Savannah Grace

Punta Arenas and Ushuaia

With very pretty views out the window along the way, we finally landed in Punta Arenas, the largest city in the Tierra del Fuego region of Chile. It was bigger and nicer than I thought with a nice central plaza and a population well over 100,000. It is relatively flat immediately around the city and generally lacks vegetation too. Weather can be quite extreme this far south. Not so much with very low temperatures but rather with very strong and constant wind.
We stayed 3 nights in Punta Arenas, far above the average 1 night stay, because by this point we already knew our Antarctica departure date from Ushuaia, and thought it would be better to minimize our waiting time in that much more touristy and expensive city. Not that there is nothing to do in Punta Arenas, but most consider it to be a quick stop on a cruise or as a gateway to getting to nearby Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine National Park.
The most popular activity around seemed to be tours along the Magellan Strait, usually to go see penguins. Avoiding that for obvious reasons (Antarctica) we contented ourselves with visiting the other attractions in the city. The first was Nao Victoria, a private park/museum just out of town with full scale replicas of both Magellan’s ship, the Nao Victoria, the first to sail these waters, and the Beagle, the ship carrying Darwin 300 years later. Being of such historic significance I had to go and get a sense of their true physical scale. Let’s just say I would not have comfortably fit anywhere on them but it was very interesting to note the huge differences in ship design a few hundred years can make.

The Beagle
Magellan’s Nao Victoria
Sasha on the Nao Victoria

Another surprising attraction was the cemetary, which was grand like Recoleta in Buenos Aires but on a much smaller scale. Another “attraction” is the large duty-free zone just outside of town. We went to see if we could stock up on anything and found it to be very similar to a typical outlet mall back home. I got some needed sunglasses though. I have to say I was a little amused to learn that in the central plaza there is a statue of Magellan that people touch for good luck. Knowing how his voyage turned out (he personally never completed it, being killed in the Philippines) I would hardly call him a lucky guy.

The Sara Braun Cemetery
I’m still trying to figure out the point of a building in a glass box
Central Punta Arenas

It was still another 10 hours by bus from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. We crossed the Magellan Strait on a little ferry and landed on Tierra del Fuego island proper. Most visitors fly in and out of Ushuaia and will never see the contrast between the barren, flat and treeless northern half of the island and all its guanacos (related to the llama) and the pretty, mountainous southern half. The transition between the two looked really cool as it starts out with forests of twisted and dead trees that would make a perfect setting for a horror film.
Ushuaia has a much nicer setting than Punta Arenas with mountains, glaciers and the Beagle Channel to look at, but the town itself is a little more rundown than I expected for a place raking in a lot of tourist dough. We arrived a day before our voyage out, to give ourselves enough time to pick up our rental gear and do any last minute preparations. We also gave ourselves a day when we got back, just in case we needed it as well.

Boring northern Tierra del Fuego
Prettier as you get closer to Ushuaia
Great mountain backdrop with the Martial Glacier
It’s a long way from anywhere…

Ushuaia’s claim to fame is as the southernmost city in the world (though there are smaller villages further south) and as the gateway to Antarctica. Most Antarctic visitors depart from Ushuaia, but for those not going that far, there are plenty of signs and bragging rights associated with being at the end of the road and bottom of the world. There are museums and nearby national parks and penguin tours and a number of other things, all of which seemed a little anticlimactic for us because we were headed still further south. Our highlight in Ushuaia was probably bowling at the Hard Rock Cafe with our new Antarctica friends on our return from that trip. All told it is a cute town and we were fortunate enough to have good weather there by local standards.

Ammon

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