Pinned snugly in a U-shaped cove facing the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is a substantial metropolis of 70.000 people. Colorful clapboard houses with rickety staircases and corrugated roofs at impossible angles are punctuated by the occasional bland block of brick or concrete. All rise steeply into a backdrop of beech trees and spirelike mountain summits. Not only is it the most southerly city in the world (Chile’s Puerto Williams is actually farther south, but hardly qualifies as a city), but it also has the distinction of being the only Argentine city on the other side of the Andes. At its tail end, the mountain range is dragged eastward by restless tectonic plates that rattle frequently. To reach Ushuaia by car, you must cross briefly through Chile and then cross the Andes. What you find is a frontier town with lots of character, a rich outdoor life, and a surprisingly cosmopolitan feel. One hundred years ago, the only people crazy enough to live here were convicts in chains. Indeed, the city owes its existence to the prison: Inmates built the town railway, hospital, and port. Now it attracts Argentines from all over the country, who come for tax breaks and plentiful jobs. Visitors find lots to do, whether it’s visiting that same prison, which is now a fascinating museum, or exploring the many attractions of the Beagle Channel. Local residents are welcoming and friendly, with a refreshing hardiness and eccentricity that likely come from living at the end of the world.
Because Ushuaia rests on a steep hill, most businesses, traffic, and people seem to converge on the main street that lies at the bottom, Avenida San Martín. You will soon tire of walking up and down this busy thoroughfare, however, so it’s worth making the effort to climb up and explore the city‘s other streets. The best way to get a feel for the landscape is to walk to the city park and up to the Punto Panorámico, a great lookout point, from where you get sweeping views of the city and the channel. The trail, which begins at the southwestern end of Avenida San Martín, is free. Construction is underway to improve the port and the coastal stretch, making it more pedestrian and tourist-friendly.