Ushuaia, More than just the End of the World

Ushuaia, More than just the ‘End of the World’

Fiona Black- Antarctica Travel Centre

Ushuaia is located on the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego in Southern Patagonia. Its claim to fame is being the southernmost city in the world. You will see the words Fin del Mundo (end of the world – in the geographical sense not the apocalyptic sense) plastered across all sorts of souvenirs and at landmark signage. Due to this southerly location and its proximity to the Antarctic Peninsula, Ushuaia is also the main port for cruises sailing to Antarctica and has seen a significant increase in visitors over the past 10 years due to the ever increasing popularity of these voyages.

Ushuaia

Visitors often overlook this interesting city as a destination to explore, spending only an afternoon here before embarking on their Antarctica voyage. This is unfortunate as Ushuaia is a lovely city overlooking the Beagle Channel, surrounded by mountains, National Parks and State reserves allowing for some fantastic activities whilst surrounded by beautiful scenery.

Below are a few of the best hiking day tours from Ushuaia that are perfect for those wanting to stretch their legs and experience the beauty of the Patagonian wilderness.

Lake Esmeralda, Ushuaia day hike

Esmeralda Lagoon Hike

Tour Duration: 6-7hrs Hike Duration: 3 hours Distance: 9km return Difficulty: medium level Starts: Ushuaia downtown Ends: You will be dropped off at your hotel

Commencing in the early afternoon in Ushuaia town centre, you will be taken to Tierra Mayor Valley to begin your hike to Esmeralda Lake with your guide. Walk through lush forest and sections of peat bog; which are a spongy consistency and feel as though you are walking on loaves of bread. They can sometimes be damp so it is best to wear waterproof hiking shoes if you have them (if not I suggest taking a spare pair of socks). These peat bog areas make excellent cross country skiing courses in the winter.

Along the way you will notice the destructive work of the beavers – an introduced species to the region which have become a big problem due to their dams flooding areas and killing the native trees, however their lodges create sturdy bridges to walk across.

Walk to lake Esmeralda

Your guide will point out edible elements of the forest including Indio de Pan (Indian Bread) found all over Patagonia which is essentially a type of mushroom growing from swollen tree trunks and branches. Depending on the time of year you may also find Calafate berries. In town you will see jams and liquors made from the same berry.

Indio de pan

Indio de Pan (Indian Bread)

Calafate Berries

Calafate Berries

This hike is not very strenuous and the terrain is mostly flat, with a small incline for the last few metres as you approach the stunning Lake Esmeralda. The lake is flanked by jagged mountains and the water is a cloudy teal colour. Perch on one of the huge rocks beside the lake and enjoy a cup of hot tea and tasty treat provided by your guide.

Lake Esmeralda

On the return hike you’ll follow the stream back to the open areas of the peat bogs where your guide leads you along secluded tracks back to the starting point of the hike.

Lake Esmeralda

Once arriving back at the start of the walk you’ll smell the aroma of freshly baked bread and a simmering stew as you approach a small hut overlooking the Tierra Mayor Valley. As you step inside you can hang your things near the roaring fire then sit down at the rustic but comfortable table to enjoy cheese, home-made salami, freshly baked bread, very good Patagonian wine and a lentil and beef stew – a traditional Patagonian dish served in this region. Vegans, vegetarians and celiacs can be catered for. After dinner you will be driven back to your accommodation arriving around 10pm.

Lake Esmeralda Dinner

Tierra del Fuego Canoe and Coastal Trail Hike

Tour Duration: 8 hrs Canoe Duration: 1hr Hike: Duration: 3hrs Hike Distance: 7km Difficulty: Medium Level Start / Finish: Pick up and drop off from at your Ushuaia Hotel

This day tour begins in the morning with a scenic drive into Tierra del Fuego National Park. Once inside the park you will find the canoes waiting for their next adventure on the shore of Lapataia Bay. After donning some waterproof trousers, gumboots and a life vest, your guides will give you a quick demonstration and safety briefing.  The canoes will be launched and you are off paddling your way towards the Beagle Channel.

Ushuaia day tour, Canoeing Tierra Del Fuego

In actual fact the canoes are more like rafts and take 5 passengers. They are very easy to manoeuvre and extremely safe. As you make your way downstream, the canoeing is at a relaxed pace so you can look out for local birdlife including the ruddy duck, yellow-billed pintail, crested duck, flying steamer duck and, if you are very lucky, torrent duck.

Canoe-Ride

When you reach Lake Roca you’ll disembark from the canoes and enjoy wonderful views, as well as having an obligatory picture with the famous sign advising that you are at the end of the Pan American Highway which originates in Alaska. For many people this sign signifies the end of a long journey, sometimes by car, sometimes by motor bike, and apparently one man spent 9 years walking the entire Pan American Highway all the way from Alaska to Ushuaia. I can only imagine his relief when he saw this sign.

Sign Tierra Del Fuego
Sign for the sailors Beagle Channel

By this stage you will no doubt be feeling a little bit peckish so the group will head to a cosy permanent dining room tent where lunch will be served. Enjoy an entrée of cheese, olive and Malbec wine from Patagonia, as well as Portuguese chicken served with rice and vegetables.

Lunch Tierra Del Fuego
Lunch area Tierra del Fuego

After lunch commence a medium level 7km hike for approx. 3 hours along the coastal path winding through the forest and along the pebble beaches.

Tierra del Fuego

Some parts along the trek you will notice mounds of luscious green grass which seems a little out of place in this setting. Your guide will explain the historical significance of these mounds (middens), which were formed from the leftover shells and seal bones left by the indigenous people hundreds of years ago. The Yamana people, who spent most of their time on their canoes hunting and fishing, would step onto land to feast on shore. Once the meal, usually of seal, was completed they would return to their canoes and leave the remains in a pile on the shore. As many of the families used the same spots to stop, over the years the remains built up into mounds and they are now covered in grass.

Tierra del Fuego

The hike finishes at the southernmost post office in Argentina where you can send a post card if you like. Here you will be met by the bus and return to your hotel.

Post Office Tierra del Fuego

Gable Island and Magellan Penguin Colony with Canoeing

Wind swept tree Gable Island

Tour Duration: 10hrs Canoe Duration: 2hrs Hike Duration: 2hrs Hike Distance: 4.5km Difficulty: Medium Starts / Ends: Pick up from your hotel in Ushuaia

Gable Island is located east of Ushuaia past the ski fields and wind swept trees this area is famous for. Upon arrival at Lasifashaj River your adventure begins with a canoe ride. You will be given waterproof pants, gumboots and a life jacket before embarking. Take in the scenery as you paddle towards the Beagle Channel. Stop along the way to explore smaller islands filled with birdlife. The canoes are very stable and are easy to manoeuvre. It is the perfect way to explore remote islands inaccessible by vehicle.

Gable Island tour

After approx. 2 hours of relatively easy paddling, disembark the canoes and board a small motorboat which will take you to a Magellanic Penguin colony on Martillo Island. The penguins relax on shore and play in the shallow water. They have no predators here so are very relaxed. A few gentoo penguins also call these shores home.

Magellan Penguins Gable Island

After the thrill of seeing the penguins the motorboat takes you to a rustic but comfortable hut on Gable Island on top of the high embankment, with splendid views of the lake. Here you will be treated to a delicious lunch consisting of antipasto, steak or freshly caught fish as well as Patagonian wine.

Gable Island Dining

After dessert head off on a medium level hike for approx. 7km through the terrain of the Island. You will see many beaver dams along the way and you may be accompanied by the friendly local dog, Pirate, who is owned by the ranger and enjoys walking with new friends.

New Hiking companion at Gable Island
Gable Island

The hike concludes on the shore of Gable Island where you will be met by the motorboat to take you to Harberton Ranch, the first farm in the region. Founded in 1886 by an Anglican missionary, Estancia Harberton was the very first sheep ranch established in Ushuaia. It is hard not to notice the 2 large whale bones creating an arch over the Ranch’s gate – apparently they are from a whale that was washed ashore and died of natural causes. Take a few moments to have a look around and take a few pictures before boarding the bus and heading back to Ushuaia.

Harberton Ranch Gable Island
Harberton Ranch
Advice for Preparing for Hiking in Ushuaia

The weather in Ushuaia can be unpredictable so it is recommended that you dress in warm layers with a waterproof jacket. Hiking shoes will make the walk easier however they are not mandatory.
The hikes listed are of a medium difficulty and are suitable for anyone with a basic level of fitness.

MORE INFORMATION

To add any of these excursions to your tailor made South America itinerary or to find out what else is available in Patagonia please contact our experienced travel consultants. Call 1300 668 112 or email contact@antarcticatravelcentre.com.au

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