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ExperienceChile.Org - Ushuaia Argentina

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Experiencechile.org can organise hotel accommodation to suit your budget and preferred style, excursions out to the Beagle Channel to see marine life and to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. We can also arrange bookings on any of the cruise ships that depart from Ushuaia to the Antarctic, or to Punta Arenas in Chile.

Ushuaia is often regarded to be the southernmost city (pop 65,000) in the World (although Puerto Williams, opposite and in Chilean territory is further south). It is located beside the famous Beagle Channel on the southern side of the island of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), called so after the first maritime explorers to the area noticed the numerous fires on the land that were lit by the indigenous Yamana Indians.

Places of Interest

Apart from its importance as an Argentine military base, Ushuaia serves as the principal departure port for cruise ships heading out to Antarctica. It is also possible to cross the Beagle Channel in a rib-zodiac dinghy to get over to Puerto Williams in Chile (by previous arrangement and subject to local weather conditions) and for cruises to Punta Arenas in Chile. Local attractions include: The Tierra del Fuego National Park, containing the End of the World Train (which is very commercial and touristy) and a variety of marine fauna in the area such as penguins, seals and orcas.

In 1833, when Charles Darwin came exploring the area on board HMS Beagle he encountered a tribe of people known as the Yamana. These Indians were known for their paint-covered bodies.

The first time the name Ushuaia appeared in writing was when, in 1869, the English missionary Waite Hockin Stirling documented his experiences of living with the Yamana people. More British missionaries arrived in 1870 and established a very small settlement. The first, European-style house to be erected in Ushuaia was pre-built in the Falkland Islands and shipped over in 1870 for the Reverend Thomas Bridges. The house was divided so that one bedroom was for the Bridges family and the other for a married Yamana couple with a third room used as a chapel. In 1871 the first marriage was recorded and in 1872 Thomas Despard Bridges was recorded as the first birth to a European.

It was not until 1873 when the first Argentine citizens arrived to teach at the newly-erected school and when the Argentine President, Julio Argentino Roca, decided to make Ushuaia a penal colony for serious criminals, based upon the British model of using Tasmania and Australia for the same purpose. However, behind this plan was a ploy to establish a colony for Argentina to lay claim to Tierra del Fuego, which only became formalized in 1881 after the boundary agreement between Chile and Argentina. The plan to build the new prison resulted in the construction of houses for staff and logistical support personnel. It was not until 1896 when the prison was officially recognized by Executive Order from President Roca and received its first inmates.

On the 12th of October 1884, as part of the South Atlantic Expedition, Commodore Augusto Lasserre established Ushuaia as an Argentine sub-division, with the missionaries and naval officers signing the “Act of Ceremony”. Don Feliz Paz was named as the Governor of Tierra del Fuego and in 1885 named Ushuaia as its capital, but it was not until 1904 when the Federal Government of Argentina recognized Ushuaia as the capital of Tierra del Fuego.

Ushuaia suffered several epidemics, including typhus, whooping cough, and measles, all of which decimated the native population, but because the native Yámana were not included in the census data the exact numbers of the Yamana population lost to disease and illness are not known, but by 1911 the Yámana had all practically disappeared, so the original mission was closed.  The first census was carried out in 1893 and recorded 113 men and 36 women living in Ushuaia, but at the 1914 census the registered population had gown to 1,558.
In 1903 a military prison opened at the nearby Puerto Golondrina, which later merged with the original public prison in 1910 and operated through to 1947 when President Juan Peron closed the facility by executive order due to reports of prisoner abuse. The building continued as a storage and office facility for the Argentine Navy until the early 1990’s. Today it is the Ushuaia Maritime Museum.
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