After our epic journey from Bariloche to Rio Gallegos, we still had another 12 hour bus journey until our final destination, Ushuaia. Since Argentina and Chile share Tierra del Fuego, where Ushuaia sits, the trip involves passing out of Argentina, crossing the border into Chile, then coming back the other way again – a total of four passport controls plus the usual police check points at either end. Oh and just to add to the fun there’s also a ferry crossing to boot. So as well as being a rather long journey, it’s also rather tedious, having to get on and off the bus a lot, plus the scenery’s not much to speak of, except for our first llama sightings and several herds of sheep.
Ushuaia is pretty much as far south as you can go in South America and is the jumping off point for those lucky enough (and rich enough) to be heading on to Antarctica. Some people seem to baulk at the idea of heading down to Ushuaia outside of the December to March high season but to be honest I’m not really sure what all the fuss is about. Sure, it’s pretty chilly, but whilst we were there it only dipped below freezing at night and the days were beautifully sunny – I’ve seen plenty worse weather back home in London. Of course, July and August might be a bit too much to bear but there’s absolutely no reason not to visit in April and you’ll avoid the crowds at this time of year too.
We were staying at the Haush Hostel – a couple of blocks from the centre of town and walking distance from the bus stop (there is no actual bus station in Ushuaia). It’s a cosy hostel with a nicely decorated, modern interior. We had a private double with a bathroom that was shared with just one other room. The only slight downside was that the walls were paper thin and we were right next to the kitchen and living room so you could pretty much hear every word of people’s conversations. Still, nothing a pair of earplugs couldn’t fix. Plus it’s warm and cosy and we even had a proper duvet – just what you are craving after a day out in the cold!! It was the most comfortable bed we’ve had so far on our trip.
The next morning, it was raining and the skies were looking pretty grey so after a quick reccie round town we decided to have a quiet afternoon in the hostel doing some research on some of our upcoming destinations. After grabbing a couple of sarnies from a local deli, we were just settling down when the rain stopped and the sun appeared from behind the clouds. Not wanting to waste the good weather, we promptly ate our lunch, grabbed our coats and the camera and jumped in a cab up to the Martial Glacier.
The glacier sits on top of a hill overlooking Ushuaia, 7km out of town. If you’re feeling fit, you can hike there yourself, but it’s a steep uphill trek so if you’re in less than peak physical condition then you can just take a taxi instead (costs about 25 pesos). Once you get to the top of the hill, you can trek up the mountainside quite easily, it’s not too steep. As you climb higher, edging closer to the glacier, the snow thickens and you find yourself crossing small streams and ice bridges. Look back down the mountain and you’ll see some spectacular views over the town and port, with the mountains in the background. We stopped short of the path onto the glacier itself as you need specialist equipment and strong winds were causing occasional white outs, so we thought as we were equipped with only trainers, jeans and a packet of chewing gum we had best head down for a cup of tea. But we still really enjoyed it and had a fantastic couple of hours up there. Of course, it’s nothing on the scale of Perito Moreno in El Calafate but it’s still an afternoon well spent for some beautiful scenery.
On the way down, we stopped at a lovely little tea shop for a cup of Earl Grey and a slice of cake. Don’t go to the rather bland cafe immediately on your right as you come down the mountain, cross over the other side of the car park for a much nicer ambience. They’ll even call you a cab to get back down the hill, although there may be a few already parked in the car park that you can just grab. We also ran into a rather lovely, albeit grumpy, St Bernard – gratuitous pic below.
Rich was in need of meat, so that evening we dined at an all-you-can-eat parrilla restaurant. For 85 pesos (about £12) you could have your choice of lamb, chicken, steak, chorizo, straight off the barbecue, plus the other usual innards that we prefer to steer clear of, and as much as you liked from the salad and vegetable bar, as well as a dessert. After two ‘small’ (relatively speaking) helpings I was stuffed, but Rich managed to consume an impressive quantity of livestock!! The place was packed, and by the time we were finishing up there was a queue of people waiting for tables.
The following day the sun was still shining, so we decided to go out on a Beagle Channel boat tour. There are tons of operators down at the port with a wide array of boats available, all offering pretty much the same tours. Given the cold, we decided to opt for one of the larger, more comfortable boats instead of one of the small fishing vessels.
In the high season, you can see penguins, but we were informed they’d left two days ago. We still got to see plenty of other birds though (mostly cormorants), plus some pretty awesome sealions! The boat was surprisingly busy considering the lady at the tour desk had told us things were very quiet – it must be super-crowded in the high season. We had a pleasant, if rather chilly, trip lasting a couple of hours – the boat gets pretty close to the wildlife and there’s plenty of opportunities to take photos. It’s a shame we missed the penguins but I guess that’s one of the downsides to coming to Patagonia late in the season. Even so, it was a worthwhile trip which is a must if you are coming to Ushuaia.
On our final day, we opted for a fairly quiet one. We thought about heading out to Tierra del Fuego National Park but with the bus and the park entrance fee it worked out fairly expensive so we decided to give it a miss and catch up on the planning we were supposed to do on our first day. Besides, we had to be up at 4am to catch our bus back to Rio Gallegos…