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Antarctica: Sightseeing Around Ushuaia & Tierra del Fuego

Updated: May 21, 2023

In some ways you could say that the actual vacation started on Tuesday, even though we got into Ushuaia, Argentina on Sunday. After working from home from the other end of the world, we logged off work on Monday night excited for the two weeks to come. Early in the morning, we packed all of our stuff that was in the Airbnb and brought our bags downstairs to meet the bus from Tierra del Fuego Aventura, the company that I booked a few different tours with as a package for our time in Ushuaia before and after our cruise to Antarctica.

The first part of the tour was a trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park which is filled with everything from tall mountains to serene lakes and beautiful fauna everywhere in between. Our tour bus picked us up at our Airbnb, loaded our bags in the trunk, and brought us, along with another ten people, about 40 minutes outside of Ushuaia to a train station near the entrance of the national park. After a quick opportunity for breakfast, we boarded our train for a ride through the wilderness.

After a stop about 15 minutes into the ride to get out and walk around, we got back in the train and learned a bit about the origins and history of Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego. It was a penal colony for some of the worst criminals like murders and pirates and some called it the "Siberia of Argentina" because it was so cold. The city of Ushuaia and surrounding area of Tierra del Fuego was focused around the logging industry. Because it was so remote, the prisoners had more free range than at a typical prison once they built a bit of credibility in that they were able to walk around the town. They paid for that freedom with hard, laborious days either building the railroad or participating in logging activity. The penal colony ran from the late 1800's through the mid 1900's.

As we learned the history of the city and park, we rode through the park on the same train the prisoners built with tree stumps interspersed throughout the ride as a reminder of the work that built the foundation of the city we were visiting and the literal route we traveled. The scenery was gorgeous.

After the train arrived, we got back on the bus and drove to our second stop of the morning, the world's southernmost post office, Correo Argentino Unidad Postal del Fin, which is located along the Beagle Channel and you can see Chile across the water from there.

After a quick drive, we arrived to at another viewpoint. This one was about a 5 minute walk from the parking lot to see the Baie Lapataia. The view was stunning and we even got to mail a postcard home.

After spending about 5 minutes taking pictures, I forced myself to put my camera away and just take the scenery in for another few minutes. We headed back to the parking lot and grabbed a snack where we could quickly eat it. We wear masks every time we were indoors a vehicle or store with other people (except when we were eating) because we don't want to risk getting COVID before we even board our boat. Once we're on the boat, it is what it is, but we are taking every precaution beforehand - regardless of how annoying it is.

We then drove to the final stop of our tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park, a viewpoint over Lago Roca. This was another place that you could see Chile in the distance.

We headed back to Ushuaia after that stop, grabbed a very quick lunch at an Italian restaurant inside of a nice food court / market, then headed down to the pier for our afternoon activity - a sightseeing cruise along the Beagle Channel. It started to get very cloudy during the way down to the pier and the sky opened up just as we picked up our tickets for the cruise. The boat was much, much larger than I had anticipated (at least ~300 people). Despite getting there about 30 minutes early, we could not get a window seat which kind of defeats the purpose of a sightseeing cruise. This, combined with the fact that it was quite cloudy, did not create the best atmosphere for a wildlife spotting cruise. We did make the best of it, though, and saw the iconic lighthouse that is well known for people that travel the Beagle Channel.

The sun eventually came out and we were able to see some birds, mainly the South American Tern, and seals on rocks along the water.

We then had an opportunity to get off the boat and go onto an island that had a walking path built onto it. The walking path led to beautiful 360 degree views of the Beagle Channel and surrounding landscapes.

After boarding the boat again we headed back to Ushuaia and our pre-tours in Ushuaia were officially complete. Once on land, we headed to the office for Tierra del Fuego Aventura to pick up our bags and head to hotel that was arranged by our cruise operator, Quark Expeditions, The hotel, Los Acebos, was up the mountain and about a 15 minute drive from the main town.

Upon arriving at the hotel, we realized that we had a problem. We had thought we had booked a three person berth for the cruise, as that as what we had reserved and stressed that we wanted throughout the rebooking process of multiple reservations, but the three of us were in two different rooms and one of us had a roommate. This would have normally been fine as I am used to sharing rooms on many trips, but this was a special trip and the three of us really wanted to spend as much quality time as possible with each other. In addition, this cruise will have a lot more gear, clothes, etc. than I normally travel with and it would be much easier if the three of us could all be on the same page when it came to cleanliness and organization of the room. We called Quark a few times to no avail before being told that we would need to check in with the staff once we boarded the boat the following day. This was a very frustrating answer as is, but was exacerbated by the fact that we (and by "we" I mean my brother and father) had already lugged all of our significantly overweight bags with jackets, boots, ski pants, camera equipment and laptops downstairs to a floor where there was no elevator. All we could do was have someone share the room with the roommate, at least for that night. The other concerning thing was that we had done such a good job wearing our masks since we had left the USA (I hadn't been out in public without a mask for 10 days before departure for the states) and now one of us was sharing a room overnight. Thankfully, this was at least with someone that was on the boat so we were going to eventually interact with them.

Once things were somewhat settled, we decided to grab dinner in the hotel restaurant which, along with many of the other restaurants we had eaten in in Ushuaia, took full advantage of the view it had of the harbor.

We had breakfast in the hotel the following morning before giving our bags to the front desk staff who held them to be loaded onto the ship to be waiting in our respective cabins before we even boarded! During hotel check-in, we were given tags with our cabin number to attach to all of our bags to make the embarkation process that much easier.

The cruise ship had organized a bus down to the town later that morning, but we didn't want to stay up in the mountains where there was nothing to do so we checked out of the rooms and grabbed a cab down to the town. Once we got there, we went to the other hotel that people from our ship were staying at to check in for the actual cruise. This mainly consisted of showing our passports and proof of vaccinations / an attestation that we didn't have any symptoms of COVID before we depart.

Once we were done with that, my brother decided to log onto his computer and do some final bits of work before leaving while my Dad and I went up to the main part of town to grab a second breakfast, walk around, exchange more cash for pesos & then grab lunch.

Then, it was finally time to head to the meeting point for our cruise to Antarctica!

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