Ushuaia is the capital of the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego and is sometimes considered to be the southernmost city in the world. It is located in a wide bay on the southern coast of the island of Tierra del Fuego, guarded on the north by the Martial mountain range and on the south by the Beagle Channel. Its population is estimated today at about 60,000. (2001 population: 45,430 )
It is the only municipality in the Department of Ushuaia, which has an area of .
The city was originally named by early British colonists after the name that the native Yámana people had for the area. Much of the early history of the city and its hinterland is described in great detail in Lucas Bridges’s book Uttermost Part of the Earth (1948). For most of the first half of the 20th century, the city was centered around a prison for serious criminals. The Argentine government set up this prison following the example of the British with Australia or the French with Devil's Island; escape from a prison on Tierra del Fuego was similarly impossible. The prisoners thus became forced colonists and spent much of their time cutting wood in the forest around the prison and building the town. They also built a railway to the settlement, now a tourist attraction known as the End of the World Train (Tren del Fin del Mundo), the southernmost railway in the world. Ushuaia is surrounded by Magellanic subpolar forests; on the hills around the town, the following indigenous trees are local to the area: Drimys winteri (Winter's bark), Maytenus magellanica (hard log mayten) and several species of Nothofagus that give to the landscape a magnificent greenness.
Ushuaia claims to be the "Southernmost city in the world.. There are two other contenders for the title of southernmost city: Puerto Williams on the Chilean island of Navarino (farther south but it has only 2500 inhabitants) and Punta Arenas, in Chile (much larger but farther north). Several continuously inhabited settlements also south of Ushuaia include Puerto Toro on Isla Navarino, Chile, Orcadas in the South Orkney Islands, and Esperanza, an Argentine base in Antarctica. Each of these settlements has fewer than 100 residents.
The main reasons that Ushuaia can claim to be the "Southernmost City in the World" are that Ushuaia has a fully functional hospital, institutions of higher learning as well as secondary schools, industrial sector which is mainly the presence of the large Grundig electronics plant, currently named 'Renacer', an organized transportation system and a functioning municipality, all of which allow to make it an actual city on its own right: "an urban settlement of a particularly important status". Ushuaia is also the capital of the Tierra del Fuego Province.
Ushuaia is a key access point to the southern regions; it receives regular flights from Buenos Aires at Ushuaia International Airport. The city itself is a popular vacation spot for people from Buenos Aires. Flights are also available from Santiago, Chile.
The tourist attractions include the Tierra del Fuego National Park to see Lapataia Bay; the park can be reached on the End of the World Train (Tren del Fin del Mundo) from Ushuaia. The city has a museum of Yamana, English, and Argentine settlement, including its years as a prison colony. Wildlife attractions include local birds, penguins and orcas as seen on the islands in the Beagle Channel. There are daily bus tours to Harberton, the estancia of the Bridges family. Some tours also visit the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, known as the Lighthouse at the End of the World (Faro del fin del mundo) — although it is not the same lighthouse as the one made famous by Jules Verne in the novel of the same name.
There are a number of ski areas nearby, like Cerro Castor and Glaciar Martial. The glacier is also a tourist destination during the summer months, when the chairlift operates in both directions. Hiking trails lead from the city's edge to the base of the glacier, which has shrunk dramatically over the past century, as shown in photographs on display. Cerro Castor is a mountain located 27 km (17 miles) north of Ushuaia; it is possible to ski hardly 200 m (660 ft) above sea level reaching the summit at 1057 meters (3468 ft) above sea level. Constant temperatures allow the longest skiing season in South America: in winters temperatures fluctuate between 0º and -5°C (32 to 23°F). On its lowest slopes, forests can be seen.
Cruise ships visiting the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and Antarctica dock at the port, as well as Princess Cruises, Holland America, Celebrity Cruises which transit between Valparaíso, Chile, to Buenos Aires and beyond. Orient Lines, MS Marco Polo, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Hurtigruten and other ships provide expeditions to Antarctica out of Ushuaia. The cruise boats periodically do scenic cruising to Antarctica, as do expedition yachts such as S/V Seal and S/V Pelagic.
Tourists can also visit Cape Horn island (in Chilean waters) by boat or helicopter.
It belongs to the subpolar oceanic climate. And advancing to the southern outer islands the southwestern winds makes them wetter, achieving at Isla de los Estados (Staten Island). Averages temperatures coldest month: 1°C (33°F) and warmest month: 9°C (48°F). Record low -20 °C (-4°F) (July), record high 31 °C (87.8°F) (December) and record low ever recorded in summer -6 °C (21°F) (February).
Very strong winds whip the town. Trees that grow in Ushuaia tend to follow the wind direction, and therefore they are called "flag-trees", named after the bend that they are forced to take.