Situated on the Beagle Strait, Ushuaia is the largest city in Argentine Tierra del Fuego
, and arguably the southernmost city in the world. In the past, the town has been a missionary base, penal colony and naval base for the Argentine navy. Ushuaia is now a major tourist town, complete with casinos and nice restaurants, and commonly used as a base for hiking, winter sports, and cruises to Antarctica.
Ushuaia is the capital of the Argentinian part of the Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago at the southern end of South America. The city has in the last decades transformed from a sleepy village to a lively tourist center, so you will not feel quite like you are at the end of the world. The scenic landscape around the city, with good outdoor sports including one of the southernmost winter sports resorts in the world complete with a view to the sea, make Ushuaia a place worth visiting.
The city borders one of the southernmost legs of the Andes and has several urban centers. The mall is about 2 km long and stretches from the freight port past the Avenida Alem (National Road 3). East of downtown there is the industrial area, and the western side is dominated by residential buildings and the airport. Most hotels and resorts, particularly at the upper end of the price scale are on the road to the Martial Glacier.
Prior to the late 19th century, the land that is now called Ushuaia was inhabited entirely by Yámana people and a handful of missionaries. Due to outbreaks of typhus, pertussis, and measles, by 1911, the Yámana had effectively disappeared; as of 2007, there was allegedly one pure-blooded native-speaking Yámana left.
In the late 19th century, the Argentine government established a penal colony in Ushuaia intended for repeat offenders, serious criminals, and some political prisoners, following similar examples by the French and British. The prison population became forced colonists who spent most of their time chopping down the now-protected lenga trees, which they used to build the town. The prison was shut down in 1947, but it and the railway to the settlement have now become the Museo Maritimo and the Tren del Fin del Mundo respectively.
Today the town is growing fast as a result of increased tourism since the 2002 economic crash. The government has encouraged this growth by designating Tierra del Fuego a virtually tax-free zone to encourage people to settle; many of the inhabitants of today's Ushuaia come from Chaco, in the north of Argentina. The cost of living, however, is relatively high as all goods have to be transported long distances, usually by container ship.
Climate-wise, Ushuaia is warmer than many assume; although (arguably) the southernmost city in the world, it is no further south than Belfast is north, and temperatures rarely drop below -10°C. However, it is still cooler and more unstable than on the drier northern half of the island. In the summer, there are hardly any clear days: On most days there are sun, clouds and short rain showers, with temperatures around +15°C. The winters are somewhat clearer, with temperatures around -2°C and a lot of snow. The ski resorts have snow from May to early November. As in all of southern Argentina, strong winds add a significant wind chill factor.
If you plan to hike, you should have weatherproof clothing, and even if you are just visiting the city, you will need both a pullover and a jacket even in the summer months of January and February. In January, the city is full of domestic tourists (which means you should book your accommodation beforehand). There are fewer visitors from mid-February until the start of the ski season in June.
There are several tourist offices. Aside of the central one on the main street (currently closed, the nearest is in the port next to the 'end of the world' sign) there are smaller ones on the airport and the port.
- Central Tourist Office, San Martín 674 (corner of Juana Fadul), ☎ +54 2901 424550, +54 2901 432001, fax: +54 2901 432000, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. free WiFi, toilets