How south can you go? If we are talking about geography, an easy target for your trouble is Arakur Ushuaia, a luxury resort and spa in the most unlikely of places: at the southernmost tip of South America, literally, the “end of the world.”
But there is method to the madness of putting a luxury hotel and spa in one of the most remote and weather-challenging places on earth, for Arakur Ushuaia has clear and uninterrupted views of rare horizons at the continental gateway to Antarctica and the South Pole.
The coastal village of Ushuaia in Argentina’s legendary Tierra del Fuego is a jewel in its own right. Brightly-painted byways flank the Beagle Straits, bustling with cruise and exploration ships boarding passengers and loading last minute supplies. For adventurers, it is a place to prepare for great treks that challenge the elements for everlasting views and stories. And for the well traveled, there is plenty to do at the bottom of the world, from hiking, to odd museums to visiting nearby islands where only penguins dwell.
Arakur Ushuaia is a special complement to all the outdoor activity and local discovery. A member of Leading Hotels of the World, the 117-room boutique hotel sits on a foothill perch some 600 feet above the town with stunning views of the Beagle Channel and the base peaks of the Andes.
When the Antarctic winds rage, the Arakur Ushuaia is a cozy retreat with fireplaces and floor to ceiling windows all protecting against the cold and delivering in all the comforts. For those who have spend the last too many hours on airplanes or the last weeks avoiding icebergs on the Strait of Magellan, Arakur Ushuaia can seem like paradise itself.
Arakur Ushuaia welcomes guests with friendly hard wood flooring and finishes, leather-upholstered furnishings, oversized artworks and lots of warm textiles. Guest rooms give focus to the huge windows and wonderful views they afford over the town – lines of twinkling lights at night, of the Channel taking in the light and shadows of sun and clouds, of the ships that sail through and back from lands beyond, and the mountains that shift shapes and hues in the distant sunlight.
Rooms and suites offer large LED TV sets, an efficient heating system, international power outlets, heating and lighting controlled from a smart console, comfortable cotton bedding and lots of natural light.
Public spaces are comely and comfortable with plenty of stone, marble, local woods and handsome leathers throughout. The signature restaurant, La Cravia, offers Argentine and international meals à la carte and buffet style centering around Argentine barbecue, king crab, lamb dishes and what can be done with Patagonian sea bass in a room that commands views of the city and the bay.
The bar is a comfortable hideout as well, offering Fuegian platters with liquid contentment as well as frames of the outside world tableau.
Relaxation at Arakur Ushuaia means enjoying the resort’s great hot tubs and pools inside and out. The outside deck made of Lapacho wood offers crystal water hot tubs with infinity views that take in the whole of the southern skies. Heated indoor and outdoor pools, a gym overlooking the Channel – there is never a bad day at Arakur.
The property also offers Internet and a business center for those who find that proximity to the South Pole simply isn’t far enough off the grid. Guests can arrange for guided hikes around the property’s 445-acre reserve, visits to hidden mountain lakes, off road tours and fly-fishing at the resort. Regular shuttles ferry guests down the road to the village of Ushuaia.
What to do in Ushuaia
This coastal fishing town of some 60,000 souls is a colorful place to visit these days as more and more tourism finds its way to Tierra del Fuego and the outer reaches of the southern hemisphere. The town is on track to receive up to 100,000 visitors in the coming years (it counted 71,000 with 251 cruise ship calls in 2015 alone). The southern summer season is the busiest time, of course and the best time for seeing some of the wonders of the area before or after a cruise.
To start, visitors must know the history of Ushuaia, and it is a compelling one considering the location. Ushuaia, in fact, was a frontier settlement founded by a medley of missionaries, British land surveyors, gold prospectors and Yaghan tribes before becoming the favored spot to commit re-offenders and, with Tasmania as the model, have them build the infrastructure for the town and become its permanent residents as surviving escape would be nearly impossible.
A top attraction there is the old prison facility, built to house 380 inmates but ended up with 800 by the time it closed in 1947. It remains open today to visitors who want to get a sense of the harsh life and conditions suffered through the first half of the last century. (Note: information at the museum is in Spanish only).
One of the many accomplishments of this convict population is the railway they built, now a tourist attraction known as the End of the World Train — the southernmost railway in the world. The world’s narrowest-gauge freight train was built transport prisoners between the town and workstations. It runs for about five miles, crossing the Pip River on a wooden bridge, passing the Macarena Waterfall and revealing a reconstruction of a Yamanas Indian campsite. Passenger pass beech forests, peat bogs and old timber-felling worksites operated by the prisoners from 1901 to 1941. Explanations along the way are in English and Spanish. The train offers five daily services (only once a day in the winter months) and choices of first class or coach (snacks and bigger winders in first class).
Other discoveries to be considered: Penguin Island, which is inhabited only by cute flocks of Magellanic and gentoo penguins. Visitors can take day trips to the island, located about 52 miles (40 nautical) from Ushuaia but the daily numbers are regulated for those who want trips that allow them to walk on the island and mill around with the penguins.
Hikers will like Martial Glacier, a spot high above Ushuaia but only a few kilometers away. The views from the top are worth the walk, especially in days of calmer winds. A chair lift is also an option and many trails spiral out from the platform at the top.
Another wondrous hike is to the Esmeralda Lagoon just outside of Ushuaia. After a 2- or 3-hour scenic hike through peat bogs and lenga forests, visitors end up at a lagoon with iridescent blue-green glacier waters where beavers are busy at work and an array of other local fauna are easily sighted.
Getting to Ushuaia
There are direct flights from Buenos Aires with flight times around 3.5 hours. It is also possible to drive there with great effort. The town is the terminus for the Pan American Highway.
Passing words: Bring sunscreen, an extra fleece and plan ahead. Most tourists arrive in summer and added day trips book up quickly.
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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