On the doorstep of Tierra Del Fuego National Park and the shores of the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is the perfect escape into Argentine Patagonia. Its rural landscapes yield a wealth of outdoor activities, while the city itself is full of intrigue. These are our tips on the best things to do in Ushuaia, whether you’re an adventurer, a history-lover or a bit of both.
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Things to do in Ushuaia: in the city
1. Visit a museum inside an old prison
Ushuaia’s old prison is entwined with the city’s history. Opened in the 19th century, it was once a remote detention outpost for dangerous offenders and political prisoners shipped from Buenos Aires. In 1947 the prison was closed after reports of abuse and malpractice. Years later it was opened again, but as the Maritime Museum of Ushuaia, which still operates today.
The museum details the region’s fascinating history of nautical exploration, shipwrecks and adventure. It also tells the story of the old prison. One wing of the building is maintained in its original state, so you can walk around and see what the conditions were like for inmates.
The entrance fee may seem a little steep at 600 pesos, but it allows access to all areas (there are also sections on Antarctica and marine art), and stays valid for 48 hours.
2. Explore Museo Del Fin Del Mundo
If you like your museum trips to be quick and insightful, then the ‘Museum at the End of the World’ is a suitable alternative to the old prison. This small museum in an old national bank building shines a light on the beginning of civilisation in Ushuaia, exhibiting artefacts from the Yamana and Selk’nam indigenous peoples and the earliest explorations.
The exhibits also include a section on natural history, and there’s even some bird taxidermy on display, including Andean condors. Entrance to the museum is 200 pesos, which includes access to a second building, a former governor’s residence a couple of blocks away.
3. Go shopping on Avenida San Martin
Avenida San Martin is Ushuaia’s centre of activity, bustling with local businesses. Mostly you will find a clutter of gift shops, outdoor gear outlets, restaurants and bars.
We used the opportunity to stock up on some gifts for our family, as well as seeking out some last-minute hiking equipment.
For gifts and souvenirs, you can also try the local artisan market down by the port, a cluster of stalls selling local handmade crafts. You can’t miss it when walking along the coastal avenue.
4. Walk along the waterfront at sunset
Ushuaia is built on a slope that leads down to a long waterfront on the Beagle Channel. By the water’s edge, a long coastal avenue stretches the width of the city alongside Avenida Prefectura Naval Argentina.
This promenade is lovely to walk along at any time of day, but it is especially pretty at sunset. As the city faces south, the sun descends over the mountains of Tierra Del Fuego National Park, casting an atmospheric light onto the water.
The coastal avenue is lined all along with sculptures, parks and gardens. It’s also where you will find the famous ‘Ushuaia fin del mundo’ (‘end of the world’) sign.
5. See the city’s unusual colourful churches
Ushuaia is speckled with colourful buildings, some of the most striking of which are churches.
The centrepiece is Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Merced, standing out in red and yellow on the main shopping street, Avenida San Martin. Built by inmates when the prison was still operational, it is another relic of Ushuaia’s history.
On the city’s west side, Iglesia Cristiana Evangélica en Ushuaia is another unconventional church building, with a red-and-white striped tower.
Things to do in Ushuaia: trips, tours and hiking
6. Go hiking in Tierra Del Fuego National Park
Ushuaia is the gateway to Tierra Del Fuego National Park, a maze of forestland, lagoons, mountains, glaciers and waterfalls. With a selection of easy-to-moderate, well-marked hiking trails open to the public, it is an accessible introduction to Patagonian scenery.
We booked a return minivan shuttle from the city to the park entrance, which included the park entrance fee (check with your accommodation for the current prices and times). It’s roughy a 12-kilometre drive from the city, which takes 20–30 minutes. You can also hire a car in Ushuaia to make your own way there – see RentalCars for the best prices.
If you start in the morning at Correo Del Fin Del Mundo (a waterfront looking out on the Beagle Channel), you can hike along an 8-kilometre coastal path. This passes through forest paths before emerging back onto the main road near Alakush Visitor Center.
Then, in the afternoon, you can pivot from Alakush to walk various short trails around the waters of Río Lapataia. We took the routes to Mirador Bahia Lapataia, the Black Lagoon and Mirador Lago Acigami, allowing us to take in the moody landscapes from many different angles. Alakush has a cafeteria which is ideal for grabbing a drink at the end of the day’s hiking. The return shuttle bus leaves from the car park outside.
If self-guided hiking sounds like too much hassle, then you can take a Tierra Del Fuego National Park tour with an experienced local guide.
7. Take the Train to the End of the World
This is something we didn’t get round to doing ourselves, but ‘El Tren del Fin del Mundo’ is a bucket-lister for many people visiting Ushuaia. The word ‘southernmost’ crops up a lot when visiting the area, and this is another example. The Train to the End of the World is a 500mm steam engine that runs on the world’s southernmost railway.
Like many of the city’s icons, its history is closely related to that of the prison. Its original function was to transport timber and other materials to the prison building from Mount Susana, some 7 kilometres away.
You can book your admission ticket for the train in advance via GetYourGuide, which includes free cancellation. During the journey, a guide on board will narrate you through the train’s history.
8. Ascend to Glaciar Martial for the views
Another great day-hike option close to Ushuaia is an ascent to Glaciar Martial. The start of the trail is about 6–7 kilometres north of the city and easily accessible by road. You can book a taxi or return minibus shuttle from the city, and there is no fee to enter the trail.
You can opt to cut out some of the uphill by taking a chairlift up the first section of the trail. We chose to hike it, and it took about 20–30 minutes to reach the top of the chairlift by foot.
From here, follow the path onward until you reach the glacier. It’s not a great hulking wall of ice like Perito Moreno Glacier, rather a splurge across the mountain – we didn’t actually realise when we’d reached it! The path isn’t always clearly marked, so take your time and ask other hikers if you get stuck.
Looking back down from the glacier is a fabulous view of Ushuaia and out across the Beagle Channel. It’s a great spot to enjoy some lunch before heading back down. It took us 3–4 hours to complete the return hike.
9. Have tea and cake at La Cabaña Casa de Té
At the start and finish point of the Glacier Martial trail is a cosy, quaint tea house called La Cabaña Casa de Té. With a great selection of teas, cakes and sandwiches, it has the essence of an English country village café.
Inside, wooden chairs are set neatly around small, square tables doused with pink-and-green striped tablecloths. We couldn’t help but drop in for a cuppa after our hike. It almost felt like home!
10. See a world-famous lighthouse
Perhaps the most iconic image of Ushuaia is Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, or the ‘Lighthouse at the End of the World’. It stands on a small rocky island in the Beagle Channel some five nautical miles east of the city.
The 11-metre-high brick tower is characterised by its red and white stripes. It is nearly a century old and still operational.
The lighthouse itself is not open to the public, but can be reached by boat from Ushuaia. We saw it as part of a day tour on the Beagle Channel (see number 12).
11. Discover history at Estancia Harberton
Located some 85 kilometres east of Ushuaia by road, Estancia Harberton is a historic farm and ranch. It is the oldest farm in the region and was founded in 1886 by Thomas Bridges, an English missionary and pioneer. Bridges learnt the Yahgan tongue of Tierra Del Fuego’s indigenous people, and later compiled a dictionary of the language. Estancia Harberton is still managed by his family.
Its grounds, buildings and gardens are filled with artefacts and historical insights that draw tourists from all over the world. There is also a restaurant in the grounds, and a museum of natural history and marine life.
You can take organised group tours to the estancia by road from Ushuaia. On the way, the road passes through distinctive scenes of wind-whipped trees and peat bogs. Most tours will stop at viewpoints.
We took the alternative option, which was to visit Estancia Harberton by boat as part of a Beagle Channel cruise.
12. Take a cruise to see penguins and sea lions
By taking a day cruise from Ushuaia, you can combine Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse and Estancia Harberton with some penguin and sea lion spotting out on the Beagle Channel.
Check out the main city port at the bottom of Avenida 25 de Mayo, where you will find a row of tourist agencies along the front offering cruises. This is also where you’ll find the tourist information office, which can provide you with local maps and helpful information about tours. It has free wifi too, always helpful in Patagonia!
Alternatively you can book a tour ahead of your trip with GetYourGuide to make sure you get a spot. Options include:
- Beagle Channel and Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse (3 hours)
- Penguin-watching tour by catamaran (4.5 hours)
- Full-day penguin-watching and Estancia Harberton cruise (8.5 hours)
We decided to go all-out for the full-day cruise – it’s not every day you’re at the end of the world, right?! It was incredible to see sea lions and penguins in their natural habitat. We got to see a couple of king penguins too, even though it wasn’t the right season.
13. Hike to Laguna Esmeralda
One of the most popular hiking trails near Ushuaia is a 10-kilometre trek through ancient forests to the turquoise waters of Laguna Esmeralda, the ‘Emerald Lagoon’. The trailhead is located a few kilometres north-east of Ushuaia along the Ruta 3, and as with Glaciar Martial, you can book a minivan shuttle or taxi from the city to hike it independently.
The Laguna Esmeralda trek is a fairly challenging route, with sections of wild terrain and around 200 metres elevation gain. If you are unsure about going solo, there is the option of taking a guided trek.
14. Tour the lakes of Escondido and Fagnano
A little further afield from Ushuaia you can find yet more spectacular lakes. An hour’s drive up the Ruta 3 you can reach the foot of the Garibaldi mountain pass, where the ‘hidden lake’ of Lago Escondido is nestled.
Just a few kilometres further north you will reach Lago Fagnano (also known as Lake Cami), one of the largest lakes in Argentina. Lago Fagnano sits on top of the Magellan Fault, a depression that separates the South American and Scotian tectonic plates.
On a day tour to Escondido and Fagnano Lakes from Ushuaia you can visit these unique lakes with a few stops along the way, including the sights of the Carabajal Valley, glacier viewing points and a breeding centre for husky dogs.
15. Take a scenic helicopter flight
Short of time, but want to see as many of the highlights of Ushuaia and Tierra Del Fuego National Park as you can? If you’re in Ushuaia on a flying visit (excuse the pun) you can do it in style on a scenic helicopter flight.
There are various flight options, from a 7-minute view of the sights immediately around Ushuaia, through to excursions into the mountains with a champagne landing at high altitude.
Where to stay in Ushuaia
Ushuaia has a range of accommodation options for travellers of all budgets.
We stayed in three different accommodations during our five nights in the city. For the first night, we booked a . budget private apartment in Patagonia Austral Apartamentos. The facilities are basic but excellent value, and provided everything we needed.
For the next two nights we stayed with a local Couchsurfing host. Couchsurfing is a brilliant way to find free accommodation, meet local people and find out about what’s going on in the area.
For our final two nights we stayed at Hostel Torre Al Sur, a lovely little place in a central location. It’s run by a local family who were always helpful, and the kitchen facilities on-site were great for preparing our trekking food.
You can browse more accommodation options on booking.com.
The best time to visit Ushuaia
The summer season in Patagonia runs from October to April, which is when most national parks open to the public. If you want to do any hiking or outdoor activities around Ushuaia, this is the best time to visit. Many other tourist attractions like Estancia Harberton only open during summer too. Read more in our guide to the best times to visit Patagonia.
More reading on Patagonia
Check our Patagonia itinerary and travel guide for everything you need to know about planning a trip to Patagonia. For trekking inspiration, see our guide to the best hikes in the region. For practical advice, read our guides to Patagonia trip costs and getting Patagonia around by bus.
Is El Chaltén in your itinerary for hiking trips? Check out our guides to trekking and camping in the area. If you’re heading to northern Patagonia, here’s our guides to things to do in Bariloche and trekking the Cerro Llao Llao trail.
If you are visiting Argentina’s capital en route to Patagonia, also check out our compilation of the coolest things to do in Buenos Aires.
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