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Patagonia is the vast area at the bottom of South America. It is a land just calling out for descriptive adjectives: vast, remote, beautiful, breathtaking, windy, rugged, and wild. If you ever wanted to get away from it all and appreciate nature at its finest, Patagonia is it. And it is a place many of us know little about, so here we go Patagonia Seven Fascinating Facts of Interest.
Having long been on our Top 10 Travel Wishlist, we can’t wait to share this area with you. It lives up to all its hype and then some.
This is an area with surprisingly little written about it. When curating items for the Compass & Fork Shop, we struggled to find novels, travel guides, cookbooks or movies either set in or written about this area. One of the few books is In Patagonia, written close to forty years ago by Bruce Chatwin, a British man, about his visit. It is considered by many to be a classic in travel writing.
When we began researching and planning our own travels, we discovered information is hard to find. Hopefully after Compass & Fork is done sharing what we learned, you’ll know more about the area and if you choose to go, any trip planning you do will be easier.
So without further ado, to get us started, here is Patagonia Seven Fascinating Facts:
1. The Area
Patagonia is the lower portion of South America, governed by Chile and Argentina. Starting at latitude 37° south and extending to 51°S, it covers an area of roughly 400,000 square miles. Argentina is 75% of the area. The Chilean portion alone is roughly the same size as Great Britain. Tierra del Fuego is an island, split between Chile and Argentina, located at the very bottom of Patagonia.
And hardly anyone lives there, with a total population of less than 2 million people; the population density is less than one inhabitant per square kilometer.
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Due to the fact the area is governed by two countries, Chile and Argentina, it is difficult to find any statistics or information (including travel information) covering the entire region. Even when you find a picture book, it will be Chilean Patagonia or Argentinean Patagonia.
2. The Origin of the Name: Patagonia
The name Patagonia was coined by the Spaniards in the 16th century while exploring this area. The Spanish referred to the original inhabitants, the Tehuelche Indians, as Patagones. The story goes that Ferdinand Magellan,the expedition leader, named the locals Patagones, because the very tall Tehuelche Indians reminded him of a fictional dog-headed monster creature, a Patagon, in a Spanish novel.
3. The Land
Chile considers Patagonia to start in the Lakes Region, just south of Valdivia. This includes the areas around Osorno which contain crystal clear lakes with large snow- capped cone shaped volcanos rising from their waters. The scenery is stunning. This continues into Argentina at about the same latitude as Bariloche.
On the Chilean side over 50% of the land comprising Patagonia is Protected Wilderness Area.
In addition to the lakes and volcanoes, it contains both the Northern and Southern Ice Fields, large swaths of area containing glaciers.
- The Northern Ice Field, part of which is in Laguna San Rafael National Park, contains the San Rafael, Exploradores and Leones Glaciers.
- The Southern Ice Field, part of which is in the remote and difficult to access Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, contains Pio XI, one of the largest glaciers in the Southern Hemisphere outside of Antarctica.
- Tyndall and Grey Glaciers are part of Torres del Paine National Park, and are accessible by hiking.
- The Perito Moreno Glacier, located in the southern region of Los Glaciares National Park, is one of the greatest tourist attractions in Argentinean Patagonia.
There are seven national parks (parques in Spanish) in Patagonia that we could find information on:
1. Torres del Paine (Chile)
2. Los Glaciares (Argentina)
3. Laguna San Rafael (Chile)
4. Nahuel Huapi (Argentina)
5. Tierra del Fuego (Argentina)
6. Alberto de Agostini (Chile)
7. Bernado O’Higgins (Chile)
4. Torres Del Paine
Torres Del Paine is one of the most accessible and is the most common destination for tourists. With a mountain range with the same name, within Torres del Paine N.P., the highest peaks are 9000 feet.
The park also features:
- Grey, Oingo, del Frances, Tyndall, and Dickson Glaciers
- Iconic waterfalls of Salto Chico and Salto Grande.
- The lakes and lagoons are spectacular shades of blue, green and turquoise, changing color not only from lake to lake but also with the reflections of the sun and sky. Names include the Azul and Verde l lagoons and the Dickson, Pehoe, Pingo, Nordenskjold, and Sarmiento lakes.
In December 2011, fire destroyed 17 thousand hectares of forest in this very fragile environment. This takes a very long time to regrow. The extensive damage is still very evident within the Park. The fire was started accidentally by a tourist. Needless to say fire safety is a priority within the Park and the entire region.
5. Settlement in Patagonia
The two Southern most towns in the world are in Patagonia. Chile claims Punta Arenas as the most Southern, and Argentina claims Ushuaia. Both are pretty far south!
Early settlement was difficult and largely unsuccessful. The Spaniards attempted to settle it in the late 16th century, as did the English a bit later. The Spanish founded several towns, sent Jesuit missionaries, but European settlement was never really successful and by the early 1800’s the area had no European settlement.
Punta Arenas, the starting point for exploring Southern Patagonia, is on the Chilean side. This town took hold and was quite important during the Californian Gold Rush. It was an important port town for shipping supplies to the gold fields from the US east coast. Its importance died down a bit when the Panama Canal was opened.
However, Punta Arena’s peak actually came a bit later, when it became the center of Chile’s wool industry. It produced some very large fortunes creating some of Chile’s wealthiest. Today it reflects its heritage and is a mix of cultures, with influences ranging from English sheep ranchers to Portuguese sailors.
On the Argentinean side you find Patagonia’s famous Welsh communities, whose descendants still speak Welsh. In 1865, the Welsh colony of, Y Wladfa (“The Colony”) was founded when the Argentine government offered 100 square miles for the establishment of a Welsh state and agreed to protect it militarily.
6. Traveling within Patagonia
This is a vast, remote area and travel distances are long and roads are few. In Argentina Ruta 3 and Ruta 40 cross Patagonia and in Chile the Carretera Austral runs from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. You are likely to see more wildlife than people.
The other alternative is traveling portions over water. Options include the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales and a private cruise with Cruceros Australis, between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas.
Flying is also available between the major towns, Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas and El Calafate and Ushuaia.
And lastly, lots of lengthy bus trips are an option if you have plenty of time. Land border crossings can be slow.
We will discuss travel options in our last post covering the travel essentials should you decide to visit. For now, suffice it to say, traveling within this region is one of its challenges but also what helps it retain its charm.
7. The Weather
Most people visit between November and March, which are the warmer months in Patagonia. Warm is a relative term. Within Torres Del Paine National Park, the summer (Jan-Mar) average temperature is 41°F to 68°F (5°C- 20°C). The weather is still unpredictable. Four seasons in a day is entirely possible. Wind, rain and cold can challenge you any time of the year.
The closer you get to a large glacier; they seem to have their own weather systems. Several times we started out hiking on a beautiful sunny day and as we got closer to the glacier, the weather rapidly deteriorated, including once forcing us to turn back as it was too windy to stand up! On the return we again found a sunny day. So be prepared!
Our future posts will discuss the unique culture, the fantastic food and wine and the opportunities to get out there and explore the best of Patagonia. You can subscribe to our newsletter and follow along.
A local custom I hope you enjoy during your trip is a toast with a glass of whiskey with ice from one of the glaciers. That’s right, chilling your drink with a thousand-year-old piece of ice. During our cruise, the traditional greeting at the end of our shore expeditions was a warm hot chocolate and whiskey!
We leave the choice of drinks to you. As we begin, we raise our glasses – this toast is to you – we hope you enjoy Patagonia Seven Fascinating Facts of Interest and all our posts about Patagonia!
Carolann & Macrae - One Modern Couple
Learned A LOT about Patagonia here! Interesting that the weather seemed to change when you’d approach glaciers as well!
Carolann & Macrae, Yes- it’s as if they have their own weather system. And it usually involves clouds and wind! LOL Keep reading we do finally encounter clear skies!
What a fascinating and gorgeous place! Looks like quite the experience. 🙂 I’ll toast with a big mug of hot chocolate! Thank you for sharing!!
Monica- We are toasting you back- with hot chocolate and whiskey! Unfortunately no glacial ice cubes at the moment!
Thanks for the information! I’ve explored the Chilean and Argentine Patagonia and wasn’t able to write about these interesting facts. Thanks again!
Trisha, my pleasure! We think Patagonia is just the best place to visit and we are passionate about its charms. Thanks for your comment.
Gemma Two Scots Abroad
You had me at snow capped mountain. Such a dreamy place!
We love Patagonia for all of the reasons outlined in this post. Thanks for your comments.
I have a trip planned to drive down to the edge of South America from Los Angeles. While it’s not until late next year, I have lots more to add to it, thanks to your wonderful post!
Joe, Wow- now that’s a road trip. Keep reading it is Patagonia month all month on the blog- this is just the first post!
Via Australis 🙂
Does that have anything to do with the Aurora Australis? 😛
Patagonia looks so distant and peaceful. I’m happy it isn’t very infested with tourists.
Sanket, Too far away for huge tourist numbers. Let’s hope it stay that way.
Julie @ Girl on the Move
My aunt and uncle took a trip down to this part of the world last year and I loved hearing about their experiences…and your pictures are just fabulous! Also, what a great tradition to have whiskey with glacier ice…such a unique experience!
Julie, Yes I am a big fan of whiskey since my travels through Scotland, so I was very happy!
I’m pretty sure Torres del Paine is also the most visited National Park in all of South America…
We loved that part of the world, especially visiting during the winter months (despite not having the correct gear, nothing plastic bags in between socks can’t fix) as there were far fewer tourists about!
Hope this inspires more to get there!
Hi Chris. You might be right about Torres del Paine being the most visited national park in all of South America.
It certainly deserves to be. What a stunning place! The lower number of tourists in winter must have been a bonus, but anytime is a good time to visit Torres del Paine. We think it and Monte Fitz Roy on the Argentine side, the subject of a future post on 21 September, are the most visually stunning places we have been to.
Thanks for your comment.
Gabby | The Globe Wanderers
These photos are incredible! What dramatic landscapes.
We’re desperate to explore South America…maybe even roadtrip it.
The parks are stunning and scream adventure 🙂
Will look forward to reading the next post on Patagonia… did I see you mention food and wine? 🙂
Hi Gabby. Thanks for your comment.
Dramatic is a good adjective to describe Patagonia. We have already posted Roast Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce. There is a wine recommendation there as well. We will be featuring other recipe and wine recommendations over the next 3 Wednesdays. Our dinner party post in early October will also include a longer wine wrap up, so stay tuned!
Amazing photos! Patagonia is on my bucket list for so long. I have to go there!
Marta, It was worth it. Not the easiest place to get to, but it does have it’s rewards when you do!
Kimberly Erin @ Walkaboot.ca
I just came back from Patagonia, It was always the top of my bucket list and so I am glad I got to spend my fair share of time there (having been living in Chile at the time it was accessible. I am happy to say I have been to a fewq of those parks and they are all stunning! Magically I had fab weather the whole time
Kimberly thanks for your comments. Like you Patagonia was right at the top of our bucket list. The scenery there is the best I have seen (fjords, lakes, volcanoes, mountains). And the hiking! Patagonia does have the lot.
Of course Chile and Argentina cannot agree on who has the southern most town. 🙂 I have only visited Ushuaia, but found the buildings to be quite charming. What beautiful photos !
Tara, Ushuaia is probably the biggest town in Patagonia! The architecture and lifestyle in the whole region are quite interesting.
What stunning photos!
Patagonia is on our bucket list! Our idea is to go to South America by the end of next year and go down south by car during summer time. Your post was very inspiring, bookmarking it for future plans!
Natalie, thanks for your comment. You won’t regret your planned trip. South America is awesome but make sure yo get to the “end of the world”. We are featuring Patagonia all month, so if you go to our Patagonia page you will see all of the posts.
Super love the photos! What an amazing adventure. Petagonia is so pretty 🙂
Karla, Thanks for reading and commenting. It was an amazing place- so beautiful.
I have been to a few parts of Patagonia here and there by cruise ship, but I didn’t know much about it at the time. There are 7 national parks?! That’s enough fact for me to want to go back!
Tracie, It is definitely worth it. Some amazing things further inland.
Katja - globetotting
I love the idea of whiskey chilled with ice from the glaciers! I have always wanted to go to Patagonia, these are great tips for when I finally make it there. Thanks!
Katja, I hope you do make it some day! It’s worth the trip.
“Dog-headed monster creature”? I would have been quite offended had I been one of those original Tehuelche Indians! Beautiful photos — thanks for sharing.
Tami, I agree- hopefully they didn’t know the book! Thanks for reading!
The Educational Tourist
Wow! What an amazing adventure! I love the tidbits like how the place got it’s name. 🙂 Enjoyed the post – looks SOOO beautiful!
One of the reasons we like to blog is that it does almost force you to learn about history, facts and myths. I think it adds an educational element to your travel. Thanks for your comment.
Useful post. Thanks for sharing