In our last post, we visited the Chilean part of Tierra del Fuego. Next, we wanted to explore the Argentinean side of this big island at the southern end of South America.
From Lago Blanco, we traveled north to reach the San Sebastián border crossing (the Paso Río Bellavista was still closed as described in the last blog post).
Since we often heard that getting money from Western Union in Ushuaia is extremely difficult, time-consuming, and frustrating we decided to make a stop halfway in Rio Grande. In our experience, the best places to get money from Western Union in Argentina are larger cities rarely visited by foreign tourists. Rio Grande fits this description perfectly. Contrary to Ushuaia which is overrun by cruise ship tourists, more about this later.
In Rio Grande, we rented a very beautiful and very cheap (35€ per night) apartment for two nights. It’s called La Casa de las Retamas on booking.com and can be highly recommended. The owners were also extremely nice and helpful.
As expected it was very easy to get money from Western Union in Rio Grande, with no waiting time, and no limit. Just go there, pick up the money, and be out in less than 5 minutes. Talk to some people who tried this in Ushuaia (or El Calafate as another example of a worst-case place). I can guarantee you, their experience was very different.
From Rio Grande, it was a three hours drive until we finally reached Ushuaia (with a short coffee break in Tolhuin at the Lago Fagnano). Depending on the definition it’s the southernmost city in the world. At least it’s the southernmost city with a population of more than 50,000 (Puerto Williams in Chile is further south but has only 3,000 inhabitants).
As probably all overlanders we stopped at the entrance gate of the city and shot the obligatory image with our car in front of the gate.
Our plan was to spend Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and also Linnéa’s birthday in Ushuaia. Therefore we rented an apartment for two weeks in the city. As expected over Christmas in a very famous touristy place it was impossible to find something cheap. But we decided to give ourselves a treat and booked a large and modern apartment with lots of space and a nice view of the city and the Beagle Channel (it’s named El Mirador Houses on booking.com and we paid around 120€ per night).
On the first day, we explored the city. It’s definitely one of the more interesting cities in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego with many nice restaurants, artwork throughout the city, a beautiful walkway along the Beagle Channel, and stunning mountains in the background.
But Ushuaia is also overrun by cruise ship tourists. On some days there were up to five cruise ships anchoring in front of the city. The smaller ones are mostly heading to Antarctica while the larger ones often travel along the coast of South America.
On Christmas Eve we did a short stroll along the waterfront of Ushuaia in beautiful sunny weather.
Afterward, we went back to our apartment which we had decorated with a small Christmas tree.
For dinner, we had nut-crusted salmon with sweet potatoes and an arugula salad, cooked in our apartment.
After dinner, we handed out our Christmas presents (which we bought during the last weeks in Chile and Argentina).
Despite being so far from home we had a really nice Christmas Eve.
On the 25th of December, we did a trip to the Glaciar Martial Visitor Center. Along the way, you can find a mirador offering a nice view of Ushuaia.
At the end of the road starts the trail to the Glaciar Martial (which we hadn’t planned to do). In addition, you can find there a couple of beautifully decorated restaurants.
The forest below is a good place to find the rare Darwin’s fungus. It’s a parasitic fungus that grows only on Nothafagus trees in some places in Chile and Argentina and looks like bright orange golf balls. The fungus is named after Charles Darwin who collected it in Tierra del Fuego on his voyage with the HMS Beagle in 1832.
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego
On the same day, we also did a trip to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Our first stop was at the beautifully wild Bahía Ensenada Zaratiegui.
There you can also find the Correo del fin del mundo, the post office at the end of the world.
But since it was Christmas it was closed on that day.
Next, we went to the Centro de visitantes Alakush for a short coffee break. Afterward, we explored the small island in the Rio Lapataia along the Senda paseo de la isla trail.
The trail took about 30 minutes (one-way) and the highlight was a very curious chimango caracara (a bird of prey in the family of falcons).
The road through the national park finally ends at the Bahía Lapataia. It’s also the official end of the Ruta 3 and for many overlanders the southernmost point of the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to Argentina (actually, it’s not really the southernmost point that can be reached by car, more about this later). The following sign is probably the most photographed one in Tierra del Fuego.
After hiking up to the Mirador Bahía Lapataia (which offers a nice view of the bay) we left this place and slowly drove back to Ushuaia.
For many years it’s very common that informal meet-ups of overlanders, especially from Europe, take place in Ushuaia during Christmas. On our way back we stopped at the campground in the national park (located between the Laguna Negra and Laguna Verde) and were happy to find Tjorven and Claus (CuTe-Round-the-World). We had met them first on the ferry to Porvenir (see last blog post). But there were more overlanders at this place. We had a nice chat not only with Tjorven and Claus but also with Florian and Barbara from Vier-im-4×4 (who are traveling in an older Iveco 90-16 truck together with their two small kids) and Gerd and Evelyn from MANfredontour (traveling in a stunning MAN expedition truck). Just as we left Simon and Julia from SiJu_Campervan (traveling in a Renault Master van) arrived at the site. It was a nice spontaneous overlander meet-up in the Tierra del Fuego National Park on Christmas.
Ruta J to Estancia Moat
Two days later, we wanted to drive to the real southernmost point that could be reached by car (with the exception of some ice roads in Antarctica): the Estancia Moat. The Ruta J to the Estancia starts east of Ushuaia (see the map at the beginning of this post). Before the junction, the Ruta 3 passes along an extremely beautiful valley.
The Ruta J follows then a meandering river with several beaver dams.
We saw a large beaver in the dammed pools but sadly after fetching the camera it was gone.
About one hour later, we reached the Estancia Haberton, a historic farm that is now mostly a museum and restaurant for tourists. The farm is closed on Tuesdays. Since we were there on a Tuesday visiting the farm was no option for us.
Continuing on the Ruta J we soon reached the Ermita Padre Pio.
A mystic path through a dense forest led to a small shrine.
The landscape along the route is just stunning.
At many points, you have a nice view of the Beagle Channel.
This area is very remote. During the whole day, we saw only a hand full of other cars. Most tourists just go to the Estancia Haberton and then drive back to Ushuaia.
We passed a couple of very beautiful beaches.
The trees were shaped in a distinctive way by the strong winds coming from Antarctica.
The wildlife we saw along the way was limited to different birds.
Finally, 130 km from Ushuaia, we reached the Rio Moat and the Estancia Moat, the end of the Ruta J. This place is even further south than Puerto Williams.
The last bridge was not very confidence inspiring. By using a spotter we managed to not sink one of our wheels in the huge holes.
On the way back to Ushuaia we did a short side trip on the Ruta K to Almirante Brown and Puerto Almanza. There are a couple of nice restaurants at this place. But since it was already very late and soon getting dark we decided to drive back to Ushuaia and have dinner at our apartment.
We also had another quick stop at the valley between Cerro Castor and Passo Garibaldi for sunset photography with some very dramatic clouds.
New Year’s Eve
On New Year’s Eve, we just stayed at our apartment, cooked a nice dinner, and were hoping to watch some spectacular fireworks from our balcony.
Sadly, it didn’t happen. There were just a few red flare signals at midnight.
On the 3rd of January, we celebrated Linnéa’s birthday with presents in the morning, followed by a lovely sushi dinner at the Asia Gourmet restaurant in Ushuaia.
This was also our last day in Ushuaia. From now on we would mainly travel north.
Ruta 3 looks like an interesting road with a loney valley – nice that you have enough time for trips like this.
Wonder why you use Western Union – do you have issues to draw money using your credit cards ? I know the fee is quite high, for a very limited amount.
Andreas, it’s not about the fee. If you use an ATM in Argentina you get only 50% of the money compared to using Western Union. Take a look at our blog post #15 where this is explained in detail:
Thanks Boris, looks like there was no change to give the better blue rate to credit card holders. I checked Western Union for Chile, they take quite a bad exchange rate taking ~10%, does not look better than the credit card fees.
In Chile we use ATMs or pay with credit cards while in Argentina we use only Western Union. It‘s currently the best combination.
Great pics! Ushuaia really does look like an outpost at the bottom of the world. And what an awesome destination to spend Christmas and the New Year too!