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Surrounded by precipitous snowcapped mountains jutting 1500 meters out of the Beagle Channel and vast expanses of unexplored nature, it’s hard to imagine a more dramatic setting for the world’s southernmost city.
The beautiful landscapes and plethora of summer and winter outdoor activities have attracted a rapidly increasing stream of international travelers, many of whom use Ushuaia as the launching point for a cruise to Antarctica. Only 1000 km (670 miles) from the white continent, about 90% of the world’s cruises to Antarctica begin in Ushuaia.
The area’s first human inhabitants were the Yamana, also called Yaghan or Fuegians by the English. Ushuaia is named for the word the Yamana used for the area. There is possibly one surviving Yamana female; the last surviving Yamana male died in 1993. “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace the savage races throughout the world,” Charles Darwin said. He entered what is now known as the Beagle Channel in 1832.
First settled by the Argentine government as a penal colony in 1902, the city has experienced an economic and population boom in the last few decades that have converted the city into a melting pot for Argentines and people from neighboring countries who brought their local cultures and traditions with them. Few of the sixty thousand plus locals were born in Ushuaia or other parts of Tierra del Fuego and came here attracted by higher wages available than in the rest of the country. Currently, the economy is fueled by government jobs and subsidies, port activities such as trade and fishing, petroleum, and, in fourth place, the rapidly growing tourism industry.
Prison labor built a railway providing access that now serves to convey tourists on the apocalyptically named End of the World Train (Tren del Fin del Mundo), now also a major tourist attraction, which now offers tours of the area, including going through the Tierra del Fuego National Park and ending at a beacon made famous by Jules Verne in his novel, The Lighthouse at the End of the World.
The Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego to the west of the city, Mount Martial and the Andean range to the North and to the East, and the Beagle Channel to the South envelop the city. The ski resort Cerro del Castor provides world-class powder and uncrowded slopes that attract families and Europe’s top national ski teams alike. Summer activities include horseback riding, hiking, and mountain climbing inside Tierra del Fuego National Park, itself home to such natural wonders as Lakes Escondido, Fagnano, and the Martial Glacier.
The coastal city itself offers many marvelous views and its own Bahía Encerrada (Closed Bay) surrenders to the cold each year to become a natural skating rink. The city itself offers a historic old town area and the Presidio and Maritime Museum, formerly the old jail where Argentina’s most hardened criminals were sent, and who are now represented by wax replicas of themselves. However, as its name indicates, it is also a maritime museum, featuring historic miniatures of Argentine naval vessels. Ushuaia should also appeal to shoppers; its tax-free status makes it a great place to shop, especially for imported goods.
The boom in travel has donned the city with numerous exceptional hotels, hostels, lodges, and bed & breakfasts that charge a premium for the privilege of staying at the end of the world. The diversity and quality of restaurants are lagging behind hotel infrastructure.
(Telephone Code: 2901, Altitude: 660 ft., Population: 64,000)
Other places nearby Ushuaia: Tolhuin and Río Grande.
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