The Ends of the Earth: 6 Adventures in Tierra del Fuego

Home to Ushuaia – the world’s southernmost city – and the windswept wilds of Tierra del Fuego National Park, the far-flung tip of Patagonia is well worth the journey.

Photo © iStock/ValerieVS

History Behind Bars in Ushuaia

Founded by the British in 1884 on the edges of the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia started out as a penal colony housing mass murderers and pirates. Although the prison has long since closed to offenders, its doors remain open to the curious who can visit the Museo Maritimo y del Presidio.

Entering the museum isn’t cheap (US $20/$400 ARS), but you can spend hours treading the flagstones of this vast building learning about its infamous inhabitants or stepping into a corridor of untouched former cells still bearing graffiti left by ex-inmates.

Ushuaia. Photo credit: iStock/Sergdid

Ushuaia’s Doorstep Glaciers and Lakes

Surrounded on three sides by vast mountains, Ushuaia has plenty of hiking day trips on offer. Starting 4mi (7km) from the center, a three-hour hike winds up to the base of the Martial Glacier. At the top, expect panoramic views of the Beagle Channel and a lesson in Patagonia’s specialty: four seasons in one day.

Equally popular is the two-hour hike to Laguna Esmeralda, a green-tinged glacial lake located 12mi (20km) northeast of Ushuaia. Shuttle buses (US $17/$350 ARS) drop you off at the trail, which passes through lenga forests and peat bog to arrive at the shores of this stunning lagoon.

Hiking in Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego

Due west from Ushuaia, this is the place for trekking through dramatic, windswept scenery. Its crown jewel is the challenging-but-well-worth-it Cerro Guanaco trail, offering expansive views of the Beagle Channel from the top of the 3,172ft (967m) summit. Rent a car and get to the park early to avoid the onslaught of cruise ship passengers.

Beagle Channel. Photo credit: iStock/Ignacio Leonardi

Further Afield: Estancia Harberton and Penguins

With a rental car, it’s easy to hit up another of Ushuaia’s historical monuments: Estancia Harberton. Hour-long tours of the oldest farm in Tierra del Fuego covering the history of colonization, missionaries, and indigenous people are held in English and Spanish at midday, and  are included in the entry cost (US $14/$275 ARS).

The resident colony of Magellanic, Gentoo and King penguins on Isla Martillo, 37mi (60km) east of Ushuaia, is another top choice for travelers. Avoid the larger ships and instead take an eight-person sailboat tour (starting US $95/$1,900 ARS) – that way, you won’t be elbowing people out of your penguin snaps.

South to Puerto Williams

Cross the Beagle Channel by speedboat to visit the actual southernmost settlement in the world, Chile’s Puerto Williams. Just 9mi (14km) south of Ushuaia, it feels a world away from civilization, a place where horses roam the town’s streets and challenging hikes offer access to pristine wilderness. Don’t be surprised if this ends up being a highlight of your trip to Ushuaia.

Voyaging to the Actual Ends of the Earth

The ultimate adventure from Ushuaia is to the white continent: Antarctica. For most of us, this is a chilly, expensive pipe dream.

But luckily, last-minute Antarctica cruise deals still exist. The best bargains are to be had in January and February, which have more frequent departures; just be prepared to spend up to two weeks waiting to grab that deal.

Want to know more about Argentina? Listen to the World Nomads podcast. How drinking mate defines Argentinians, how to kiss properly when you greet someone, and meet Popi, the scientist who's saving penguins.

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