We took the morning flight to Ushuaia from El Calafate with Aerolíneas Argentinas. Just an hour, no sooner were we up, we were getting ready to land. I didn’t even have enough time to get nervous! As you may know, I’m not the best flyer in the world.
It’s also possible to travel by bus to Ushuaia from El Calafate but it would have been a very long journey involving bus changes and possible international border crossings and to be honest, the price we paid for our flight seats wasn’t much more than the bus journey.
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Top Tip: Don’t assume bus travel is a lot less than flying. Be flexible with your dates and keep checking the Aerolíneas Argentinas page. They had some excellent promo flights which include your baggage allowance. But anyway we were travelling light as Iberia had lost our luggage on the way over, but that’s another story.
We had four nights booked in Ushuaia. We like to keep travel days plan free, to allow for delays and other unexpected surprises but as it turned out, we arrived into Ushuaia earlier than expected. Ushuaia Airport is very close to the town. It was still too early to check in and being a Sunday morning, not much in town was open, so we settled for a substantial leisurely breakfast at Tante Sara. With a name like Sarah, it just had to be good!
So What Can You Do In Ushuaia?
We headed first to the Tourist Centre down near the port. They have maps and lists of activities to do in the area, and there seemed to be quite a bit to do here.
We were interested in visiting the Terra del Fuego National Park and doing some of the walks. There are hourly buses that depart from the bus station near the Port and Tourist Office. It costs 700 pesos (Approx $18) for a return bus journey. The bus stops at various points in the park, so you can choose one of the trails and meet the bus at the other end. The most popular hike seems to be the Costera Trail which is a five-mile walk, graded moderate and takes around four hours. A list of all the hikes available can be picked up at the Tourist Centre.
As we like the independence of having our own car, we ended up renting a car last minute for 1859 pesos (approx $48) per day, so for around $10 more than two bus tickets, we had greater flexibility. Prices for car rental start at 1299 pesos per day, but as we booked late, they weren’t available.
Close to Ushuaia Port and the Tourist Office, you’ll come across several small kiosks each selling boat tours on the Beagle Channel. The narrow Beagle Channel separates the islands of Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina from the remote islands of Chile.
Taking A Boat Tour On The Beagle Channel
Many of the boat tours on offer featured a stop on Penguin Island, but as we were planning to visit the Penguin Sanctuary in Punta Tombo, on our next part of our Patagonia adventure, we opted to take a Beagle Channel Tour with Tres Marias. The family-run company had good reviews and only took a maximum of 12 passengers at any one time. Some of the boats heading out to Penguin Island took over 100 passengers. Whenever we do a tour, we prefer if possible to travel in just a small group.
We had only been on the boat a short while when we pulled up close to an island, filled with sea lions. The sea lions didn’t seem to be disturbed by our presence at all. And it was so much fun observing their crazy antics. They act like daft puppies! Afterwards, we visited an island known simply as H island because it looks like the letter H when the tide is out! Only Tres Marias Tours visited this island, so we weren’t going to be bumping into any other tourists.
As we came closer to the island, I could see ropes dangling off the rocks. ‘We won’t be climbing up there, surely,’ I thought, feeling the butterflies starting to flutter in my stomach. Apparently, we were. I watched in horror, as our fellow passengers hopped off the boat and swiftly climbed the sheer side of the cliff. With sweaty palms and legs wobbling, and a helpful nudge from behind by the captain, I made it to the top. Everyone else including Jonathan seemed quite calm by the approach. Was it only me who feared plunging into the icy water and being eaten by rabid sea lions?
Feeling more relaxed now, we enjoyed an hour’s walk around the island admiring the local flora and fauna and learning about the indigenous tribes that once used to live in these islands.
I am pleased to say that getting back on the boat wasn’t as traumatic as I feared. Me, a drama queen, no, not at all! From H island, we headed out towards the lighthouse. The lighthouse was fairly small, but the large rock it was on was packed with more sea lions and hundreds of cormorants. So love seeing wildlife in their natural environment.
This four-hour boat tour with Tres Marias which we’d highly recommend despite the scary disembarking and boarding at H island cost 2000 pesos + 40 peso port tax per person (Approx $50)
Driving Route J To Puerto Almanza, Patagonia
Our original plan for today was to head to the Tierra Del Fuego Park for some walking. But the night before, we met some new friends of friends of ours from Portugal (It’s a small world after all!) who told us that two rather large cruise ships would be in port today and guess where all the passengers were heading. But if we delayed our visit by a day, the next cruise ship wouldn’t be arriving until midday.
The weather was a real mix today – From clear blue skies one minute to heavy showers the next. Rather windy and much chillier than we were used to, so as it turned out, it wouldn’t have been excellent walking weather anyway.
So with a day still spare to visit the park, we rented a car and headed off in the opposite direction along Route 3. After about 30 minutes, we spotted a sign pointing to the left, saying route J. Turning off the main highway, we continued our journey down an unpaved road, through forest and small homesteads. It was rather charming. Actually, Route 3 through the mountains was rather scenic too but with a few more trucks and traffic.
Rambling In Patagonia
After around 35 kilometres of driving with no idea where we were actually heading, we arrived in the fishing village of Puerto Almanza, located on the northern shore of the Beagle Channel and almost facing the Chilean Port of Puerto Williams.
It was raining quite hard, but we found ourselves outside a cute little restaurant La Sirena y El Capitan, and as luck would have it, it was lunchtime. So we headed inside and enjoyed a delicious fish lunch. Thinking we were somewhere quite remote; we were surprised how quickly the restaurant filled up especially on a rainy Tuesday day.
After lunch, we headed back onto Route 3 to the viewpoints overlooking Lake Escondido. The view of the lake was lovely, but the weather was cold and somewhat windy. Realising that the weather wasn’t going to improve but delighted we had found a great lunch spot, we turned around and headed back to our base in Ushuaia.
Tierra Del Fuego Park, Patagonia, Argentina
Last full day in Ushuaia, so our last chance to make it to Tierra Del Fuego Park. It was grey skies, and it looked like rain, but apart from being rather windy at times, it actually turned into a beautiful sunny day. We headed out early morning to the park as Princess Cruises with 3000 passengers would be arriving into the port of Ushuaia today at 12:00, and we knew where those passengers would be heading.
We drove ourselves to the park along the very dusty unpaved Route 3. It only took around 20 minutes to get there from the centre of Ushuaia.
To enter Tierra Del Fuego Park, costs 490 pesos (Approx $12.50 ) per person, and they will give you a map with all the trails on it. If you wanted to spend another day exploring the park, you just leave your passport details at the information
We popped by the main visitor centre before exploring the park. Inside the centre, there is a small museum, restaurant, and toilets. We have heard that the restaurant here is meant to be quite good and the prices seemed quite reasonable, but we didn’t actually eat there.
We did many of the shorter hikes but combined them into a long walk. All the trails are clearly marked, detailing level of the walk, distance and time. The boardwalk and mirador number three are very popular with tour groups, so if you are looking for solitude, avoid those, but even in the height of summer, it’s effortless to escape the crowds.
If you are coming to the park by bus, and want to do some of the longer walks, the buses will drop you off at the various start points and can pick you up elsewhere.
End Of The World Train
We didn’t actually do this, but it seemed to be a popular excursion particularly with cruise passengers and families. Prices start from 1200 pesos (Approx $30) per person, but that doesn’t include your entrance to the national park. The train travels along the last seven kilometres of rail track which originally left from Ushuaia prison to Mount Susana where the convicts used to gather wood for construction and providing heat. Apparently, on the train journey, which takes around one hour each way, you will learn all about the history of the convicts and train. If you did this, let us know what it was like in the comments. Is it worth doing?
For more details, on prices and train schedules, have a look here.
By now, the tour buses from the cruise ship were coming in thick and fast; it was time to leave.
In the evening, we enjoyed a big crab meal at the El Viejo Marino restaurant. Doors open at 7pm but you need to be at the door at least 15 minutes before to guarantee a table, yes it’s that popular. Slightly cheaper than the other big crab restaurants in town and well worth the wait.
Jonathan really enjoyed his crab dinner, happily cracking the husk and letting crab juices and bits of shell go flying. Me, well I tend to give up quickly when I have to break the husk and fight for my food but the mixed stir-fried seafood we ordered as a side dish was superb.
Top Tip For Visiting Ushuaia, Patagonia
Especially for Ushuaia during the summer months, check the cruise ship schedules, then you can plan your trip to Terra del Fuego National Park and avoid the huge tour buses.
Recommended Restaurants In Ushuaia
- Tante Sara – good for breakfasts. They do an excellent egg benedict.
- La Cantina Fueguina De Freddy – good for King Crab.
- Ramos Generales – Good for sandwiches and baguettes. Located in a former general store and filled with quirky memorabilia. Good for takeaways if you’re hiking in the park or catching an Aerolineas Argentina flight as no food is served on board.
- El Viejo Marino – good for King Crab and seafood. Be there before the doors open at 7pm to get a table.
- Dublin – a bar frequented by locals and not as expensive as most Irish bars around the world are. Good for sharing pizzas and bar snacks. The fried calamari rings were well delicious.
Next stop: Punta Tombo