At the Ends of the Earth
Get back to basics in the southernmost city on the planet by way of three elements: water, earth and air.
Text: DANIELA DINI @danidini
phOTO: rogelio espinosa
Arriving in Ushuaia is always an intense experience, whether you’ve been here before or it’s your first time touching down on this unique landing strip, a narrow tarmac that seems to dip into the legendary Beagle Channel. The sensation of being on the very edge of the world envelops Ushuaia – capital of the Argentinean province of Tierra del Fuego – with a mystical aura like few others.
There’s something floating on the horizon. Beyond the eternal, snow-capped mountain peaks that shelter the city, you can make out a grand yet somehow melancholy landscape, a solitary beauty as fascinating as it is enigmatic. Only a century ago, these same mountains formed an insurmountable wall, making it a sort of natural prison whose extreme geography served as hell on earth for prisoners of all kinds – the glorious natural beauty notwithstanding.
Founded in the early 20th century, Ushuaia was a gem in the rough for pioneers who struggled to tame these savage and inhospitable lands, to give them an identity and make them their own. It was also the final destination for many of these brave souls. Perhaps their spirits can still be felt as we stroll through the city, now filled with people who come and go: travelers from afar, a younger – and growing – generation of residents who were born here, new locals who have made Ushuaia their adopted home and extreme sports enthusiasts who have found the perfect place to practice in the off-season. Ushuaia attracts visitors who like to spend the winter enjoying snow in all its forms or take advantage of nearby forests, lakes and mountains during the rest of the year.
Water: On the Beagle Channel
phoTO: andrés camacho (www.turismoushuaia.com)
It’s dawn. The horizon disappears in a blanket of chilly waters that gives off an indescribable neon halo with the first rays of sunshine. The view from our room at the Los Cauquenes hotel is amazing, extending over the coast of the Beagle Channel. What resembles an immense lake is actually the magical point where the Pacific and Atlantic meet. The area is duly famous for this geographic peculiarity, and sailing on these waters is an unforgettable experience.
The hotel’s ship – the Akawaia – departs from the city’s port. The three-hour tour crosses Ushuaia Bay, reaching the channel via Paso Chico and finally arrives at the Bridges Islands, where passengers disembark to explore the untamed, solitary beauty of Playa Karelos.
The tour takes passengers close to Isla de los Pájaros and Isla de los Lobos, a habitat filled with cormorants and sea lions, as well as the area’s most famous landmark: the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, which illuminates the bay at the city’s entrance. Often called the “lighthouse at the end of the world,” it’s not actually the most southern of its kind – that faro is located on Isla de los Estados – but this spot has an esoteric quality that makes it truly unique. The icy air won’t scare you off, but if you feel uncomfortable, you can return to the comfort and warmth of the boat, where a glass of wine and gourmet delicacies await as part of the onboard service.
Earth: Among Forests & Glaciers
phOTO: facundo santana
Exploring the ends of the earth includes getting to know the urban settlements and the local history, which are inextricably linked in this region. There are two essential attractions in Ushuaia, which themselves share a bond: the prison and the railroad. The old presidio was built by convicts in 1902 and operated until 1947. Today, the prison is a museum in the city’s downtown area.
The world’s southernmost train was inaugurated in 1910 and used to transport the firewood cut by the convicts, often in temperatures below freezing. While the labor might sound like punishment, it was actually a reward for good behavior and as near to freedom as the prisoners could get. The Tren del Fin del Mundo (whose official name in English is the End of the World Train) preserves several original locomotives, and since 1994, the route has recreated four miles of the original 16-mile railroad, which ends inside Tierra del Fuego National Park.
But the region’s most obvious earthly attractions are the forests and mountains, with coihue, ñire and lenga trees that mark the Tierra del Fuego landscape. The most popular trekking routes include the two-hour hike past peat bogs and thawing rivers that culminates at the breathtaking Laguna Esmeralda and the Martial Glacier trek that starts as a mountain hike and ends on ice with crampons. To crank up the adrenaline, it’s hard to beat a trek followed by a ride in a 4X4 along the gorgeous Lago Fagnano.
Air: By Helicopter
phOTO: rogelio espinosa
Pilot and rescue specialist Daniel Moreira is in charge, and there’s no time for vertigo: the view from the helicopter is complete and spectacular. The mountain peaks look even more imposing, and everything seems to change in dimension: the forests look smaller, dotting the landscape, while the ski runs on Cerro Castor seem drawn freehand. The half-hour tour takes us over Monte Olivia, Laguna Esmeralda, Cerro Alvear, Cerro Castor and the Valle del Río Encajonado and finally concludes with a fantastic view of the Beagle Channel and the city from atop Cerro Le Cloché. The helicopter lands on a natural platform of white snow so clear and pristine that it’s almost blinding. At an altitude of 3,600 feet, surrounded by the icy silence of eternal snows, the minutes pass like years and the expression “the ends of the earth” seems less literal and more like true poetry. in
Daily flights to Buenos Aires from Santiago, Lima, São Paulo and Miami, followed by a LAN connection to Ushuaia.
More information lan.com
Hotel Los Cauquenes
One of its programs includes tours aboard the Akawaia.
Dining & Nightlife
Chocolates Laguna Negra
San Martín 513
9 de Julio 168
f: Dublin Ushuaia
Chloe Casa de Té
Barrio Las Raíces, casa 25