A foretaste of Antarctica in Ushuaia, Argentina

I have many scuba diving books at home, but few of them deal with what I’m looking for… inspirational places with unique scuba diving experience. Knowing that I wanted to go to Argentina a long time ago, I started quickly to look for the scuba diving spots of Argentina. Not really known for scuba diving, none of my books even talked about it! It was of course even more interesting for me to go and discover it by myself!

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 the place to embark on cruise ships for Antarctica! Imagine icebergs, penguins and seals on the ice field chased by killer whales, but the dream has a cost.

From the last-minute ticket (to be booked directly in Ushuaia tourism agencies) for a cruise of 10 days at 5,000 USD to the scuba diving cruise 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! But this was before I discovered that it was possible to dive in the Beagle Channel.

From then, I redesigned my tour of Argentina entirely. As I wanted to see the waterfalls of Iguazu, the plan was to visit them at the very beginning of my trip, and then to go to the most southern point of America with a flight! I would be able this way to go back to Buenos Aires step by step with buses. I could include a stopover in El Calafate to do hiking around the famous Perito Moreno glacier and another in Puerto Madryn for more diving. I the end I had planned an extensive discovery of Patagonia.

Exploring the end of the world in Tierra del Fuego

From the flight landing at Ushuaia airport, I was utterly astonished by the beauty of the place:  Islands of snowy mountains where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Pacific Ocean with a pure blue sky. The location of the city 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 in the North of Sweden with its colourful houses and outdoors shops. It is pleasant to walk around, and everybody here agrees to say they like it to be maybe the safest place in Argentina.

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

Scuba diving in the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia

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

From an equipment point of view, as the water was 5°C, the dry suit is not a comfort choice but a requirement! My trip to Argentina was from 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 but to let the regulator and suit part to the dive centre for more adapted gear. Before departure, I checked my regulator, it to not adapted to cold water. The risk was high to get free flow below 10°C. I decided it was the right opportunity to let it 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 in a family group. 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 a real 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, Centolla in Spanish (pronounce “centosha” with the Argentinian accent). You can find this giant red crab at only 10 meters deep, but it can live down to 150 meters deep. According to some other information, it would have been found down to 600 meters as well! Its diameter can be up to 20cm and its weight up to 4kg! 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.

They are many other species of crustacean that can found such hermit crabs and squat lobsters. The squat lobsters are amusing creatures, letting you approach until the last second before jumping suddenly backwards. On my second dive, there were so many of them that they were jumping all over the place while we were going forward. For the nudibranchs lovers, you will be pleased to know that there is a whole collection of white or orange ones.

To summarize, diving in Ushuaia was an excellent surprise. I loved taking pictures of the cold water marine fauna but it was tough to endure the cold on my hands. 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

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