Perched on the doorstep of Tierra Del Fuego National Park and the shores of the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is the perfect escape into Argentine Patagonia. These rural landscapes yield a wealth of outdoor activities, while the city itself is fascinating to explore. Here are our tips on things to do in Ushuaia for adventurers and history-lovers alike.
Things to do in Ushuaia: a brief overview
Ushuaia was the first stop on our month-long traverse through Patagonia. We stayed for five days, which is longer than most travellers do. In the end, though, this was a great amount of time to absorb the city’s atmosphere and explore the nearby scenery.
The colourful corrugated iron buildings and ship-filled port reminded us a lot of Iceland’s capital Reykjavik. After delving deeper, it didn’t take long for us to discover Ushuaia’s own special charm.
Without further ado, here is how you can fill your time in Ushuaia with amazing experiences that are sure to become cherished memories.
Note: I have included details of activity costs in Argentine pesos based on what we paid. The national currency has suffered an extended period of high inflation. We would advise to check the latest costs before you visit through local tourist information or your accommodation. Where new information is available, I have updated prices.
1. 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 for 500 pesos each. This included the park entrance fee. It’s roughy a 12-kilometre drive from the city, which takes 20–30 minutes.
We opted for a day hike that covered around 20 kilometres and took in some of the park’s most beautiful features. From the drop-off point near the park station, we walked down to Correo Del Fin Del Mundo, a waterfront looking out on the Beagle Channel.
From here, we hiked around 8 kilometres through forest along the coastal path until we emerged back onto the main road near Alakush Visitor Center.
In the afternoon we pivoted from Alakush to follow the short trails around the waters of Río Lapataia. The routes to Mirador Bahia Lapataia, the Black Lagoon and Mirador Lago Acigami enabled 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. We did exactly that before taking the return shuttle back to Ushuaia.
2. 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. Some people even walk it!
As with Tierra Del Fuego National Park, we booked a return minibus shuttle to the start of the trail. This cost 200 pesos each, and there was no fee to enter the trail.
You can take a chairlift up the first section of the trail if want to cut out some of the uphill. We chose to hike it. The track was steady on easy terrain – it took us 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 an obvious sheet of ice like Perito Moreno Glacier, and 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 15-kilometre return hike. Don’t forget to bring your camera – I did, and had to pay another 300 pesos for a taxi to go back for it.
The hiking trails around Ushuaia are great training if you’re heading north to take on the W Trek or O Trek at Torres Del Paine, or other multi-day trails in the region. Another nearby option is the Laguna Esmerelda trail to the east of Ushuaia.
3. 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. It almost felt like home.
We couldn’t help but drop in for a cuppa after our hike. For a tea each and a cake to share (which was delicious, by the way) it was 110 pesos. Definitely worth stretching our travel budget for a little treat.
4. 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 (more on that shortly).
5. 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 the ranch by boat at the end of a Beagle Channel cruise. We then took a minibus transfer back to the city.
6. 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.
At Ushuaia’s main port, located at the bottom of Avenida 25 de Mayo, you will find a row of tourist agencies along the front. Many of them offer cruise tours, so shop around to find one that suits you. Our day tour came to 2,220 pesos each including port tax.
At the port you will also find the tourist information office, which can provide you with local maps and helpful information about tours. It has free wifi too, if you’re in need.
After sweeping past the lighthouse and watching the colourful buildings of Ushuaia fade into the distance, our catamaran passed a series of islands where we could see sea lions and pengiuns frolicking.
At one spot, we were able to step onto the island to see the penguins from a little closer. We were lucky enough to see two king penguins even though it wasn’t the right season.
7. 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 400 pesos, but it allows access to all areas (there are also sections on Antarctica and marine art), and stays valid for 48 hours.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
An alternative option for gifts and souvenirs is to try the local artisan market down by the port. This is a cluster of stalls selling local handmade crafts. You can’t miss it when walking along the coastal avenue.
11. Take the Train to the End of the World
This is something we didn’t get round to doing ourselves – partially because of the price – but ‘El Tren del Fin del Mundo’ is a bucket-lister for many people visiting the city.
The word ‘southernmost’ crops up a lot when visiting Ushuaia, 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.
A round trip on the train costs 950 pesos, or if you’re feeling frisky you can upgrade to first class (1,700 pesos) or premium class (2,150 pesos). A guide on board will narrate you through the train’s history.
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 our own private apartment in Patagonia Austral Apartamentos via Booking.com. It was quite basic but excellent value and provided everything we needed. We only paid around 40 US dollars for the night.
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, which was a lovely 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 trekking food. Again, this was great value.
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.
More reading on Patagonia
Are you taking on the Torres Del Paine W Trek on your Patagonia trip? Have a look at our complete guide for first-timers.
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