This is the ultimate Ushuaia hiking itinerary based on our three day trip in January 2020. The guide will focus on the best hikes in the Tierra del Fuego National Park and Laguna Esmerelda. We will also cover the Ushuaia penguin tour.
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Ushuaia | 3 Day Hiking Itinerary
Many people think of Ushuaia as just the gateway to Antarctica, or merely a place to start or finish a trip to Patagonia. But it is much more than that. The area itself deserves to be visited in its own right. Hopefully our Ushuaia hiking guide can help convince you as well.
Like most people on a trip to Patagonia, we hiked the popular W Trek. This is north of Ushuaia. However, we can guarantee that the Argentinean Tierra Del Fuego National Park in Patagonia and surrounding areas of Ushuaia are just as beautiful and scenic. Yet also less frequented and untouched. Plus the Ushuaia penguin tour was one of our most incredible Patagonia experiences.
The trail difficulty in this guide is rated by Tierra del Fuego National Park. If no rating is provided, Travel Made Me Do It have personally graded the hike.
Tierra del Fuego National Park
Do the Senda Costera and Cerro Guanco trails: Ushuaia is where the Andes finish. To get views of this and surrounding coast was absolutely breathtaking. Patagonia has many beautiful areas for hiking. Trails can be busy though. If you choose the right hike here (find details below), you will be rewarded with a quieter and more peaceful hike.
Also, hiking here can be easily arranged upon arrival. The popular W Trek is well managed with advanced bookings as to not overcrowd the route. But the fact that detailed planning and prior booking of this hike is required, it may mean it’s not possible for some. The best way to get the most out of Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia is to do a full day trip with 2 adjoining trails described below in our Ushuaia hiking guide. This would the first hike Beck and I would do as part of our Patagonia trip. We were very excited!
Be aware that in Patagonian summer, all of the hiking in Ushuaia has long sections of mud and damp terrain. So for these hikes, you really need waterproof hiking boots. Checkout our 66 Items You Must Travel With for more hiking gear suggestions.
1. Senda Costera Trail
- Type: One-way
- Distance: 7.5km
- Time: 2-3 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 85m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Bahía Ensenada Zaratiegui
Start with the Senda Costera trail: This hike is 7.5km one way and takes 2-3 hours. Tierra del Fuego National Park rate the trail as moderate difficulty. But we found the trail easy. This is because the trail is essentially a flat trail through some coastal forest type terrain.
The cheapest and easiest way to arrive is by the shuttle bus that is around $900ARS return ($15USD). See Google Maps here. Arrive at the main bus station the day of, for a 9am bus. The bus takes you to the National Park Entrance Office where you get off to buy a day’s pass for around $600ARS ($10USD).
Afterwards, you get back on the bus that takes you to the start of the Senda Costera Trail. This actual hike isn’t the most extraordinary. But we were able to hear Woodpeckers throughout. Make sure to keep your voices down as to not scare them away. There’s nothing worse than overly boisterous people or those playing loud music on a hike anyway! More importantly though, the hike finishes at the start of the incredible Cerro Guanaco Trail!
2. Cerro Guanaco Trail
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 15km
- Time: 4-5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 1,037m
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Trailhead: Lago Roca Visitor Centre
The Cerro Guanco trail is tough but worth it: This hike is 15km return and takes 4-5 hours. You will start this around midday. The National Park rates the trail as high difficulty. As a result of its considerably steep ascent to begin with, it’s physically demanding and exhausting. Basically, it’s a tough hike upwards! Also, it gets fairly wet and sludgy nearing the end with a lack of signage. But the trail is not technical so it’s only moderate in that sense. It’s totally worth it though for the views at the end.
It’s one of the most underrated in Patagonia, let alone South America! Gorgeous views of the Andes and Beagle Channel await you! But it is very cold at the top. Make sure to pack gloves, beanie, warm layers and a winter gaiter for the top.
The return bus to Ushuaia will pick you up from where this hike starts at the Lago Roca Visitor Centre. But do not worry about the different location of shuttle bus drop off and pickup. It’s thoroughly explained by staff at the main bus station in Ushuaia in the morning. They will also give you a map to ensure you know where to go.
3. Laguna Esmeralda
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 9.5km
- Time: 4-5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 145m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Laguna Esmeralda Parking
Laguna Esmeralda requires a day trip: Another one of the great Ushuaia day hikes! This is a 9.5km return hike and takes 4-5 hours. Laguna Esmerleda is located outside the Tierra del Fuego National Park. But we can assure you that the hike is definitely worth a day of your itinerary. A very muddy affair, but a beautiful emerald (as the name suggests) lake is the reward.
Again, a shuttle bus from the main bus station can be bought the day for around $700ARS return ($11USD). It departs Ushuaia around 9am. The bus will take you to and from the start of the hike and returns to Ushuaia mid afternoon. Check the exact return time with the helpful staff at the bus station. Also, there is no entrance fee for this hike.
One could possibly also add the 7km Martial Glacier hike to do in the afternoon. But due to rain, we opted to stay in at our Airbnb which afforded views of the glacier anyway! Guilty as charged, we chose to relax inside instead of hiking. And we call ourselves hiking enthusiasts!
Ushuaia Penguin Tour & Beagle Channel Tour
Do the Ushuaia penguin tour: You cannot visit Ushuaia without a tour to Martillo Island (Isla Martillo) for the penguins. Although not strictly a hike, there is opportunity for walking around Isla Martillo so we have included this tour in our Ushuaia itinerary.
Many places in town organise the Ushuaia penguin tour. But we can highly recommend Piratour Travel as a reputable and fantastic company for doing the Ushuaia penguin tour. They have bilingual guides and top notch facilities. Although $165USD (plus $40ARS/ $0.65USD port fees) isn’t cheap, the boat tour was incredible. Included is a visit of sea lions, the Les Éclaireurs Lighthouse, a basic but interesting wildlife museum and of course, the main attraction – Isla Martillo. This is where you get to walk with penguins! Seeing Gentoo and Magellanic penguins is assured but we were even lucky enough to see a solo King Penguin. It was actually lost and shouldn’t have been there. So we were actually stoked it got lost. Beck was beside herself that we were so close to such beautiful creatures.
Ushuaia 3 Day Itinerary Recap
Make sure to visit Ushuaia as part of your Patagonia itinerary. For the hiking and wildlife enthusiasts, you will be in your absolute element. Tierra del Fuego and Lake Esmerelda are two fantastic locations for hiking. On top of that, the Penguin Tour is an extraordinary experience. Even if you don’t plan on going to Antarctica, make sure to stop in at Ushuaia.
Getting to Ushuaia
Get a flight to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires: Many people will fly to Buenos Aires to start their South America travels. Flying to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires isn’t exactly cheap. But it is the best option if Buenos Aires is your starting point. The flight takes around 3 hours 40 minutes.
Buses are definitely cheaper when travelling Patagonia. However, a bus all the way to Ushuaia; the bottom of Patagonia, is just not a good idea. It may take a few days with numerous bus changes. Even getting a bus from Buenos Aires to the top of Argentinean Patagonia – Bariloche, is a very long +24 hour bus journey. So we don’t recommend it. Particularly if you have limited travel time. However, if you do decide to book a bus, we recommend booking with Busbud. They are the most comprehensive and popular bus search engine used for travellers in South America. Feel free to use our link to book.
Getting From the Airport to Your Accommodation
Taxis are safe and cheap: The airport is very close to town. Around a 12 minute drive away. Local buses and airport transfer services to the city centre can be arranged. However, cheaper accommodation is located outside the city centre. A taxi to reach outside the city centre is only around $300ARS ($5USD). So for the money you save in accommodation, the taxi is worthwhile. From my experience, the people here are really friendly and the area is safe. This includes honest taxi drivers.
Don’t stay in the city centre: We booked an entire cabin on Airbnb 4 months in advance for $21USD/night. Ushuaia, and Patagonia for that matter, aren’t budget destinations. But this rough around the edges cabin was a great find.
STORY TIME: The owners had a friendly dog. Funnily enough, they emphasised to be careful when opening the gate to leave because the dog has got out that way before. So sure enough when we opened the gate for the first time, the dog escaped! Luckily, the owner saw and was able to get his dog back very quickly.
Anyway, it was an approximate 25-30 minute walk to get to the main bus station and port in the city centre from this Airbnb
We also considered Booking.com but we found that we got more bang for buck with our Airbnb accommodation. Plus, using Airbnb is always a great cultural experience which we value.
Getting Out of Ushuaia
Book a bus: If you’re not heading to Antarctica, and Ushuaia is only the beginning on your Patagonia itinerary, then likely your next destination north will be the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Perhaps to do the W Trek. For this, you’ll need to get a bus to Rio Grande (Argentina). Then a bus that crosses the border to Puerto Arenas (Chile). Then, a bus onwards to Puerto Natales. All can be booked in advance using Busbud. Ushuaia to Punta Arenas via Rio Grande can be bought as a combined ticket for $50USD. Additionally, the Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales bus was $10.50USD.
This is of course unless you decide to hire a car. We found car hire would be too expensive and also difficult with crossing borders. So that’s why we decided buses were the way to go in Patagonia. But if you decide to hire a car, we recommend using RentalCars.com if booking in advance online. Otherwise, booking upon arrival at a local car hire agency may be more risky in terms of availability and reliability but may also be cheaper.
Where to Buy Supplies in Ushuaia
La Anónima: This is a HUGE supermarket for Patagonia standards. It has everything you need!
A Warning About Booking Buses too Far in Advance Online
STORY TIME: A word of warning when booking buses well in advance for Patagonia. We thought we would be well organised for our Patagonia trip. So we booked the Ushuaia to Rio Grande bus about 4 months in advance. When we got to the bus station for the 5am bus, it didn’t arrive. We desperately needed to get that bus as our following bus from Rio Grande to Puerto Arenas was leaving around 10am. Luckily, a taxi driver was there and directed us to a private minivan company with a bus leaving at 6am ro Rio Grande. Again, very luckily, there were just 2 seats left. So this was a very close escape. Thankfully, Busbud did give us a full refund.
Overall though, we do highly recommend using Busbud. We had no issues with booking any other buses. But perhaps only book a few weeks in advance. Bus schedules can change and if you buy a ticket too far in advance, you may not be alerted to this.
- Flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia: $6,675ARS/person ($93USD).
- Taxi from airport to accommodation: $350ARS ($5USD) for 2 people.
- Accommodation: $1,500ARS/night ($21USD) for 2 people.
- Tierra del Fuego National Park Return Bus: $900ARS/person ($15USD).
- Entrance fee for Tierra del Fuego National Park: $600ARS/person ($10USD).
- Laguna Esmeralda return bus: $700ARS/person ($11USD).
- Piratour Ushuaia Penguins tour: $11,840ARS/person ($165USD) + $40ARS/person ($0.65USD) port fees.
- Bus from Ushuaia to Puerto Natales (via Rio Grande [Argentina] & Punta Arenas [Chile]: $3,600ARS/person ($50USD).
- Food: $2,150ARS ($30USD).
= $30,140ARS/person ($420USD) for 4 nights/3 days.
Five Hiking Essentials For Ushuaia
- Merrell Moab 2 Mid Goretex hiking boots – Laguna Esmerelda and Cerro Guanaco involved wet and boggy terrain also hiking boots with some waterproofing is ideal.
- The North Face Venture 2 waterproof/windproof jacket – Cerro Guanaco is quite cold and windy all year round.
- Lightweight down jacket – you’ll be needing this too atop Cerro Guanaco.
- Columbia water repellent convertible hiking trousers – in case the weather turns foul.
- Anker PowerCore Portable Charger/Power Bank – your day trip in Tierra del Fuego will be made much easier with GPS directions, so make sure your phone battery doesn’t go flat.
To be fully prepared, consider downloading a GPS guided map before you set out. We recommend Wikiloc or AllTrails. For those not so prepared, if you’re needing navigation help during the hike and don’t have any phone reception, consider using Maps.me. Although you need to have at least downloaded the map of the general area beforehand.
- ATMs: If you want to avoid ridiculous $10USD ATM fees, we highly recommend taking $USD in cash to Argentina to exchange. If possible, exchanging safely in Buenos Aires on the legal black market to get the blue dollar will see your dollars go much further. But be careful, you may be stitched up with counterfeit money. We were lucky enough to have friends living there who helped us with this.
- Flexibility with budgeting: Unfortunately due to the economic crisis and inflation in Argentina in 2020, prices can quickly fluctuate. So be flexible with budgeting for transport, tours etc.
- Compare $ARS vs. $USD: Ask for prices in the local currency and also $USD to see what is cheaper. We found it frustrating that there were no hard and fast rules. There was inconsistency between which currency was cheapest for things such as transport. So if there is an option to pay in either currency, find out what’s cheapest.
Are you keen on doing the Penguin Tour in Ushuaia? Share this post on Facebook with your penguin exploring buddy!