Our last stop on our Patagonian adventure was to the El fin del Mundo – quite literally the end of the world. Ushuaia, located on the Argentinian side of Tierra Del Fuego, gets this name because it is the southern-most city in the world. Technically speaking there are a couple smaller settlements further south but Ushuaia’s size and its ability to draw tourists make it the titleholder.
Ushuaia has a dark history and probably one people who come here to admire this scenic town do not realize. In 1896, the Argentine government established a penal colony in Ushuaia to consolidate Argentina’s sovereignty over Tierra del Fuego and to aid in further development. Forced convict labor (and we are talking some of the most dangerous convicts of the time) developed the city.
The history lesson was an added bonus, it certainly wasn’t what drew us so far south. If you spend time watching expedition travel documentaries like me then this city will likely ring a bell. Ushuaia is the city where people don their extreme down jackets, board icebreaker ships and head on expeditions to Antarctica. Sadly Antarctica was not on the agenda and will have to wait for me. That said, Ushuaia offers plenty of opportunities for adventure without having to go so far (or spend as much as an expedition).
Like a lot of Patagonia highlights, Ushuaia has developed significantly through the years to cater to tourism. Streets are lined with coffee shops, tour companies, outdoor gear shops and tons of hotels. There were even 5 star ski resorts behind build high in the slops of Tierra del Fuego. While not a 5 star ski-lodge, our accommodation Hotel Ushuaia was quite central and was a great base for exploring the rest of the town.
Our time in Ushuaia was limited, check out how we spent it.
// Helicopter flight
When in Ushuaia you will often see tiny planes and helicopters buzzing in and out of town. They zip across the city and head into the Andes Mountains for a different view of the gorgeous Patagonia. We decided to book a private chopper ride over the end of the earth with HeliUshuaia to explore the city where the Andes Mountains meet the ocean. They offer multiple options for your flight – ranging from 15 minutes to whatever you want if you are willing to pay for it. As it was my very first helicopter ride, we opted for a 30-minute journey and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
After signing our lives away, weighing ourselves to ensure we were light enough for the journey and sitting through the security briefing video, we were ready to set off on our flight. We patiently waited in the holding room until our chopper arrived. The sound of our chopper roaring in as it landed to pick us up was impressive.
In the blink of an eye we were up in the air, passing by the bay and flying alongside the colorful city of Ushuaia. From above you get a great visual on how large the city is and how it’s sandwiched between the Andes and the ocean.
We navigated towards the mountains and dove into the Andes through the Olivia River and Carbajal Valleys – where Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Revenant was filmed. The chopper zipped past the famous Lago Esmerelda. Fed by the Ojo del Albino Glacier, this beautiful emerald glacial lake sits high in the mountains and can only truly be seen by helicopter. We then got a bird’s eye view of the ski trails of Mount Castor – the southern most ski resort in the world.
One of the highlights of our flight was landing on top of 1,300-meter-high Mount Le Cloche.
From here we had great views of the Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel and the surrounding Andes Mountains – all while the massive chopper blades were whirring above our heads. Our pilot hooked us up with a couple of mini bottles of bubbles (chilled in the snow of course) as we admired the views.
After a short stop we hopped back in the chopper, zipped off the edge of Mount Le Cloche and headed back to Ushuaia. To top it all off – we got a couple of nifty certificates for a successful flight. While I would hate to know what an unsuccessful flight was, it will always be a reminder of the fantastic outing at the end of the world with HeliUshuaia.
// USHUAIA BEAGLE CHANNEL CRUISE
A very popular outing in Ushuaia is the Ushuaia Beagle Channel Cruise. Our travel group opted for this collectively for our last activity together in Patagonia. While the chopper ride is a great option for seeing Ushuaia by air, the cruise is perfect to see the beauty of the end of the world by boat. If you are a nerd like me, then you will also get excitement navigating the same waters as Charles Darwin and Captain Fitzroy’s ship, the HMS Beagle. There are a lot of cruise options and no shortage of companies trying to sell you one in town. Just check out what it is you want to see (and the amount of time you have) and you will quickly be on your way. We chose Rumbo Sur.
Shortly after our boat left the harbor, mother nature presented panoramic views of colorful Ushuaia backed by the gorgeous mountains.
Once in the Beagle Channel our crew made the first pitstop at an island of cormorants. Unlike the flightless cormorants we saw in the Galapagos (Destinations // Galapagos, Ecuador) these penguin look-alikes can fly.
The cruise then continued to another island full of lazy fur seals and sea lions. It doesn’t matter how many times you have seen these guys in a zoo, nothing beats seeing them out in the wild. Oh yea – and they super smelly. That’s not something you get to experience in a manicured zoo.
Continuing further south through the channel we arrive at our final destination – the famed lighthouse. Red and white striped and sitting on a lonesome rock, it is quite picturesque.
After admiring the lighthouse, the Ushuaia Beagle Channel Boat Cruise turns around and zips back to town. On our way back we popped open a bottle of wine and toasted to a lovely trip along the channel and the new friendships we created over the past few weeks in Patagonia.
Ushuaia is a very scenic town and a great spot to visit while in Patagonia. We only spent a couple days here, but if you find yourself with more time, be sure to visit Tierra del Fuego National Park for some of the great hikes, Harberton Ranch Penguin Colony Visit to get you up close and personal with penguins and Museo Marítimo y Presidio for a closer look at Ushuaia’s dark history.