After nearly 12 hours at EZE watching a heavy rain/electrical storm and waiting for our delayed flight to Ushuaia, we were at long last shoveled unceremoniously onto a plane with many cursing Argentines, and thus began our travels to the city that claims itself as the “End of the World.” It should be noted that while Argentina’s Route 3 (RA3) does indeed terminate in the Tierra del Fuego National Park, there is another town farther south, accessible only by boat or plane, by the name of Puerto Williams. We passed it on our way to see the penguins, but did not stop there.
We were picked out by another American – the kind you don’t want to associate with – and felt obligated to split a cab with her. She was shocked that I spoke any Spanish at all, even though that seemed quite logical to me. We waved and parted ways at her hostel. Our cab driver was a gregarious man, and very difficult to understand, but eager to share a little about Ushuaia when asked. He had a booming voice and used exaggerated hand gestures, even while driving. He told us that when he moved to Ushuaia in the 80s it was a town of 5,000, and now was pushing 70,000 residents thanks to the tourism and manufacturing industries, but he still loved it. We eventually established that he could wait for us to leave our things at our hostel in order to drive us to one of his favorite restaurants. He placed a quick phone call to the owner to see if she could stay open for us, and 25 minutes later (at about midnight) we were enjoying a liter of their local beer and platter of seafood. We slept very well that night.
Our days in Ushuaia were cold but pleasant, and while we probably should have delved deeper into the town’s history (used to be a prison town), we enjoyed our stay with day hikes every day, and happily splurged on a “Penguin boat” to celebrate Alyssa’s birthday (a quarter of a century!!). Overall, I thought it was totally worth the extra time and money. With a little luck I will be back when I go to Antarctica with Alyssa and Natalie for our 40th birthdays….
And as much for my memory as anyone else’s benefit:Tips, tricks, and suggestions
All this information is from high-season (including Argentina’s vacation time), prices are likely lower when it’s not high season, but this is what we encountered.
This should go without saying, but Ushuaia is quite cold, so take layers.The city is teeming with tourism, so shop around if you are looking for an excursion of any kind. For the penguin tour, we went with the company out of the green hut on the tourist pier. as suggested by our first duena. 5 hours long and $600 pesos, it was a bit of a splurge but for my friend’s birthday it was perfect. Very comfortable, nice employees, good timing. I think it was the most comfortable and beautiful way to see Tierra del Fuego. If you feel silly going to see the penguins, at least get out on a boat to see the Beagle Channel.
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego:
Go in the morning to make the most of your $120 peso entry fee and maybe give yourself a chance to do one of the longer hikes from the park’s map. There are several cheap campsites accessible by car within the park, and a few more for backpackers deeper in. You can catch a shuttle for $150 RT (ida y vuelta) that offers pick-ups every 2 hours throughout the day – just go down to the “tourist pier” and listen for someone saying “Parque Nacional.” Other options are to go by taxi or hitchhiking (or walking or biking). It’s about 12km from town, and well worth the trip.
Buses to/from Ushuaia:
Taqsa/Marqsa Goes to Ushuaia from El Calafate/El Chalten. Almost more important, there IS a bus company that goes from Ushuaia – Puerto Natales (pushing off point for Torres del Paine) with only a short connection in Punta Arenas. It’s a day bus on Mon-Wed-Fri, leaving at 0700 AM and arriving in Puerto Natales around 9 PM. The bus company is Pacheco. They do not have an office in Ushuaia, but a couple tour agencies sell their tickets. We were fortunate enough to ask the right people and we found a company (I’m sorry, I didn’t write down their name), located very close to the supermarket who sold Pacheco tickets. Another couple we met in Ushuaia was told there was no bus direct to Puerto Natales… Their bus to Punta Arenas took 3 hours longer than ours, and then they had to hire a cab to take them the 3 hours to Natales. Go with Pacheco! $810 pesos, almost direct. There may be one other company that offers the same trip Sun and Thurs, but I can’t say for sure.
Lonely planet is a good bet here, but we were very happy with Galettzi-B B&B with hosts Alejandro and Francis, We also stayed at the big hostel Los Lupinos, which was not awesome, but totally adequate and priced decently (about $140/pp/night for the dorms). Lockers for every bed.