The majority of The Flight Deal team has visited 6 continents, but the one that eludes us is Antarctica. Antarctica will probably continue to elude us because it is so expensive to get to—very, VERY expensive. But should circumstances change, we would start our Antarctica journey from Ushuaia, Argentina. Varud of Bicoastal Cooks, who last wrote about Buenos Aires, and Lofoten Islands, Norway, is back with his practical travel tips to what is called, “The End of the World,” which he used as a starting point to Antarctica.
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Welcome to “The End of the World”. Ushuaia is known as the southernmost point of Argentina and although this is geographically incorrect, they also claim the same status for South America as a whole. I traveled to Ushuaia to kick off my journey of exploring Argentina’s Patagonia, as well as trying to land a last-minute cruise to Antarctica.
Costs & Practicalities:
- Given the location (remote from everything) and its main existence as a tourist hub, Ushuaia is one of the costlier cities in Argentina.
- Food – there are countless restaurants in the center of town along San Martin, where you should try specialties, such as the crab or lamb. Apart from the restaurants, there are a few empanada joints around for a cheaper meal. There are two large grocery stores, one on each side of the town, if looking to save some money (or stock up on booze for your Antarctic trip as we did).
- Living – hostels and hotels alike are both on the higher end of price compared to the rest of Argentina; as you enter the Patagonia region, camping tends to be a very popular alternative and can be something to look into at the National Park outside of the city.
- Converting Money – when I was in Argentina, the unofficial Blue Dollar system was still in effect. Due to recent policy changes, the blue dollar economy might not be a concern to you going forward. Regardless, try changing money before you get to Ushuaia as the rates here are pretty depressing. Within the city, hotels and tourist agencies will advertise their rates on the window—while the rates are more or less the same everywhere, it doesn’t hurt to take a walk and test out your luck.
- Language – given the touristy nature, English is not at all a problem here. My cab driver was not only up-to-date on the American elections (“What do you think about Trump?” has been the most frequent follow-up question after people ask me where I am from), but he also knew a few phrases in Hindi.
- Wi-Fi tended to work for the most part but wasn’t always reliable, especially in areas where free Wi-Fi was offered (i.e. the airport or city center).
- Even during the summer time, Ushuaia tends to be a chilly place so pack accordingly—especially if Antarctica is on the bucket list.
- You are most likely arriving in Ushuaia either by flight or bus. If arriving by flight, you really only have the option to take a cab into the city. It is a short but pricey ride due to the monopoly, so try to find someone else in line to share the cab with. The bus station is within the main city area and should be a short walk to your accommodation.
- Ushuaia itself is very small. Most of the city is centered around the port and a main street (San Martin) with most of the shops and restaurants so you should be able to walk around while in the city.
- Getting to the national park–you can either book a shuttle or rent a car. The shuttle is pricey considering the short distance so groups will benefit from sharing the rental cost of a car.
- Getting to other attractions outside of the city–the most convenient option would be to grab a tour (negotiate!) with the countless agencies around town.
- Tierra de Fuego National Park – Patagonia is littered with amazing parks and scenery but Tierra de Fuego was one of my personal favorites. Grab either a shuttle or car, and head over for a full day of hikes (but first pack yourself a picnic lunch!).
- Hike to Martial Glacier – this is a great day hike to do that starts from the city itself and is just a couple hours up to the glacier.
- Antarctica – given Ushuaia’s proximity to this Frozen Continent, this is one of the most popular ports of the world to grab a cruise to Antarctica. Most people plan for this a year in advance; however, if you happen to land here randomly like I did, keep reading below for some advice on catching a last-minute cruise.
- If you have additional time, Isla Esmeralda or a cruise on the Beagle Channel are also two popular activities. There are a lot of booking agencies in town. Visit multiple ones and always negotiate to get the best prices for any tour that you book.
Before you set your mind on visiting Antarctica, ask yourself these two questions: Do I have a large amount of money to spend? Do I suffer from seasickness?
Ushuaia is a popular point to depart to Antarctica given the shortest sea distance, thus making it the least amount of time spent on The Drake’s Passage—an extremely bumping day and a half at sea each way. A visit to Antarctica takes the meaning ‘once in a lifetime’ to a whole new level; it was a true tear-inducing experience for me. Yes, you will see penguins, and there is a high chance of whales, but at the end of the trip it is the beauty of the continent itself that you remember the most.
There are two major types of cruises: a regular 10-day option that focuses on just Antarctica, or the extended trip that includes a visit to the Falkland Islands (where the bigger penguin species usually are).
The problem is that this is a very expensive journey, which is partly due to it being a tourist event, but also because Antarctica is still highly regulated. This is a good thing for Antarctica, but not our wallets. If you are traveling in a short-time frame or with the specific intention of going to Antarctica, you have no other option than to book in advance online. My cruise was with Spark Expeditions and I have no complaints.
But if your travels are more flexible, you can save up to 50% by picking up a last-minute cruise while in Ushuaia. If you are looking for a last-minute deal, there is no real reason to ask around—I spent a weekend trying find better offers and always found the same price. The best way to get a good deal is to head over to Freestyle in the city (one of the few agencies that specialize in last-minute deals) and see what they have. For the 2015-2016 season, the price ranged from $4,500 – $5,500 depending on the timing (peak season is December through January). Yes, that is a lot of cash. After most journeys, I contemplate whether the price was ultimately worth it; for this trip, that thought didn’t pop into my mind even once!
Clothes for the Antarctic journey — When I visited South America, I was packed to enjoy the summer months so I was a bit nervous about clothing when I decided to make the trip. The biggest need is a parka to keep you warm on the Frozen Continent, so it is great that most cruises actually give you a parka, not only for the trip but to keep afterwards as a souvenir; then on the boat, rubber boots were provided for the trip. There are a couple of shops in town, where you can rent a hat, gloves, and waterproof layers; but the cost to rent is usually close to the buying price itself. (Freestyle actually let me borrow gloves and pants for my journey, so you might be able to wiggle that in when you book!)
About The Author:
Varud’s life is food–eating, reading, exploring, and creating. Voted Forbes 30 Under 30 for ‘Most Clueless Individuals’, he jumped ship from his management consultant lifestyle in October 2015 and embarked on a culinary journey to learn about cuisines around the world. His first book documented an experiment in Recipe Development (how to create and gain inspiration for original recipes) while his most recent novel narrates the journey of leaving the US to travel to Argentina and learn about Asado, or Argentine BBQ. Follow him on his blog, Bicoastal Cooks, instagram or Twitter.
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