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Ushuaia, Gateway to Antarctica: a Beginner’s Guide

Ushuaia holds the crown for the southernmost city in the world and for being the most popular gateway to my ultimate travel dream, Antarctica.

This Antarctica season has seen over 100,000 cruise visitors walking the streets of the Tierra del Fuego capital, and while some were day visitors on passing cruise ships most, including myself, started and ended their icy journey there.

Of course there are travellers who go simply to enjoy Ushuaia’s charms, and to see where the Andes makes its dramatic exit into the Southern Ocean. But if you’re like me and heading there before you make your way to Antarctica, how much time should you spend in this adventure hub and what should you do while you’re there?

When I was planning my journey down to join One Ocean on the Russian icebreaker Akademik Ioffe, I was very aware of the fact that Antarctica is not your everyday cruise.

If something went wrong with a flight and I missed the sail date I couldn’t just meet the ship at the next port. Well, technically I could, but considering it was also Ushuaia that ship would well and truly have sailed and the journey would be over.

So I decided to arrive in Ushuaia two nights before my voyage left, just to be on the safe side. There was no way was I going to let an airline strike or a problem with a plane stop me going on the trip of a lifetime.

Why You Deserve a Night in Ushuaia After Antarctica

As crossing the Drake Passage can be a very rough experience I thought it was also a good idea to spend one night in Ushuaia at the end of my voyage, just in case I needed to regain my land legs and catch up on sleep after being tossed around like a ragdoll.

Fortunately in the end our expedition didn’t get the full Drake (right of) Passage, and so my lack of sleep was more due to the very fun final night party in the ship’s bar.

But there were two great advantages to spending one last night in Ushuaia. First there was the chance to meet up with new friends from the ship for drinks in town that night, and second, being able to gently come back to real life after such an incredible experience.


Believe me after being in Antarctica it’s hard to come back to reality, and I’m so glad I didn’t have to head straight to the airport after getting off the ship as so many fellow passengers did.

I needed a buffer. One that involved being surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains, breathing in the super fresh, cool, crisp air that I had become accustomed to, and a nice big glass of Malbec with a view.

So for all those people following their own Antarctic dream and wondering what to do and where to go in Ushuaia, I’ve put together a little guide.

What to Do in and Around Ushuaia

The capital and tourism hub of Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia is surrounded by strikingly beautiful mountains and is the gateway not only to Antarctica but also to Argentina’s first coastal national park, the 630 km2 Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego.

If you only have a couple of days in Ushuaia, a half-day trip to the national park is enough to experience some of its beauty, while a full day is a good option if you have more time to spare. You can book online through a number of operators in advance, or simply ask your hotel to organise one for you.

Just seven kilometres from downtown Ushuaia, the Martial Glacier is a must.  The glacier provides much of the drinking water for the city, and also offers spectacular views over the Beagle Channel.

If you’re feeling very fit you could walk up and back, but personally I took a taxi up to the chair lift, then as the chair lift wasn’t working walked the rest of the way up to the glacier, and then around a walking track.

Here’s a little taste of how pretty it is on the walk up….

And how gorgeous it is when you make it…

As some of the tracks near the glacier are quite narrow with a steep drop, you definitely want to wear good walking shoes and take your time, especially when a strong wind whips up. When you’ve finished, I highly recommend walking all the way back down into town and savouring your time in this beautiful part of the world.

Also keep in mind that if you are heading to Antarctica, you’ll want to do this before rather than after. As beautiful as it is, the Martial Glacier is relatively small and doesn’t compare to the glacier experiences you’ll soon be having on the frozen continent.

Within the town itself there are a number of museums you can visit. The old Ushuaia prison is the most impressive, and shares the history of Ushuaia and Antarctica amongst tales of some of Argentina’s most dangerous criminals. In fact it’s now four museums in one with a maritime museum, prison museum, Antarctic museum and maritime art museum and is well worth a visit.

There are also day cruises along the Beagle Channel that include penguins and sea lions. If you’re heading to Antarctica you will soon be seeing lots of these creatures so no need to hop on another vessel, but this can be a good option for those visitors who won’t be crossing the Drake Passage.

What to Eat

It’s not news that Argentina is a meat lover’s paradise, and carnivores should head straight to an asado restaurant where world famous Argentinian beef can be found roasting over an open fire alongside whole lambs and other creatures.

Seafood fans are also in a very happy place thanks to the delicious fresh king crabs to be found around the town. Grab a table at one of the crab restaurants and you can select a live one from a tank, or for a more budget friendly option simply go for a dish that includes the tender meat.

For fine dining at the end of the world make a booking at Kalma Resto. Chef Jorge Monopoli is originally from Patagonia and worked at El Bulli before opening his own restaurant in Ushuaia. The menu is filled with delicious, beautifully presented food including Patagonic lamb and those famous king crabs. But with only eight tables you’d best book ahead or risk disappointment.

What to Wear

While you can encounter some warm days, for the most part the temperatures are going to be fresh in Ushuaia, so think warm clothing and lots of layers. Temperature averages range from around 2°C in winter to around 11°C in summer, and you’ll want a windproof jacket to help keep you warm.

Even if you’re not planning to go hiking, think sensible shoes as there are lots of hills in town and the sidewalks can be uneven. Most people embrace a very casual vibe whether they’re exploring the town or sitting down to dinner or drinks.

Where to Stay

Ushuaia has a range of accommodation types, from hotels to B&Bs and hostels both in the city and a short distance out of town.

While taxis are quite easily found and relatively inexpensive, I decided to stay in two hotels close to the centre of town so I could easily walk out my front door and along the main streets.

Hotel Fueguino has comfortable rooms with beautiful views to the mountains and across the channel. There’s complimentary wi-fi and a good breakfast buffet is included. They also have a full service spa, steam room and sauna when it’s time to relax and a business centre if it’s time to get back to work.

Check Prices

Meanwhile Hotel Mil810 is more of a boutique hotel with relatively simple rooms, and a small dining room on the top floor where you can admire the view over breakfast or afternoon tea. Wi-fi and breakfast are also included.

Wherever you stay, as a lot of taxi drivers don’t speak English it is a good idea to have the hotel’s address written down so you can show it to your driver when you’re ready to head back to bed.

Have fun exploring the streets of Ushuaia and making those travel dreams come true in Antarctica.

I stayed as a guest of Hotel Fueguino and Hotel Mil810 but all thoughts remain my own.

You can check out my story about the Antarctica cruise with One Ocean, and also a video of footage I took including close encounters with whales and penguins and incredible icebergs.

Or perhaps you’d like to see Antarctica from above for the first time, as I did? Check out my post on the Antarctica flights that go out of Australia every summer.

Beautiful Martial Glacier above Ushuaia

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