Travelling to the Southernmost City in the world is pretty exciting. Sure, it´s a silly symbol, but it´s fun to sit by the seaside and imagine Antarctica is right there, barely 1,000 kilometres away. To know that Canada is 13,000 North. To reach the end of the road, literally.
We were not prepared for how bizarre and expensive was Ushuaïa though.
The city is built on a hill. We huffed and puffed our way up with our backpacks, trying to find a bed for the night. Hostals downhill had quoted 50 pesos a night, much more than we were prepared to pay. We ended up getting an expensive double room because the dorms were packed.
We walked the main street, San Martín. I felt like I was in a giant open-air airport: expensive restaurants, gear shops, duty free selling flat screen TV and the latest computers. This was not a city that catered to backpackers. Indeed, cruise ships stop by every day, crossing Cape Horn, and release hordes of Gore-Tex-clad tourists willing to spend a lot of Pounds or Euro (always welcome everywhere) for an “end of the world” tee-shirt and a couple of plastic penguins. They are here for a day and leave.
Meanwhile, we were stuck in Ushuaia for at least 5 days, because… let´s just say that it´s not that easy to get out of the end of the world. We were also having troubles withdrawing money from the ATM. Most we could get was 500 pesos (about $200). However, we like to withdraw money for the week to avoid paying hefty commission fees over and over again. Well, we never truly understood how ATM worked in Ushuaia. It seemed to be the lottery: sometimes you could get 600 pesos, sometimes 300 pesos.
Prices had risen dramatically and nor our guidebook nor the tourist information office fact sheets were up to date. We still tried hard to make the most of our stay but it was not easy on a small budget.
We went to visit Glacier Martial nearby. We were pretty disappointed: there was more snow in our backyard on any given winter than in the valley we had come to admire. We visited the Tierra del Fuego National Park, despite the 50 pesos entry fee (supposed to be 30 pesos according to the tourist info office…). The 4-hour hike was nice: we faced the Beagle channel, admired forest devastated by Canadian beavers (which were introduced in Tierra del Fuego and are an ecological disaster), we loved the view on top of the mountain. Yet, the landscape was… very similar to Canada’s. Ushuaia itself was quite chaotic , but the harbour (minus the cruise ships) is nice and on a clear day, the surrounding mountains show the jagged peaks.
Yet, after five days, we were ready to go. Being at the end of the world is a cool experience but since our budget would not allow for Antarctica travel (tickets were sold everywhere in Ushuaia from $4,000), we figured there were other places to explore in Patagonia.
So we crossed the border back to Chile… en route to the “Park of Pain.”
This article was featured in the Sharing Travel Experiences travel monthly roundup in November 2009.