Port in focus: Ushuaia

Ushuaia enjoys the distinction of being the world’s most southerly city. A grid pattern of colourful, low-rise buildings huddled on the Argentinean side of craggy Tierra del Fuego island and sandwiched between snow-capped Martial mountains and the choppy waters of the Beagle Channel, this is the embarkation port for the majority of Antarctica expeditions. It is also a popular base from which to explore the misty channels and peaks of Patagonia.

Fishing boats in a harbour in Ushuaia with mountains in the background

As such, the city has an exciting, frontier feel. The streets are lined with outdoorsy shops, pubs and asado restaurants offering all-you-can-eat meats roasted over an open fire, Patagonian lamb being the local speciality. Expedition ships tie up along the dock, preparing for the 620-mile crossing of the Drake Passage. Big ships call here, too, on cruises that hug the South American coast, or visit Ushuaia after a detour to the Falklands (which Argentina claims as its own and calls the Malvinas). The town is also one of the two bases of the Chilean-owned Australis line, which offers short expeditions through the fjords.

A lighthouse in Ushuaia in Argentina

If you are embarking on a cruise to Antarctica, you are likely to fly to Ushuaia, three-and-a-half hours south from Buenos Aires, and overnight before setting sail. Alternatively, as a call on a mainstream cruise, you’ll have a day in port.

A Gentoo penguin sitting on an egg off Ushuaia near Antarctica

Gentoo penguin

There is a surprising amount to see. Walking the streets, laid out in a square, doesn’t take long but you can learn about the region’s history in the Museo Maritimo y del Presidio, set in the former prison; Ushuaia was famed as a grim penal colony in the early 20th century. You can also ride on the Tren del Fin del Mundo, the old narrow-gauge railway that used to shuttle prisoners to the logging camps. Nowadays, it’s a scenic ride through lichen-draped forest and past rust-coloured peat bogs and waterfalls. Alternatively, you could take a half-day boat trip out into the Beagle Channel to photograph the iconic red-and-white striped Les Eclaireurs lighthouse and look out for sea lions, whales and, on Isla Martillo, Gentoo penguins.

Top tip

Stock up on fine Argentinian wines and local delicacies like ham, cheese and gourmet chocolates at Quelhue Wine Shop on Avenida San Martin. The range is astonishing, easily as good as you’d find in Buenos Aires, and the service is friendly and enthusiastic.

Sue Bryant
Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer specialising in cruising. She is cruise editor of The Sunday Times and also writes for magazines and websites worldwide. She has written and contributed to several travel guidebooks, including the Insight Guide to Great River Cruises and the Insight Guide to Caribbean Cruising. In 2016, Sue was awarded the coveted ‘Contribution to Cruise Journalism’ award by CLIA for her coverage of the industry. She lives in west London with her teenage children and two dogs.

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