A sign at the port of Ushuaia reads “end of the world, beginning of everything”, which perhaps sums up the place well. As the southernmost city on Earth, Ushuaia in Argentina is one of the most popular gateways to Antarctica. The Tierra del Fuego National Park, which spreads across 63,000 hectares, is dotted with dramatic waterfalls and glaciers. Flanked by the Beagle Channel on one side and the snow-capped Martial Mountains on the other, the city itself is a windswept combination of weathered old houses, steep streets and quaint pubs serving up the local brew.
Many hostels in Ushuaia offer free Argentine breakfasts of bread, jam, butter and coffee – the ideal energy boost for a full day’s hiking in the Tierra del Fuego National Park. In the evenings, you can try your hand at a local barbecue, also known as an asado, in the garden of your hostel. Ushuaia hostels often have cosy rooms that come equipped with heated floors and spacious patios that provide panoramic mountain or city views.
A few blocks from shore, Ushuaia's main street, Avenida San Martín, is lined with various bars, restaurants, and shops selling trekking gear. Running parallel to it is Avenida Maipú, which is home to the Museo del Fin del Mundo (with exhibits on local and natural history) at one end and the Think Malvinas Museum (chronicling the origins of the Falkland Islands) at the other. Up-and-coming Kuanip Street is located further inland, with access to supermarkets and eateries, as well as good transport links.
Given that Ushuaia started life as a penal colony, a good place to start exploring is the Museo Marítimo y del Presidio, otherwise known as the Maritime Museum. Formerly a prison, it now tells the story of the city’s colonisation, as well as of the indigenous peoples who have inhabited the area for 12,000 years. You can also spot sea lions and penguins with a day cruise out on the Beagle Channel, stopping off at places like Isla de los Pájaros and Isla de los Lobos.
It's easy to get around the compact city on foot, by local bus or via reasonably priced taxis. Ushuaia Airport welcomes flights from Buenos Aires and El Calafate, and is a quick 10-minute taxi ride from the centre of town. Buses connect Ushuaia with the city of Río Gallegos, crossing the Strait of Magellan along the way. There are also ferries to Ushuaia from Chile.