South America Travel Tips

Ushuaia: literally, the End of the World

Having travelled the whole country of Argentina, the only way to end it properly was to reach the “End of the World”. And so I did.

From El Chalten, I went back to El Calafate airport to fly further south. A bus trip would have been quite a nightmare as you need to cross the Chilean border and then get back inside Argentina throughout the multi-hour trip.

Ushuaia is the closest town to reach the South Pole, being the southernmost city of the world. Being honest with you, during my travels in Argentina I realised Ushuaia is the hub of all the flights and boats that go to Antartica, and I would have definitely loved to take part in one of these 10+ days expeditions.

However, this would have meant to complete my adventure there – official tours are $5,000 and above – and in fairness after walking on top of a glacier I was pretty satisfied with that.

So I went to Ushuaia just for the craic as we say in Ireland, and limited my stay to 2 nights. And I was right – it was pretty cold and the weather wasn’t great either. Just being present in the southernmost city of the world was sufficient.

A perfect way to say goodbye to Argentina, and to spend a few hours remembering what I’ve achieved in these 2 and a half months down here!

Ushuaia – A strategic location

Ushuaia is not what I expected. Unlike El Calafate and other places I’ve visited, Ushuaia is not that touristy (if you exclude the town center).

It’s an actual town, and the taxi driver told me the government is investing big in this strategic place – they want more people to live here and “defend” (as in “protect”) a place that has a lot of resources, such as natural parks, glaciers, oil and of course access to Antartica. If more people move to Ushuaia, find it attractive (despite the weather) and have the opportunity to easily find a job, build a family and buy a house, then the rest is automatically looked after.

Most population work in tourism, but not all of them – many work in factories, electronics, shops and third sector.

My AirBnB was actually located outside the touristy bit, so it was wonderful. The road was full of bakeries, takeaways, supermarkets and shops at half price of the main street. Airport was only 10 minutes in taxi and the center could be reached in 15 minutes by foot. In a pizzeria takeaway I happened to meet a retired man wearing the AS Roma jersey – I couldn’t hesitate talking to him! Well, he used to work for Argentina Airlines and lived nearby Roma airport twice – of course it’s at the “End of the world” that you meet these legends.

Ushuaia overlooks the Beagle Channel, the famous strip of sea that takes you to Antartica. All boat trips get out from there, and then have another 1200km to reach the tip of the South Pole. Tours are incredibly expensive, and let’s not even talk about flying. Of course, the most overheard language while walking in the streets is English, mostly North American accent.

The city is surrounded by the Martial Mountains, which protect it from the very strong winds. Here in Tierra del Fuego it’s not rare to see shipwrecks along the coast. It’s also super cold. The name Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), in fact, comes from the bonfires indigenous people used to lit to keep warm and cook their catch.

Glacier Martial: sun, rain, hailstones, snow…

With only one day available, I decided to go on a hike – why wouldn’t you do that when outside the max temperature is 6 degrees? 🙂

I asked the tourism office if there was anything interesting to climb, and the Glacier Martial, a 1050m snow capped mountain just behind the town seemed the best option.

Weather didn’t look great nor warm, but I put on a few layers and waterproof gear and hoped that Accuweather hourly forecast was going to be right (of course, this wasn’t the case).

Initially you get to walk along a winding road for about 2km. There are trails that allow you to cut a bit, but most of the times you get lost. So I just followed buses and taxis and got to the base of the ski slope, where the hike officially starts. It just fell good to having got there by foot from the city center, as opposed to hop on a lazy taxi!

You go up on the ski slope and eventually reach the end of the cablecar. Then, the hard part starts. You’re in the glacier valley now and the trail becomes slippery, muddy, gravelly and steep in places. Many stop here but of course I wanted to get on top, what would have been the point?

Of course, Argentina would have not been complete without hailstones – and snow. Turning back towards Ushuaia, it seemed pretty sunny and a nice rainbow caught my attention. On top (well, almost on top, the last 100m were not trekkable), the view of the town was pretty amazing and some people were sliding on the snowy slopes. Incredible to think that in just over 2 hours you get to go to 0 to 1000m above sea level and from sunny/cold to snowy/supercold 🙂

The descent was nice too, pretty challenging as it started raining pretty heavily, but once again I was well covered and I didn’t get wet. Once in Ushuaia, I stopped at the bakery beside my house and went crazy once again – oh, such beautiful pastries!!!

Adios Argentina, Hola Chile

Despite in Argentina no one says “Adios” (instead they use the Spanish version of the Italian “Ciao”), my Argentina time was now over. And in 2 and a half months I didn’t even see everything…

From Ushuaia, I found a bus which would take me to Chile in 12 hours, destination Punta Arenas, the first town you get to find in this desertic area of the world.

The landscape of Tierra del Fuego is very much like Southern Patagonia, except for the glaciers. Yellow and brown hills, steppe, a few wild animals, and nothing, nothing for miles in the horizon. The only things you notice are oil plants in the middle of nowhere.

The bus takes you to the other side of the island, and then you need to cross the Magellan Channel by hopping on a ferry together with the whole bus and other cars and trucks. This remote area of Chile has thousands of islands and the only way to get from one to the other is by ferry, usually included in the price of the bus.

So, Chile it is. And I still have to organise most of the itinerary. For sure, I know that the first stop is at Torres del Paine National Park, one of the most visited, most stunning, most interesting destination for trekkers. Not bad for my New Year’s celebrations!

Hasta luego!