Diving in Ushuaia: a foretaste of Antarctica in Argentina

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I have many scuba diving books at home, but few of them deal with what I’m looking for the most… unique scuba diving experiences in special inspirational places. With the elegant city of Buenos Aires, the lush Iguazu waterfalls and the mesmerizing Patagonia glaciers, I wanted to go to Argentina for a long time. So when I became a scuba diver, I started to look at how I could explore Argentina while enjoying my new underwater passion. Unfortunately, Argentina isn’t really known for scuba diving: none of my books even talked about it… Challenge accepted! It just made my trip far more interesting and this is how I found myself diving in Ushuaia, at the “end of the world”.

Looking for hidden underwater gems of Argentina

The city of Ushuaia was, of course, appealing to me with its status of the most austral town in the world (which is not 100% accurate, but whatever). I quickly discover that for some obvious logistics reasons is was the place to embark on cruise ships to Antarctica.

I was already dreaming about icebergs, penguins and seals on the ice field chased by killer whales. But the dream has a cost. Last-minute tickets (to be booked directly in travel agencies in Ushuaia) for a 10-day Antarctica cruise start at 5,000 USD, the scuba diving cruise start at 15,000 USD (equipment not included). I quickly realized I won’t be able to make it…  So I thought Ushuaia was not for me… too frustrating to see the cruise ships leave for Antarctica without me!

It was before I discovered it was possible to scuba dive in the Beagle Channel. From that moment, I redesigned my itinerary of Argentina entirely. As I wanted to see the Iguazu Falls, the plan was to visit them at the very beginning of my trip by bus from Buenos Aires. I then hopped on a flight from Iguazu to Ushuaia via Buenos Aires, to reach the most southern point of America. I would be able this way to go back to Buenos Aires step by step with buses. I included a stop in El Calafate to go hiking around the famous Perito Moreno glacier and another in Puerto Madryn for more scuba diving.

I didn’t see everything in Argentina in one month, but I covered a lot of Patagonia and managed to scuba dive in two locations. Not bad at all…

Exploring the end of the world in Tierra del Fuego

As the plane approached Ushuaia airport, I was utterly astonished by the beauty of the iced landscape. From the cabin window, snowy mountainous islands passed before my eyes, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Pacific Ocean at the Cape Horn, as the sun was setting. September is the beginning of Spring in Tierra del Fuego so days are still short at this latitude.

The location of Ushuaia itself is charming: nestled in a bay surrounded by mountains with direct access to the Beagle Channel. The city got a pioneer feeling and reminded me a lot of my trips to Lapland with its colourful houses and outdoors shops. It is pleasant to walk around, and everybody here agrees to say it might be the safest place in Argentina.

There is only one scuba diving centre in town, Ushuaia Divers. The boat ride from the nautical club of Ushuaia to the islands of the Beagle Channel took my breath away. While adjusting the last details of my rental drysuit, I was fascinated by being on the sea while surrounded by snowy mountains. It gave me an incredible feeling of peace and fulfilment, just before remembering the water was 5°C.

Scuba diving in the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia

The experience of diving in the Beagle Channel just confirm what I explain in my article Dive anywhere about cold water fauna. Here you can hardly find fish but the kelp forests host a rich ecosystem of crustaceans, gastropods, anemones and sponges.

From an equipment point of view, as the water was 5°C, the drysuit is not a comfortable choice but a requirement. My trip to Argentina included subtropical to subpolar climates. I decided to travel only with my BCD, fins and mask to get the comfort and reflexes I’m used to while having a wider choice of clothes. I could let the regulator and exposure suit part to the dive centres for cold-water diving gear. I had found out before departure that my Mikron regulator isn’t adapted to cold waters (the risk was high to get it free flow below 10°C). It was the right time to let it behind for its annual maintenance.

Just before the first dive, we passed an island with sea lions and leopard seals. Unfortunately, none went to say hello underwater, but it was still nice to approach them while they were sunbathing as a family. As pointed out during the dive briefing, you need to be careful not to approach leopard seals. Contrary to sea lions that are very friendly, they can be aggressive. You need to recognize them: it is quite easy thanks to the spots on their belly.

I saw many pictures of kelp forests before but I understood only by diving in one why it was so interesting. Kelps are giants algae that length can go up to 30 meters. When concentrated, they form an underwater forest of floating trees. With the few rays of light that enter between the entangled algae, it felt more like diving through green tunnels. There, you will have to refine your buoyancy skills and use in fact the same frog kicking technic as for cave or wreck diving if you don’t want to get entangled in seconds. Most of all, it will allow you to avoid destroying this incredible ecosystem by tearing off the algae to set you free. So look for the passages and kick gently!

The highlight of the fauna here is the southern king crab or centolla in Spanish (pronounce “centosha” with the Argentinian accent). You can find this giant red crab at only 10 m deep, but it can live down to 150 m deep. According to some other information, it would have been found down to 600 m deep as well. Its diameter can be up to 20 cm and its weight up to 4 kg. Being delicious makes it the heart of the fishery industry here but hopefully protected spots of Beagle Channel allow us to observe them closely in their natural habitat. Not really scared by divers, taking close-up pictures or videos of them is very easy.

There are also many other species of crustacean that can be found such as hermit crabs and squat lobsters. The squat lobsters are amusing creatures. They let you approach until the last second before jumping suddenly backwards. On my second dive, there were so many of them that it looked like the sea bed was moving. For the nudibranchs lovers, you will be pleased to know that there is a whole collection of white or orange sea slugs.

To summarize, diving in Ushuaia was an excellent surprise. I loved taking pictures of the cold-water marine species but it was tough to endure the cold on my hands. I had a hard time trying to stop my hands from shivering as I was adjusting the focus. If it can help, tell yourself that after diving you will be able to enjoy delicious dulce de leche pancakes in one of the many cosy cafes of Ushuaia main street with a warm cup of coffee or a cup of mate with Argentinian divers!

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foretaste of Antarctica in Ushuaia Tierra del Fuego Argenti
foretaste of Antarctica in Ushuaia Tierra del Fuego Argenti

Posted by Florine

  1. […] about Extreme cold diving ? Read our article about scuba diving in Ushuaia, Argentina […]


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