To take a stance against over-tourism to the last frontier, Ushuaia will be as far toward “the end of the world” as I will go. For our next leg of Patagonia adventure, we head North to El Calafate, where we will witness an impressive glacier and the infamous Mount Fitz Roy, otherwise known as the Patagonia clothing brand logo.

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