One of the most intriguing destinations around Ushuaia is the Estancia Harberton, the first ranch founded in Tierra del Fuego. Now run as a museum, it affords a fascinating glimpse into the area's pioneering past. The tour begins with a walk through a small nature reserve, where the guides discuss, in good English, the different plants from the area. The estancia's missionary founders are buried in the graveyard, and nearby are some reconstructed houses used by the original natives. Just as interesting is the mothballed shearing shed, a marvelous step back in time to when the estancia was a thriving sheep farm. There is also a curious natural history museum of marine life bones and fossils. (Note: To visit the museum, you must make reservations in advance; it's not included in the ordinary tour.) The ranch is located on the shore of the Beagle Channel, accessible by road or boat. The entrance fee is $9 (£6.10). Most travel agencies in town provide transportation to the estancia, 90km (56 miles) from Ushuaia, for an average cost of $65 (£44) per person, plus the entrance fee, provided you are among a group of four or more. Roughly from October to April, several tour companies offer a catamaran ride to the estancia, a 6-hour excursion for $85 (£57) per person; try All Patagonia, Juana Fadul 60 (tel. 2901/433622). Tour groups will also arrange a boat excursion to a penguin colony from the estancia, an add-on excursion that costs about $67 (£45) per person.
After the turnoff for Estancia Harberton, RN 3 begins to descend down to Lago Escondido, a beautiful lake about 60km (37 miles) north of Ushuaia. It provides a quiet spot for relaxation or for fishing the mammoth trout that live in the lake.
North of Ushuaia and in the middle of the island of Tierra del Fuego, the landscape changes. Icy mountains give way to dry rolling hills. A massive lake, Lago Fagnano, dominates. It almost slices the island in half. This is a nice place for a day trip -- the weather is almost always sunnier at Tolhuin, the village on the east side of Lago Fagnano. The easiest option is to rent a car and drive yourself here. The nicest hotel, by far, is red-roofed Hosteria Kaiken, RN 3 Km 2942 (tel. 02901/492372). It's 100km (62 miles) from Ushuaia. A visit to Tolhuin is not complete without a visit to the local bakery Panadería La Union, Cerro Jerujupen 450 (tel. 2901/492202), for empanadas and pastries.
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego was created in 1960 to protect a 63,000-hectare (155,610-acre) chunk of Patagonian wilderness that includes mighty peaks, crystalline rivers, black-water swamps, and forests of lenga, or deciduous beech. Only 2,000 hectares (4,940 acres) are designated recreation areas, some of which offer a chance to view dams built by the beavers that were introduced to Tierra del Fuego in the 1950s. Another eyebrow-raiser is the multitude of rabbits that roam the park.
It's the only Argentine national park with a maritime coast, but chances are you won't be blown away by it if you've been traveling around southern Argentina or Chile. Much of the landscape is identical to Patagonia's thousands of kilometers of mountainous terrain, but it does afford easy and medium day hikes to let you stretch your legs, breathe some fresh air, take a boat ride, or bird-watch. In some areas, the road runs through thick beech forest and then abruptly opens into wide views of mountains, whose dramatic height can be viewed from sea level to more than 2,000m (6,560 ft.). Anglers can fish for trout here in the park but must first pick up a license at the National Park Administration office, Av. San Martín 1395 (tel. 2901/421315; Mon-Fri 9am-3pm), in Ushuaia. The park service issues maps at the park entrance showing the walking trails here, ranging from 300m (984 ft.) to 8km (5 miles); admission into the park is $10 (£6.80). Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego is 11km (6 3/4 miles) west of Ushuaia on RN 3. Camping in the park is free; there are no services, but potable water is available. At the end of the road to Lago Roca, there is a snack bar/restaurant. At Bahía Ensenada, you'll find boats that take visitors to Isla Redonda, where there are several walking trails. The cost is about $12 (£8.20), or $19 (£13) with a guide. All tour companies offer guided trips to the park. Trips last 4 hours and cost $40 (£27). If all you need is transportation there, call these shuttle bus companies: Pasarela (tel. 2901/433712) or Patagonia Transfers (tel. 2901/445486). The round-trip cost $10 (£6.80). Buses leave from Maípu Street in front of the main pier.
A Ride in the Park -- If you don't feel like walking but still want to take in the sights at Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego, you can ride El Tren del Fin del Mundo, a vapor locomotive replica of the train used to shuttle prisoners to the forest to chop wood (tel. 2901/431600; www.trendelfindelmundo.com.ar). It can be very touristy. The train departs from its station (with souvenir shop and cafe) near the park entrance three times daily. Just go one-way; a return trip is tediously slow. And don't bother with first class -- it's not worth a light snack and souvenir. The 1-hour, 50-minute round-trip journey costs $30 (£20) for adults, $43 (£29) for first class, $7 (£4.75) for passengers 4 to 14, and free for children 3 and under.