Cruises to Antarctica depart from a really neat port town at the end of the world. The southernmost “city” in the world is Ushuaia’s claim to fame. For a city that is isolated from most of the world, Ushuaia has a bustling main drag, a plethora of hotels and an incredibly busy pier. There is no shortage of ways you can fill your pre-embarkation days in Ushuaia to maximize your time and have an awesome pre-cruise experience. You are in Argentina after all, it's worth taking the time to enjoy the fantastic food and wine and to find all of your souvenirs that say you have been to “The End of The World”.
Our cruise aboard the Hebridean Sky included two pre-cruise hotel nights in the Arakur Resort and Spa - an incredible hotel in its own right but also a great place for all of our fellow passengers to assemble and start to mingle before the cruise. Polar Latitudes holds a pre-cruise briefing in the hotel conference rooms explaining how embarkation, luggage and transportation to the pier would work over the next couple days. The timing was down to minutes and there was no way to get confused. We all departed excited for what was to come. With the free time that my companion and I had in Ushuaia, we decided to check out Tierra del Fugeo National Park by participating in a group “trek and paddle” tour in hopes that this might help limber us up after our long flights. The weather at the end of the world proved to be unpredictable and wild. We were picked up in the morning by our guides and shuttled out to the park, where we promptly put on all layers and a rain jacket in hopes of shielding the passing storm. Our hiking portion of the trip began at the Southernmost post office in the world (barring the mailing stations at the Antarctic Research bases). The post office itself was a tiny shipping container decorated by eclectic doodads that the postmaster had rounded up over the years. Obligatory post cards sent, our group was once again out in the remaining trickle of rain exploring the coastal beach forests of Tierra del Fuego while our guide informed us of the passing flora, fauna and exploratory history of the region. The seven kilometer hike led us up and down rolling hills and across beaches to historic sites of the Yamana tribes who used to inhabit these lands and for whom the land was named. The explorers of old rounding the tip of South America often spotted the fires of these tribes on shore- aptly naming the point, The Land of Fire” or Tierra del Fuego as we all recognize today.
After our hike, we all huddled into a park eco dome where a huge spread of chicken and rice, salads, pasta and dessert was waiting for us, as well as traditional Argentinian Malbecs to taste. The group feasted and warmed ourselves up while preparing for our canoeing portion of our trip to come. The sun had peeked through the clouds in the meantime, we all filed out to the beach, stuffed and quite happy, we started suiting up into the one size fits all “Semi-dry” suits and rubber boots provided to keep us dry on our next adventure. I have to say, inflatable canoes are no match for the Patagonian winds, regardless of how strong you paddle. We paddled and paddled and struggled against the wind, stopping to check out passing cormorants and seals, giggling at each others highly skilled paddle techniques the whole way until the guide decided we should probably get to shore and safely back to the warmth of the bus. Looks like we were not quite as strong as the explorers of old.
Our tour ended with a trip to the sign denoting the very end of the Pan-American Highway that runs from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Argentina, a milestone for bikers, and drivers alike. Not a bad way to shake the jet lag and begin our exploration of Ushuaia for one day! Of course this is not the only way to spend your time. Ushuaia boasts treks to hanging glaciers and alpine lakes, 4x4 off-roading tours, cruises along the Beagle Channel, even trips to Magellanic and King penguin colonies if you need to get your fix before the cruise starts! The town is rich with history and the food is surf and turf at its most Argentine. This city is not one to ignore.