PHOTO: Ushuaia, Argentina. (Courtesy Aerolineas Argentina)
Next time you tell someone you’d go to the end of the Earth for them, do it.
Pack your bag, get on an Aerolineas Argentinas flight and head to Ushuaia, Argentina which bills itself as the southernmost city in the world. It’s not only the jumping off place for cruises to Antarctica just 600 miles away, but an interesting destination in itself.
Surrounded by the Martial Range mountains and a stone’s throw from the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia is ideally situated as a home base for adventure travelers, thanks to the abundance of treks and climbing opportunities nearby. Hikers can climb the relatively small Martial Glacier or trek up the nearby mountain. For those who prefer to take in the scenery sitting down, the cable car up is definitely easier (and faster if you’re short on time).
Sitting on the southern coast of the Isla Grande, the largest of the Tierra del Fuego islands, Ushuaia’s waterfront is filled with tour companies offering last-minute trips to Antarctica and catamaran trips out into the Beagle Channel. These excursions provide visitors with the chance to get up close and personal with the area’s marine life, including cormorants, albatrosses, dolphins, minke whales, not to mention the much loved Magellanic penguins on Martillo Island and the colony of sea lions that inhabit Alice Island.
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Back on dry land, the city’s small size (only 60,000 inhabitants) may lead visitors to think there’s not much to see. However, this fast growing town has more than enough sites to keep even the most well-traveled visitors engaged for several days. With its cool temperatures and proximity to snow-capped mountains, the town itself is reminiscent of Alpine villages thanks to wood-accented buildings and plenty of shops selling ski gear. The Avenida San Martin is the premier shopping district and is filled with stores, restaurants and souvenir stands.
Ushuaia was once a penal colony, making the Maritime and Prison Museum of Ushuaia, housed in what was the former prison, worthy of a visit. Certain cells have been set up to either tell the story of one of the prison’s former guests or showcase an aspect of prison life, while others focus on other famous prisons or polar expeditions. Visitors can also tour the unrestored portion of the prison to see the grim reality of what life was like inside the prison’s cold and crumbling walls. A fun experience is the Historia Fueguina Thematic Gallery, where visitors don headsets as they work their way through the museum’s tableaus that lay out the history of the city. A novel twist to the museum is that visitors have the chance to insert themselves in the exhibits and take pictures with such characters as Charles Darwin as he encountered penguins or the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton.
Other activities include a ride on the End of the World train that follows the route into Tierra del Fuego that prisoners once used to haul timber, and a visit to the post office to get your passport stamped as proof-positive you have visited the southernmost city in the world.