Commonly referred to as the "end of the world", Ushuaia (pronounced Oo-swy-ah) is earth's southernmost city and, as it turns out, much more than a launch pad for those waiting to jump on a ship to Antarctica. As the capital of Argentina's Tierra del Fuego archipelago, it's an adventure travel hub with hiking, sailing, kayaking, skiing, scuba diving and more available for thrill-seekers in search of rugged beauty. For those into more sedentary pursuits, the city's chaotic tumble of streets are filled with bookstores, clothing and souvenir shops and cosy restaurants, pubs and bars.
Windswept and wildly beautiful, a day (or a few if you can spare them) spent exploring Tierra Del Fuego national park is a must. Expect otherworldly views, unpredictable weather paired with incredible light contortions and selfies aplenty. Bus tours stopping at the park's hotspots leave from Ushuaia, but a day hike is best for soaking up the silence and scenery. The seaside trail from Ensenada to Lapataia is especially pretty. For added adventure, ride the ''end of the world'' train along the century-old route of the historic convict train (Ushuaia is an ex-penal colony) into the park. See trendelfindelmundo.com.ar
Family-run Kaupe is regarded as one of Argentina's best restaurants, focused on sophisticated fresh seafood dishes and set in a converted picket-fenced home with views over Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel. Chef Ernesto Vivian offers a four-course tasting menu – most guests rave about the king crab and cozy vibes. See kaupe.com.ar/english
Ushuaia's Maritime Museum is actually the city's former prison, which ran from 1920 to 1947. Today it houses several museums: the maritime, prison, Antarctic and marine art museums. Which means you can learn about Argentina's colonisers and indigenous people (Tierra del Fuego has been inhabited by indigenous people for more than 12,000 years), the first Antarctic explorers, including Scott and Amundsen, and what life was like in the prison, all in one hit. See museomaritimo.com
A cruise of the Beagle Channel, which separates Argentina's Tierra del Fuego from the remote Chilean islands further south, is as close to an Antarctic experience as you can get without actually going there. En route you'll see glaciers, snow-capped peaks, wildlife, including sea lions and cormorants, and the channel's famous red and white Les Eclaireurs lighthouse. Tickets can be booked at Ushuaia's waterfront.
Staying in the woods high above the city will make for a more special experience, if you don't mind paying about US$10 for a taxi each time you want to head back into town. Cumbres del Martial has a handful of luxurious log cabins and bungalows, each with a deck offering magnificent views down to the Beagle Channel. There's an in-house spa and teahouse, plus a short nature trail leading to the Martial river, which is fed by the nearby Martial glacier, also worth visiting. See cumbresdelmartial.com.ar
Some call it touristy, perhaps even a little cheesy, but a trip to Ushuaia's tourist office for a Gateway to Antarctica penguin passport stamp is kind of essential. As is taking a selfie in front of the "fin del mundo" (Spanish for "end of the world") sign on the waterfront.
Nina Karnikowski travelled as a guest of APT. See aptouring.com.au