A December 1985 trip
to Ushuaia by Robert Raymond Ingledew
Quote: 22 years is a very long time... but finally I visited this paradise on earth for the third time, enjoying these incredible sceneries; was unable to go fishing in Lake Fagnano (highly recommended) The landscape seems taken from a fairy tale. It is also the Southernmost city of the world.
When you walk along the coastal avenue and turn left towards Bahía Encerrada, you just imagine how beautiful it must be to navigate the channel. The city is beautiful from any angle; it is just below the Andes. As I said in my previous experience, the distance from the downtown to the Martial Glacier is only five to six miles. Everything is so near. You have two options for navigating the channel: one is to Isla de los Pinguinos (Penguin Island; it leaves only in the afternoon) and the other one goes to a lighthouse, to Isla de los Pájaros (Birds Island), to Isla de los Lobos (Seals Island) and to another island where you do two hours trekking and have a panoramic view of the Beagle Channel. This tour costs 110 pesos (37 dollars) and is the option I took. The same tour without the trekking costs 5 dollars less. The tour to Penguin Island is more expensive: 190 pesos, or 63 dollars. Winds are strong in the Beagle Channel, so the tour can be modified, either regarding the order of the tour, or even shortened if winds threaten navigation. In our case they changed the itinerary but we saw everything.
On board we were served a snack (sweet cookies in abundance and soft drinks, coffee and tea). There was no additional cost for the snack. We first visited the Les Eclareirs lighthouse, then we navigated to the Seals Island where we saw a number of seals, but mostly a large variety of birds. Our next stop was the Birds Island, where we saw literally thousands of birds, mostly Royal and Imperial Cormorans. I really enjoyed this beautiful sight. On the way back we did a 2-hour trekking on an island where the Ona Indians used to live, paid attention to the vegetation in the island, but mostly enjoyed the panoramic scenery of the city of Ushuaia (it was near enough to take panoramic photos). You have 3 options for taking this tour: you can go on a sail boat, on a small catamaran, or on a motorboat. I was assigned to this 12-passenger boat, and really enjoyed the trip. We left at 9.30am and arrived back at 1.30pm. As soon as I got back I went to have a cup of coffee at the YPF/Repsol gasoline station that is just in front of the place from where traffic vans leave to the Tierra del Fuego National Park (Lago Roca or Bahía Lapataia). Traffic vans run every hour, the round trip costs 25 pesos (8 dollars) and you can come back on any timetable of the same company.
As the traffic van was going first to Lapataia bay (in any case, I saw it on the way back), and I wanted to go to lake Roca, I got off the traffic van at the crossroads and walked less than a mile along the river and up to the lake. All the scenery is beautiful, but in honor to honesty, I must say that the scenery is more beautiful in the areas surrounding the city of Ushuaia. I walked through a lenga forest, and came to the most beautiful campground I have ever seen: Lago Roca. It is in the forest, your tent is protected from winds by the forest, you are just 500 feet away from the lake, bathrooms are flawless, and they have a very nice cafeteria and convenience store in the campgrounds. If you go camping, I do not have the slightest doubt that this is your very best option in Ushuaia.
The road from Lake Roca to Lapataia bay is also beautiful. I forgot to say that you have to pay a 6 dollar admission fee to the National Park. There is no additional fee for the other tours. At lake Roca you can fish rainbow trout in the lake or in Lapataia river, but being near the city of Ushuaia, trout are relatively small (average 2 to 3 pound) and chances are relative. You will also have an amazing opportunity of filming and taking photos of wild rabbits. They are all over the place, they are even considered to be a plague, but they are protected inside the National Park. There are also different kinds of birds. The same evening I visited the End of the World Museum (Museo del Fin del Mundo), where you see dozens of different types of conserved birds of the area, including condors and cormorans, part of the hull of a shipwreck, a century-old grocery and a century-old bank cashiers office. Although the museum is small, I found it very interesting. As I said in another report, in two days you can see nearly everything in this area. But stay at least 4 days in case it rains some day, and enjoy this fantastic scenery relaxing.
One caution: I took 17 thirty-six photo Kodak films for my whole trip, and used them nearly all in Ushuaia. So take at least twenty photo films with you. In any case, films are cheaper here than at El Calafate, so restock your films here. I bought the 5 film pack (Kodak Pro-Image 100 ASA) for 15 dollars in Ushuaia. I can buy them for a lower price in Córdoba, but they are far more expensive at El Calafate. From Ushuaia you can also take cruises to Punta Arenas (Mare Australis, 5 day navigation) and to the Antarctic. This last tour costs 3000 dollars per person. Enjoy your stay in Ushuaia. I know you will never forget this destination.
El Calafate, Ushuaia and Las Leñas are the 3 most expensive destinations in Argentina. Come with enough money, or you may not enjoy your stay thoroughly. However, car rental costs only 50 dollars per day with 130 free miles, and gasoline costs half the price regarding central and northern Argentina: 1.20 dollars per gallon.
The Las Hayas Hotel and Resort (5 stars) has the most beautiful view of Ushuaia, but is out of town. Taxis to the downtown are not expensive (maybe 3 dollars), but it is not near enough to go walking: it is maybe 3 or 4 miles away. If you are looking for an "in-between" option (located in the downtown, although still expensive).
The Hotel Albatros (3 stars) is a very nice option. I stayed there once many years ago, and found it very comfortable. A budget option is the Cabo de Hornos Hotel (one star) that costs 50 Dollars per night for a single room. Surpisingly, its cafeteria is not expensive. A hamburger with cheese, ham and egg costs some 3 dollars.
Hostería Mustapic (1 star, 40 dollars per night) is another good option. Breakfast is included in all these rates. I chose a far cheaper option, but stayed at a lodge without a private bathroom, and paid 20 dollars per night. If you are interested in this option, the name is Familia Velazquez, Juana Fadul 361 esquina Ernesto Campos, phone (54-2901) 421719. They only have six rooms, so make reservations in advance, and reconfirm them two or three times before you arrive, because the owner is 76 years old and does not have very good memory, so your reservation could fall through...
Hostelling International has an hostel here, but I do not have the information at hand. Ushuaia is supposedly a free port, but I see no price advantage compared with Buenos Aires or Cordoba. Photo films can be bought here at lower prices than in El Calafate, so keep this in mind. You have to bargain prices. Some photo shops will offer you the Kodak film for 17 pesos or 6 dollars, others for 12 pesos (4 dollars), I finally bought them for 9 pesos (3 dollars)each (a pack of 5 Kodak Pro-Image films) at a photo shop some 50 feet off the main street. The best place for buying imported things in Argentina seems to be the Puerto Iguazu Free-shop or even Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), next to the Iguazù Falls, not Ushuaia, keep this in mind. But don't buy anything you are not familiar with in Ciudad del Este, and NEVER buy anything on the street in Paraguay, because many falsified products are sold, especially perfumes...
An all-you-can-eat barbecue in Ushuaia costs 9 dollars, plus drinks. You can eat a plate of ravioli for 4 dollars. As a general rule, eating in Calafate is 50% more expensive than Ushuaia and 3 times the prices of Córdoba or Mar del Plata. Supermarket prices in Ushuaia are generally only twenty percent more expensive than in Buenos Aires, so if you can get a room in a hostel where they allow you to cook, you will save a lot of money...
Price of tours: Navigation of the Beagle Channel: 37 dollars or 63 dollars with Penguin island. Traffic vans to Lake Roca: 8 dollars and to Lapataia Bay 10 dollars, in both cases for the round trip). These traffic vans (and the ones below) leave next to the YPF/Respsol gasoline station, where you can have breakfast at affordable prices. Traffic vans to Lakes Fagnano and Escondido: 20 dollars (round trip). Taxi to Martial Glacier 4 dollars each way, plus 8 dollars for the chair lift. Taxi to the Cerro Castor ski center (some 20 miles away): This is the most expensive destination. It should cost some 15 dollars each way, but check with the taxi driver. Here there is both a cable car and then a chair lift. Each one should be costing some 8 dollars per person.
Fishign tours: Fly-fishing Ushuaia offers a full-day tour to lakes Escondido and Fagnano, Ewan river and Tolhuin for only 120 dollars including transportation to the fishing sites, fishing gear, motorboat, gasoline and meal, starting at only 120 dollars per person (minimum two persons). Fagnano lake boasts huge brown and sea trout with an average weight of 5 pounds, that in some cases weigh 10 pounds, or more... Trout weighing up to 20 pound have been fished here. This is probably the best fishing deal you will find in Austral Patagonia.
Bus services: Punta Arenas (Chile) There are good bus services to Punta Arenas (6 hours away), cost is some 40 dollars. Rio Gallegos: Bus costs 117 pesos (39 dollars) on MARGA/TAQSA (the best) and slightly less on TecniTrans, that is not supposed to be reliable. El Calafate: The only direct service is that of MARGA/TAQSA, at a cost of 50 dollars for the whole trip. You change buses in Río Gallegos, but continue with the same company. Total travel time is 12 hours to Río Gallegos, and another 4 hours to El Calafate. Buses are very comfortable, semi-bed service, similar to those of Andesmar, one of the best companies in Argentina; if you have every travelled with them, it may give you an idea.
Flights: There are direct flights from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, Río Gallegos, El Calafate, and Trelew/Puerto Madryn. There are also flights to Bariloche and Mendoza, but I am not sure if they are direct, or if they connect at Río Gallegos or El Calafate. Check with Aerolíneas Argentinas or with Lan Chile (www.lan.com). Enjoy your visit to Ushuaia.
Although hotels and meals are expensive in Ushuaia, distances are short and you can reach most destinations at a low cost. Gasoline costs here a dollar and twenty cents the gallon, the same as El Calafate, about half the price you will pay in nearly all Argentina. Car Rental costs 50 dollars per day, including 130 free miles. The Cerro Castor Ski Center is some 20 miles out of town, and a taxi to get there can cost you some 35 pesos (12 dollars) each way. I did not visit this ski center this time, since I was going to continue to El Calafate and Río Gallegos. A taxi to the Martial Glacier chair lift costs 11 pesos (less than 4 dollars) each way. Do not leave the taxi waiting or you will have to pay 12 dollars per hour. The administration will call a taxi for you once you are done. The chair lift itself costs 25 pesos (8 dollars) per person. The Traffic Van to the Tierra del Fuego National Park costs 25 pesos (8 dollars) for the round trip to Lago Roca and 30 pesos (10 dollars) for the round trip to Lapataia. Actually the traffic van goes to both places and runs every hour or so.
I enjoyed walking up the Lapataia river to the lake, where there is a beautiful campground with first quality restrooms, and a convenience store where you can buy food and drinks. I saw many, many wild rabbits in the area, and took some very nice photos. Navigation of the Beagle Channel is the most expensive tour, and costs 110 pesos (37 dollars) per person up to Birds Island (Isla de los Pájaros) and Seals Island (Isla de los Lobos), plus a lighthouse in the channel. There is a longer tour to a penguin colony that costs 190 pesos (63 dollars). I took the first tour of both. Walking in Ushuaia is really enjoyable. It is considered to be the safest city in Argentina, probably because to get to Ushuaia by land you have to come through Chile, with immigration and customs controls in both countries.
Walk over to Bahía Encerrada (the road to the old airport) and you will have some beautiful views of the city. You can also go along the coastal avenue to the east, beyond the port about a mile, and then walk up the hill. There are some fantastic views of the bay. And on the way back from the Martiel Glacier you have some panoramic views of the city. A classical non-expensive trout fishing tour is offered by Fly-fishing Ushuaia. In an 8-hour tour they visit lake Escondido, Tolhuin, Evan river and lake Fagnano, including transportation, motorboat, gasoline, lunch, and fishing tackle, all for 120 dollars per person (minimum 2 persons). The End of the World Museum (Museo del Fin del Mundo) is the only museum I visited. It is very interesting, you have many sorts of birds there, a century-old grocery, a century-old bank cashiers office, and part of the rests of a shipwreck (the Sarmiento ship, that used to travel from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires). There is also a very nice aquarium (it was closed when I went), another museum at last-century prison, and the Train to the End of the World, that follows more or less the same road to lake Roca, and also has its own museum. This train costs some 20 dollars per passenger, and seems to be interesting. I did the same tour on a traffic van at a lower cost.
At Ushuaia you can also buy Cruises to the Antartic at a cost of some 3,000 dollars, and the Mare Australis Cruise to Punta Arenas (it takes 4 or 5 days and operates from October to April), visiting glaciers, penguin colonies and other attractions. Have a look at their website: www.australis.com/EN/index.php. You certainly have a number of options in Ushuaia, that increase if you are fond of trekking. Weather is very variable here, so go prepared with a raincoat just in case you need it. Forget shopping here, unless you need something, because prices are more or less the same as in the rest of Argentina. The Iguazú Falls free shop has better prices… If you buy photo films (you will need some 20 films), buy the Kodak Pro-Image in closed boxes (5 films) and you will get a good discount. I paid 15 dollars for a 5-film pack (36 photos each).
Cerro Castor is the newest ski center in Argentina. Although mountains are not very high in Tierra del Fuego, climate is cold and snow lasts most of the year round. It is located at a distance of 15 miles from the city of Ushuaia, has 15 tracks for ski, an elevation capacity of 4,000 persons per hour and a children's ski school with twenty instructors. It has 2 cable cars, one ski lift and one chair lift. Prices should be similar to the Martial Glacier chair lift, that costs 25 pesos (8 dollars) per person, and twenty percent of that value for Senior citizens over 65. The base of this ski center is at only 195 meters (650 feet) above sea level, and its maximum altitude is 1057 meters (3500 feet), also above sea level. Taxis to this center are not expensive, and as far as I know there is not traffic van to come here, except maybe during the ski season. If it runs in winter, the cost should be similar to that of the Tierra del Fuego National Park, some 10 dollars for a round trip in traffic van, and maybe 15 to 18 dollars each way for a ride on a taxi.
Snowboard is also practised here. The ski season is normally from the 9th of July to the 16th of October, and could vary slightly from one year to another. Remember that car rental here costs 50 dollars per day and that gasoline costs 1,20 dollars the gallon, half what it costs in most Argentina. However, distances are short, so taxis should be fine. On the other hand, the Martial Glacier also has a chair lift, and is located at a distance of only five miles from the downtown. It has a fantastic scenery. The chairlift goes up the mountain over a roaring stream that brings the water from the glacier. There is a cafeteria at the base of the glacier, and a tea room about a block away. I prefer the tea room because it is located in the woods and next to the stream, in a beautiful setting. The chair lift takes 15 minutes to reach the top. From there you must continue walking about one hour each way to reach the base of the glacier. I really enjoyed the scenery. It may be far smaller than the Perito Moreno Glacier, but the view is very colorful. You see the stream coming out from under the ice and disappearing again. This is why it is unwise to walk on the ice, because it could crack and you could get soaked in the frozen water of the stream. There is also a cafeteria at the top of the chair lift, although prices are rather expensive. A plate of soup there costs five dollars, but if you want to enjoy the scenery, that is up to you.
One thing I want to highlight is that even though Ushuaia is expensive, it is a highly recommended destination. Everything is so beautiful... I took two films to the top of the glacier (left my bag at the base to have my hands free for filming and taking photos) and ran short of film. You will never overestimate the number of photos you can take at these beautiful places. In my trip to Ushuaia and El Calafate I took nearly one thousand photos. From the top you will have a panoramic view of the city of Ushuaia and of the Beagle Channel. There are other viewpoints near the Las Hayas Hotel and Resort on the way back to the downtown. A taxi from the downtown to the Martial Glacier costs only 11 pesos (less than 4 dollars) each way, while waiting time for the taxi costs 12 dollars the hour. So send the taxi back, and request a taxi once you are free at the chairlift offices. Since climate is variable, and you will have no protection once you have boarded the chair lift or while walking, it is advisable to take a light raincoat, just in case, although rain here is normally very mild. Since these two destinations are very near the city and a visit to them will only take a few hours, on the way back you may want to visit the Aquarium (it is closed on Mondays) and the Museo del Fin del Mundo (End of the World Museum) that has very interesting things to see, such as dozens of embalmed birds, including condors, a century old grocery and a last century bank treasury. Enjoy your trip to Ushuaia. I am sure you will. And if you go, don't miss Cerro Castor and the Martial Glacier. Regards from Villa Carlos Paz. I just arrived back this morning from this fascinating trip. Photos will follow.
Robert Raymond Ingledew
Villa Carlos Paz (Cordoba), Argentina