After a ridiculously short but beautiful plane journey from Rio Gallegos we arrived in Ushuaia – “El Fin Del Mundo” – the end of the world! Ushuaia is the furthest south either of us have ever ventured and is the southernmost city in the world, clinging onto the coast between the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in Argentina.
Ushuaia is very pretty and seemingly nordic in its architecture with colourful buildings clinging to steep icy slopes. Apparently its very busy in the summer months due to the huge numbers of Antarctic cruise ships that make the port their base, however in winter Ushuaia felt comfortable and far from busy.
Ushuaia was a pretty town to explore and fortunately we had unusually good weather while we were there so it wasn’t too snowy or windy. We spent some time exploring the local food of the area, which specialises in king crab and black hake. We also did some walking around the area, including walking for a couple of very cold and steep hours up to Glacier Martial (not my idea!)
We did two main day trips, one out into the Beagle channel and one into the Tierra del Fuego National Park.
The Beagle Channel is named after the ship that Fitz Roy sailed up the channel with Charles Darwin aboard. Before this, boats travelling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans only had the option of navigating through the Magellan Straight to the north or brave the dangerous waters off cape horn. The Beagle channel in contrast is narrower and much more sheltered. The initial settlers clashed with the indigenous group – the Yamana – who lived by the coast of the channel and fed off shellfish and seal meat. Having survived over 6000 years in the region they were tragically and quickly wiped out by the disease spread by the european settlers. In fact Tierra del Fuego got it’s name from the Yamana people. When Fitz Roy first saw the Beagle channel its shores were lined with smoke from the Yamana people’s fires so he called it ‘Land of Smoke’ (Tierra del Humo), this was changed to ‘Land of Fire’ (Tierra del Fuego) but the Spanish settlers who felt this was more poetic!
We felt very spoilt on our boat trip with only two other couples and an amazing guide who plied us with mate, tea, homemade coffee liqueur and hot chocolate while explaining the history of the area and the wildlife we were about to see.
We spent time visiting the beagle channel lighthouse, several colonies of different types of sealions, bird spotting and even whale spotting (we were within range of a travelling humpback whale but had so much else to see we couldn’t spare the time to go to explore!) We even visited a small island in the channel to explore the local flora and see a Yamana archeological site before returning to Ushuaia.
Our second day trip was to the subantarctic forests of Tierra del Fuego National Park. Some tracks were shut for the winter due to the ice and snow but their was plenty of walking to fill a day. It really felt like walking through a winter wonderland!
After our few days it was time to head north again to visit more beautiful landscapes in El Calafate, a small town at the southern end of Los Glaciares National Park. It wasn’t going to get much warmer any time soon….