Patagonia is unique and incomparable with anywhere else in South America – or perhaps even on the planet. But whatever you might have seen or heard about this land of astounding history and breathtakingly beautiful natural landmarks, allow us to introduce you to some of the astonishing things you never knew about Patagonia.
1. It’s huge – but barely inhabited
Although Patagonia covers an enormous area of 402,704-sq. miles (1,043,000sq. km), and occupies almost half of both Chile and Argentina, it’s only inhabited by two million people.
But this lack of local population is nature’s gain; as a result, there’s plenty of space for wildlife and untouched, wild landscapes.
2. Patagonians originate from across the world
The locals might all speak castellano or Spanish, but don’t be surprised if they’re fluent in a few other languages too. Over the centuries, Patagonia has been on the receiving end of immigration from across the globe, with Germans and Swiss settling Bariloche, Scots arriving to Argentina’s Santa Cruz Province, Welsh pioneers landing in Chubut Province and even Yugoslav immigrants in the Magallanes Region of Chile.
Marks of the cultural influences of this dynamic mixture of nationalities are evident in everything from the beer in Bariloche to the afternoon tea in Puerto Madryn, so expect a varied, fascinating cultural experience when exploring the region.
3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lived off the land in Patagonia
While they may have allegedly come to their sticky end in a showdown with the police in Bolivia in 1908, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid actually lived for a time on a 1,200-acre ranch in Cholila, Argentina.
Here, they tended cattle and often hiked across the border to sell their goods in Chile. A return to their banditry a few years later with a handful of bank robberies in neighboring Santa Cruz Province saw them selling their property and heading north.
4. It’s home to the world’s southernmost settlements
Ushuaia is proud to claim the title of city at the “End of the World” with its location at 54.8° south latitude. Founded by British missionaries in 1870, this city is now the main boarding point for cruises to Antarctica and Cape Horn.
But, across the Beagle Channel, you’ll also find Puerto Williams. It’s actually the world’s southernmost settlement, but loses out on the coveted title thanks to its slightly smaller population.
5. Everyone’s in agreement that Torres del Paine is incomparable
In 2013 this emblem of Chilean Patagonia was voted the Eighth Wonder of the World and was chosen by National Geographic as the fifth most beautiful place in the world – high praise indeed.
For visitors to the region, it’s always an unforgettable highlight.
6. Patagonia is brimming with ancient history
Although it doesn’t feature on most tourists’ itineraries in Patagonia, Neuquén Province in Argentina has been the site of a huge number of dinosaur fossil excavations. The fossilized skeleton of Argentinosaurus huinculensis, the largest dinosaur to walk the earth, was dug up by archeologists here.
7. Patagonia was named following a misunderstanding
The name “Patagonia” comes from the word “patagón” which was used to describe the native people that Portuguese sailor, Ferdinand Magellan first encountered when he landed here in the 1520s. His crew claimed that the mythical “patagónes” were over twice the height of the explorers and had huge feet, and this led to Patagonian being named the Land of Giants.
Obviously, this was subsequently proven to be untrue in further expeditions to Patagonia and historians have since suggested that it was the native Tehuelche who Magellan and his crew likely encountered, and who were only perhaps a little taller than the European settlers.
8. It’s renowned by climbers
Certain Patagonian peaks are revered by the international climbing community for their technical difficulty. Monte Fitz Roy near El Chaltén is regarded as one of the most technically challenging mountains to climb in the world, while the sheer walls of nearby Cerro Torre are similarly lauded – and hazardous.
Despite the danger, this doesn’t stop keen climbers from across the globe coming here to test their luck and attempt some of the world’s most difficult routes.
9. And home to some of the most incredible natural landmarks on earth
The granite peaks of Torres del Paine; Perito Moreno Glacier; Glacier Alley; the Chilean fjords. Wherever you look, Patagonia is brimming with spectacular natural landmarks that have been shaped by natural forces over millions of years.
As a result of these breathtaking landscapes, it’s possibly the top adventure tourism destination on the planet. So, when are you coming to discover this incredible region?