Antarctica and luxury lodging do not necessarily roll off the tongue with a smooth air. Rather, thoughts of Antarctica evoke thoughts of hard living and dying in what are one of the world’s harshest environments. But a siren’s song from the bottom of the world is making the southern passages into a bucket list destination that can now be managed with luxury lodging and comfort thanks to Arakur Ushuaia at the nethermost tip of Argentina.
Arakur Ushuaia opened in 2014 to a restless population of savvy international travelers eager to conquer what would likely be the final frontier in their travel collection as they booked exploration cruises through the Beagle Channel and the Drake Passage. After many hours of traveling, a stay at a luxury lodge at the gateway to Antarctica would be just the ticket for these adventurers, often complemented by post cruise nights and all the unusual discoveries to be made around Ushuaia, easily the world’s southernmost city.
The Arakur Ushuaia sits on a hill above the twinkling lights of the settlement that is now more than 80,000 souls (and 40,000+ tourists annually), and looks upon land and sea once unconquerable for all but the most intrepid.
The hotel, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, makes the most of these views from the rooms, restaurants and pools (yes, you can dip with an eye toward the South Pole) in four stories of stark glass, marble and timber made soft by the cozy furnishings and warm textures within.
Beech forests surround this luxury hotel at the doorstep of Antarctica. The leaves and branches are usually covered in fresh snow balancing the silver glint of the Beagle Channel. Arakur Ushuaia seems to frame the perfect photo: the historic waters of the deepwater port below and the majestic Andes above it.
Guests linger in the magical irony that the outdoor hot tub brings – soaking in warm comforts under wide skies as snow swirls and Antarctic gusts kick up. The 117-room luxury hotel is light and airy and offers plenty of places to settle in during the course of an Antarctic exploration. The in-house restaurant, La Cravia, specializes in what can be done with the local king crab, serving it as soup, or fried with tomato sauce or as a risotto. A dinner buffet (and breakfast as well) brings a bevy of creative variety to this southern Argentine outpost. Sacrificing one’s palate preferences is not a concern, despite the remoteness of the destination.
But the views, whether from the private comfort of the accommodations with rooms that put the stunning surroundings at front and center, or from the lobby, restaurant, meeting rooms or public areas, make the Arakur Ushuaia a must for those seeking luxury lodging in Antarctica.
The Southern Lights
The South Pole may not have a Santa Claus but it does have an aurora borealis that is easily as spectacular as its northern counterpart. The eerie specter of the aurora australis is on display from March to September, the winter months in this hemisphere, and it usually happens with little warning. The trick is to be south, very far south and it so happens that Ushuaia is one of the five best places on earth to see this spectacle – that can easily be witnessed from the cozy confines of a room at the Arakur or even enjoyed while soaking in the outdoor heated pool or hot tub perched above the city.
Days can be spent exploring the quirky town of Ushuaia, once an outpost for prisoners and now a bustling tourist town. It maintains a ski resort feel with tony chalet-style facades lining the town’s main street. Cruise ships and cruise-focused adventure vessels line the port and narrow passages by the harbor. More than 300 cruise calls are on the books in Ushuaia through the 2017/2018 cruising season. Some 31 of the 42 vessels scheduled have Antarctica as a destination, according to the Tierra del Fuego tourism office.
The Chilean-flagged Australis line is well recommended for its size (130-210 passengers) and easy routing with three and four night excursions around Patagonia and the fjords of Tierra del Fuego featuring glaciers, penguin encounters and a sea full of history.
The discovery of Cape Horn by two Dutch navigators in 1616 recently rounded the four-century mark. Named for a Dutch town (“Hoorn”) the route opened up an extremely significant bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Charles Darwin sailed by Patagonia on the HMS Beagle during the 18th century.
The history of Ushuaia, the channel and the Tierra del Fuego unfold in some worthy museums in the town. Who would want to miss the salty sea stories that come to life at the End of the World Museum? Then there is the Maritime Museum / Prison Museum where seafaring exhibits cover early explorers and later research expeditions. The museum is on the site of the former penal colony that operated from 1884 to 1947 and held more than 600 prisoners at its peak occupancy. A highlight of the visit is a walk through the prison’s unrestored wing that remains unheated, unpainted and just as it was left, the peeling and moldy walls telling the venue’s grim tales.
But just 20 minutes north of Ushuaia, you are back in pure nature again. Chaos melts to quiet winds and a landscape of mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers and sub Antarctic forests take over in the Argentinian Andes inside the Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Expedition season from November to March is busy season in Ushuaia as the ice breaks up allowing ships to pass. Icebergs are at their hugest in November, creating a surreal landscape on the seas. Wildflowers blooming on the islands, and days of 20-hour sunshine bring welcome warmth. Temperatures hover above freezing, and visitors watch seal pups, penguin chicks and whales play in the open.
February offers plenty of chances for spotting whales and windows of opportunity to cross the Antarctic Circle.
In March, temperatures return to their below freezing levels, with treacherous winds and long nights as the impassable months of April, May, June, July, August and September loom.
Late October and November remain excessively cold but offer the chance to see plenty of icebergs and catch the breeding rituals of elephant seals.
Travel to Ushuaia is best managed through the three-hour direct air routes on commercial airlines from Buenos Aires.
Arakur Ushuaia Resort & Spa
Cerro Alarkén 1
Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
(+ 011 54) 2901 44 2900
Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates– Curator of undiscovered luxury travel locales with insider info and news from our worldwide portfolio of hotels, wellness retreats, and eco-resorts. View our portfolio on our Online Directory.
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