The Best Things to Do in Ushuaia

Ushuaia is one of South America’s most epic destinations—and so much more than just a jumping-off point for Antarctica cruises! Ushuaia, the capital of the Tierra del Fuego province, sits on the southernmost tip of South America in Argentina and is affectionately referred to as ‘fin del mundo’, or the end of the word. If you’re heading to Antarctica or are just travelling South America, here are the best things to do in Ushuaia!

Tierra del Fuego National Park

One of the most popular things to do in Ushuaia is to visit Tierra del Fuego National Park, about 15 minutes from the city center. Tierra del Fuego, which translates to land of fires, includes land in both Argentina and Chile and is renowned for its epic landscapes and biodiversity. 

The park covers around 63,000 sq km and is home to amazing flora and fauna, including the Andean fox, guanaco, muskrat, Magellanic woodpecker, and the endangered Andean condor

Incredible hikes abound within the park, but be sure to stop by the End of the World Post Office and the sign marking the end of the Pan-American Highway, which spans from Alaska all the way down to southern Argentina. 

The easiest way to access the park is via a guided coach tour from town, but those who want to stay longer or do more hikes can also easily go on their own via a taxi, a public shuttle from Ushuaia, or your own vehicle. For non-Argentinians, the park entrance fee is 5,500 pesos, but this is subject to change. 

End of the World train station in Ushuaia, Argentina.
The Fuegian Southern Railway, Ushuaia.

End of the World Train

The End of the World Train (The Fuegian Southern Railway) runs through part of the national park, so many visitors combine a train ride with a visit to Tierra del Fuego. 

Why is there a train station in Ushuaia? Ushuaia was actually home to a large prison in the early 1900s and the train, which only runs for 8km, was built to haul convicts, food, and timber. Timber was essential for both construction and for warmth in the early days of Ushuaia, with convicts spending long days cutting and hauling timber. Eerily, you can still see hundreds of tree stumps left by prisoners while riding through the park. The manual labour forced on the convicts continued through feet and feet of snow each winter, with harsh treatment by guards, so life was not easy for any prisoner who had the misfortune to be reprimanded to Ushuaia. 

As a result, you’ll see train employees dressed as convicts, posing for pictures—yes, it’s cheesy, but if you look past that, the train ride itself is fascinating for anyone with an interest in history. It also offers stunning views of the park and the locomotives themselves are beautiful. Tour operators within Ushuaia have access to train tickets if the website is sold out and commentary is available in several languages, including English. 

Tip: When you arrive at the station, the ticketing process can appear chaotic, but don’t be put off by the crowds. Once you have your ticket and boarding group, the experience runs very smoothly. The waiting area is an interesting museum and also has a small cafe. 

The Maritime Museum of Ushuaia (former Prison of Ushuaia)

Speaking of Ushuaia’s convict history, if you find it fascinating, don’t miss a visit to the Maritime Museum, right on the edge of town. The museum houses exhibits on the town’s prison, along with an art gallery, Antarctic history, and maritime background, and is cleverly designed in the actual former prison—each cell houses different displays. 

It’s a great way to spend a few hours, making it a top option if you’re looking for something to do the morning your Antarctic cruise departs. It’s also less than a 10-minute walk from the Ocean Endeavour’s meeting point in town. 

Museum signage is available in both Spanish and English. 

Martial Glacier, Ushuaia
The scenic hike up to Martial Glacier.

Hike the Martial Glacier

Tierra del Fuego is one of the best places in Argentina to see glaciers—including one just outside of town. The Martial Glacier is just a few kilometers above the center of Ushuaia and is an epic hike at 6 km return.

If you’re staying at the Wyndham Garden Ushuaia Hotel del Glaciar or Las Hayas Ushuaia Resort, the start of the hike is just a few minutes walk away, but if you’re staying in town, you might want to take a taxi rather than walking as the road up from town is steep and has lots of hairpin turns. 

To reach the edge of the glacier itself is a decent hike and it can also be extremely icy, even in summer. However, the beauty of the hike is that you can turn back at any point and still get great views of the glacier. The walk also goes through a serene forest and bubbling brook, so it’s much more to discover than just the glacier. While there used to be a chairlift up the mountain, it closed some time ago and is sadly no more. 

Tip: After your hike, warm up with a cuppa and a sweet treat at La Cabana Casa de Te, possibly the world’s cutest tea house, pictured below.

Ushuaia City Bus Tour

Short on time and want to check out Ushuaia? A top option for those with an hour or two of free time, or those who may have limited mobility, the Ushuaia City Bus Tour is a fun and easy sightseeing trip. 

This double-decker bus tour departs from just next to the Ushuaia Visitor Center multiple times per day and runs for just over an hour. 

Narrated in both English and Spanish, the trip includes two stops where you can get out and take photos. Although brief, the tour gives a decent introduction to the history and culture of the city and the double-decker bus is a fun way to travel. 

Ushuaia sign, town center
The Ushuaia sign is always a popular spot for taking photos!

Explore the Vibrant Ushuaia City Center

Another of the top things to do in Ushuaia is just to wander through the city, checking out the unique architecture, shops, and restaurants. Avenida San Martín is your best starting point and also where you’ll find lots of outdoor adventure shops too – ideal if you’re in need of anything extra before you board your cruise to Antarctica

San Martín is vibrant, colourful, and fun, and you definitely won’t go hungry here! Plenty of cafes, chocolate shops, and restaurants make it easy to find something irresistible. 

The main commercial area of Ushuaia is also a very short walk from the Antarctic cruise departure point in the city, so browsing the local shops is a fun thing to do before boarding begins in the afternoon. 

Sample King Crab, or Centolla

If you love seafood, you’ll definitely want to try centolla! Ushuaia king crab is caught fresh daily and usually served whole, although you can also find it in soups and pasta. 

You’ll find it offered at many restaurants in town, with some of the standouts including El Viejo Marino, Volver, and La Cantina Fueguina De Freddy. If you find the idea of a crab served whole to be a bit overwhelming, not to worry- the waiters are always glad to show you how to crack it open and where the best meat can be found.

Tip: El Viejo Marino in particular is extremely popular and there’s often a line out front. Getting there early is the best chance to beat the wait – and ensure they don’t run out of crab, a common occurrence. 

The Emerald Lagoon, Ushuaia (Shutterstock)

Trek to the Emerald Lagoon

Looking for a day hike around Ushuaia? One of the most popular options, for good reason, is Laguna Esmeralda. The Emerald Lagoon is a surreal glacier lake, beautifully framed by jagged mountains and famous for its milky green hue. 

You can go on your own if you have a car, but the easiest way is via a small group hike from Ushuaia, led by a local guide. The total trail is around 8 km return and, while not overly strenuous, it does have some steep sections and can also be extremely muddy. Honestly, don’t even try it with white sneakers. 

One great reason to go with a local guide is gear rental – many will offer ankle boots and gaiters, which can make the walk much more pleasant and means you’re not dragging gear covered in mud back to your hotel. 

Along the walk, you’ll take in stunning Patagonian forests, and, another benefit of a local guide, they’ll interpret what you’re seeing and tell you more about the history and environment of the region. 

If you’re looking for something more challenging, the hike to Glacier Ojo del Albino is in the mountains behind Esmeralda. That hike begins at the same starting point as the lake, so this glacier hike goes right past Esmeralda. It’s a strenuous hike that should only be undertaken with appropriate gear and an experienced guide but the spectacular views!

Tip: If you’re visiting Ushuaia in the Southern Hemisphere winter months, the mountains are also a renowned skiing destination! The Cerro Caster ski resort is just 26 km from Ushuaia with runs for all skill levels. 

You’ll notice fun street art around Ushuaia, a beautiful reminder to the region’s connection with Antarctica.

Go on a 4WD Adventure

Tierra del Fuego is all about adventure, so a 4WD day trip is an excellent way to experience the terrain. A guided drive through scenic places like Escondido and Fagnano lakes, followed by a traditional Argentine barbeque, is ideal for anyone looking for fun activities in Ushuaia that are off the beaten path. 

Cruise the Beagle Channel

If you’re heading to Antarctica, your ship will travel through the Beagle Channel as you depart Ushuaia, but if you love wildlife, you still might want to consider a Beagle Channel cruise! This beautiful strait runs for 240 km (150 miles) until it reaches the mighty Drake Passage

On a half-day cruise, you’ll sail past the iconic Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse and you’re likely to spot plenty of wildlife, including sea lions, seals, and cormorants. 

Some cruises will go past Martillo Island, home to colonies of both Magellanic and gentoo penguins. Note that the only tour operator able to land on the island is Piratour. Except to pay a premium for the privilege of walking among the penguins – but if you’re not going to Antarctica, it would be worth it for a guaranteed opportunity to see these iconic creatures. 

Ushuaia harbour, Argentina
As you board your Antarctic ship, spend some time on the decks before your departure- you’ll notice idyllic views of Ushuaia before you head off into the Beagle Channel and the Drake Passage.

How to Book Ushuaia Activities

Almost all of the day tours and activities mentioned above can be booked online before you arrive (a good idea if you’re visiting in peak season) or can also be booked locally. If you’re in Ushuaia and are looking for things to do, or have questions about your visit, pop into the friendly Oficina de Información Turística, or Visitor Center. You’ll find staff who can assist in both English and Spanish.

Tip: Not only does the Visitor Center have free wi-fi, but you can also stamp your passport with an (unofficial) end of the world stamp while you’re there.

These are definitely some of the best things to do in Ushuaia, but there’s so much more to be discovered! Tierra del Fuego is a hugely popular domestic travel destination for Argentinians, drawn to the rugged, wild, and inspiring terrain – what will you discover?

If you’re planning a visit to Argentina or Antarctica, Chimu’s Destination Specialists know the area well and would be glad to help!

Author: Katie Dundas