Ushuaia (Oo-SHWAYE-ah), the southern most city on the planet, is Argentina's only port on the famous Beagle Channel and the capital of the Tierra del Fuego province. Just the city's name and the Tierra del Fuego “land of fire” locale conjure up images of exotic travel and remote destinations at the bottom of the world.
Originally built by the Argentines as a penal colony for their worst prisoners (political and otherwise) at the “uttermost part of the earth”, this lovely little city with a backdrop of the scenic Martial mountain range, is a welcome respite for cruisers sailing down the Patagonian canals and an exciting destination place for land travelers.
Ushuaia is a great jumping off spot for trips to Antarctica, sails around infamous Cape Horn and treks for mountaineers and hikers. The city itself and nearby areas, however, also offer lots to see and do. The well-developed tourist infrastructure provides lots of hotels, backpackers' lodges, restaurants and tour opportunities. You can get there by boat like we did or via plane (like we also did) or bus.
The old prison now houses a great museum highlighting the native Yamana people, early Argentine and British settlers and the prison colony itself. We particularly enjoyed the inexpensive “tenedor libre” restaurants, literally translated as “free fork”, but actually all-you-can-eat restaurants, offering fine Argentine beef and lamb as part of the sumptuous fare. We watched tango shows, drank Argentine wine (try the Malbecs) and tried calafate berry ice cream. Get your passport stamped at the tourist bureau proving you've visited the “southernmost city in the world”.
Close by is Tierra del Fuego National Park which can be reached by highway, train (Tren del Fin del Mundo) or by boat into Lapataia Bay. Birdlife and marine life are abundant with penguins, orcas and seals easily identified in the Beagle Channel. There are tours galore.
Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse sits proudly in the Beagle Channel and is supposedly the most photographed lighthouse in South America.
We also anchored in beautiful Bahia Relegada just off the Beagle Channel in order to visit Estancia Harberton, an historic “ranch” dating from 1886 which included Museo Acatushun, famous for its interesting collection of skeletons, primarily marine mammals and birds of the area. Originally built by the Bridges' family, the ranch is still owned and operated by Tommy Goodall, great-grandson of Thomas Bridges. You don't have to sail there; there are tours available or you can drive yourself from Ushuaia.
If you want to read a first-hand account of life in Tierra del Fuego back in the 1940's, read The Uttermost Part of the Earth by Lucas Bridges. It's hard to find, but still available. We also found Lonely Planet Argentina a terrific guide.
A word about calafate berries. They're native to the area and legend has it if you eat them, you'll return one day. We thought this improbable, but I'll be darned if we didn't return to Ushuaia to help a friend move his boat to Uruguay the following year. So be careful what you eat!