visiting Ushuaia, Patagonia, Argentina

Earlier on my trip I’d laughed at people who told me they’d taken a bus to Ushuaia.

Those bus trips are LONG.

But when it turned out that neither ferry nor flights were available, I ended up catching the bus in Punta Arenas. 🙄

The day was 11 hours. But not nearly as bad as I had expected.

Long bus rides can be relaxing.

For the first time on this trip the border crossing Chile – Argentina was efficient. Security theatre for luggage was a fruit, vegetable, meat and drugs sniffing dog.

For some reason I’d never heard much about Ushuaia. But it’s an appealing and interesting tourist destination. Many arrive here by cruise ship.

Ushuaia  is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur Province, Argentina. It is commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world.

… bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range, and on the south by the Beagle Channel.  …

Much of the early history of the city and its hinterland is described in Lucas Bridges’s book Uttermost Part of the Earth (1948). …

the major port of departure in the world for tourist and scientific expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula. …

The vibe in town is END OF THE WORLD. Very far from everywhere.

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visiting Puerto Williams, Patagonia, Chile

FIRST you need get to the end of the world. Puerto Williams (pop. 2000) on the island of Navarino.

There are three ways:

– flight from Punta Arenas
– slow (30hrs) ferry from Punta Arenas
– fast boat from Ushuaia, Chile (45min)

BEST is the slow ferry, I’d say. I returned to Punta Arenas on it over 30 hours.

I arrived on the fast boat. About 45 minutes across the Beagle Channel. That can be a rough ride but it was calm as a lake when I crossed.

Your passport is checked. Then you load on a mini-bus for the 45min ride to Puerto Williams.

Ushuaia is a full service city with a population of about 50,000. Puerto Williams has only 2000 full-time residents, many of those associated with the Chilean Navy.

On a hill, you spend a lot of time climbing up and down these stairs.

It’s certainly a port. There are plenty of boats of all descriptions coming and going during the high season.

I met a guy there for 2 weeks sailing on his own boat.

They’ve made some attempts to decorate the town for tourists.

During the short summer a lot of construction / renovation is in progress.

But if your vehicle breaks down in Puerto Williams, there’s no auto wrecker. You leave it parked in front of your house and let the winter storms break it down.


Far fewer tourists come here than Ushuaia. Those that do want to get as far south as they can in the world. Navarino is the last official town. The next place south is Cape Horn. But you need your own private transport to get there. Or you might possibly find a tour that will take you there.


MANY come to Navarino to hike.

There are a number of developed trails including the famed Teeth of Navarino Circuit.

Another highlight for me was the museum. The southernmost museum in the world is extremely good. We watched a Spanish language film about the indigenous people there one evening.

For some odd reason everyone I talked to enjoyed visiting this very remote town. Sam from Calgary was planning to stay at least 2 weeks.

slow ferry Puerto Williams to Punta Arenas

Quitting on my 4 day hike on the Dientes Circuit, I rushed back to town to try to buy a last minute ticket on the slow boat. I made it by 2 hours.


It’s a WORKING vessel for local people — like the Alaska Marine Ferry — tourists like me use it as an inexpensive sightseeing trip through the Inside Passage in Patagonia.

It cost $167 one way in 2019. That includes 4 very basic meals over 30 hours. It’s run by Transbordadora Austral Broom, the biggest ferry company. The flight on a small plane would be slightly less expensive.

You sleep in a reclining chair. There’s no space to stretch out on a camping mattress on the floor as I’d originally planned.

Better is the Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams direction as it passes the biggest glaciers in daylight. It was dark as we passed them.

Still, it was a gorgeous trip, especially the first evening. Our small group of passengers must have taken tens of thousands of photos.

I posted this photos twice … because it’s my favourite.

Antarctic cruises from Ushuaia

More and more people are keen to visit Antarctica.

I’m one of them.

Most cruises start out of Ushuaia, Argentina as it’s closest.

In the past some have found discount, last-minute cruises for as little as US$2500. More often it’s US$3,500 – 4,000.

I’ve talked to quite a few who did a cruise in 2019. They all paid much more. Sounds like the very lowest price this season was $5000.

Too much for me.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

I’d long wanted to read this book.

It’s on every list of TOP TRAVEL NOVELS.

And it gets great reviews.

I was disappointed. There are no appealing characters. No real plot. Nothing resolved.

It a Sommerset Maugham travel novel writ more poorly.

It’s as over-rated as In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, another title frequently on those lists. (I did love Chatwin’s Songlines.)

The Sheltering Sky is a 1949 novel of alienation and existential despair by American writer and composer Paul Bowles. …

Port Moresby and his wife Kit, a married couple originally from New York, travel to the North African desert accompanied by their friend Tunner.

The journey, initially an attempt by Port and Kit to resolve their marital difficulties, is quickly fraught by the travelers’ ignorance of the dangers that surround them.

The novel was adapted by Bernardo Bertolucci into a 1990 film with the same title starring Debra Winger and John Malkovich …

Sounds like it should be great. But Rotten Tomatoes only has it at 50%.

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

Roger Ebert compared the film to “A Passage to India” and “Picnic at Hanging Rock” – both of them stories about conventional Europeans who find themselves lost in the overwhelming mystery of ancient continents.

Charles Darwin – Voyage of the Beagle

Recommended.

I read this book in advance of heading down to Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) and did find it interesting.

For the time Darwin was an enlightened man. Though he believed the British were doing good bringing civilization and Christianity to the savages, he did come up with the theory of evolution based on this trip. Today the FACT of evolution.

Darwin was open minded enough to believe what he saw with his own eyes.

I was surprised to realize that the Beagle voyage was very late in the takeover of South America by Europeans. Population of Montevideo, Uruguay was already 15,000 by the time Darwin got there.

Magellan got to Tierra del Fuego over 300 years earlier. Cook over 60 years earlier.

Darwin’s captain was Robert FitzRoy.

Mount Fitz Roy (ArgentinaChile) was named after him … though misspelled.

 

The Voyage of the Beagle is the title most commonly given to the book written by Charles Darwin and published in 1839 as his Journal and Remarks, bringing him considerable fame and respect. This was the third volume of The Narrative of the Voyages of H.M. Ships Adventure and Beagle, the other volumes of which were written or edited by the commanders of the ships. …

The Beagle sailed from Plymouth Sound on 27 December 1831 under the command of Captain Robert FitzRoy.  …

Darwin spent most of this time exploring on land (three years and three months on land; 18 months at sea). The book is a vivid travel memoir as well as a detailed scientific field journal covering biology, geology, and anthropology  …

The Dictator’s Highway by Justin Walker

I survived the Gawd awful Walking Patagonia by Caspian Ray on Kindle. The worst book I ever read.

By contrast, the second book I read on Kindle was superb.

The Dictator’s Highway (2015) by Justin Walker. Well written, insightful and superbly researched.

Walker did the Carretera Austral in Chile where Ray stumbled in parallel on Highway 40 in Argentina.

Skip Ray. Read Walker.