Situated on the Beagle Strait, Ushuaia is the largest city in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, and arguably the southernmost city in the world. In the past, the town has been a missionary base, penal colony and naval base for the Argentine navy. Ushuaia is now a major tourist town, complete with casinos and nice restaurants, and commonly used as a base for hiking, winter sports and cruises to Antarctica.

In the late 19th century, the land that is now called Ushuaia was inhabited entirely by Yamana Indians and a handful of missionaries. At the time of writing (October 2005), there is allegedly one pure-blooded native-speaking Yamana Indian left. An excellent book on the history of the Yamana and their demise is The Uttermost Part of the Earth by E. Lucas Bridges, the son of one of the early missionaries. His father, Thomas Bridges, documented what he could of the Yamana language and found that it had a far larger vocabulary than the English language. Darwin, who famously sailed through the Beagle Channel, thought that the Yamana, were “the missing link”.

Today the town is growing fast as a result of increased tourism since the 2002 economic crash. The government has encouraged this growth by designating Tierra del Fuego a virtually tax-free zone to encourage people to settle (many of the inhabitants of today’s Ushuaia come from Chaco, in the north of Argentina). The cost of living however, is relatively high as all goods have to be transported long distances, usually by container ship.

Climate-wise, Ushuaia is warmer than many assume; although (arguably) the southernmost city in the world, it is no further south than Belfast is north, and temperatures rarely drop below -10°C. However, summers tend not to climb much above +12°C and, as in all of Patagonia, strong winds add a significant wind chill factor.

 

Review of international travel and budget resorts

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