13 Incredible Facts About Patagonia
The magnificent Patagonian landscape is as unforgiving as it is beautiful. Those willing to head into the wilderness there must navigate rough terrain and unpredictable weather across a landmass that feels nearly untouched by humans. Learn more about the remote region below.
1. PATAGONIA IS ENORMOUS.
The magnificent region called Patagonia stretches around 260,000 square miles across the South American continent, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Patagonian Andes on the other.
2. VERY FEW PEOPLE CALL IT HOME.
There’s a lot of grandeur to go around. Although the region takes up nearly a third of the land area in Argentina and Chile, it’s home to less than 5 percent of either country’s population—which isn’t so surprising when you consider what the people who live there are up against. Southern Patagonia is an especially unforgiving area, battered by severe winds and frequent rain, hail, sleet, or snow storms.
3. IT WAS ONCE A LAND OF NOMADS …
The first known inhabitants of Patagonia were a collection of tribes known as the Tehuelche. These nomadic peoples lived on the move, using stone bolos to hunt llama-like animals called guanacos and enormous flightless birds called ñandú.
4. … BUT NOT, DESPITE THE NAME, GIANTS.
Patagonia takes its name from the Spanish patagones (big feet)—because nothing fires up the imagination like a long sea voyage. In 1519, explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his crew reported finding “well formed” giants on the Patagonian beaches. Subsequent explorers would repeat and even build on these tales, returning to their homelands with stories of 10-foot-tall humans for another two hundred years. The myth was eventually put to rest, but the name Patagonia stuck. (The Tehuelche people were, on average, slightly taller than Europeans, but by “slightly taller” we mean a few inches, not a few feet.)
5. IT’S MOVING.
Part of it, anyway. The gargantuan Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares National Park contains the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world, and it’s still growing. Every day the glacier expands and creeps forward another 2 meters.
6. IT’S FULL OF DINOSAURS.
The people of the region may not have been 10 feet tall, but Patagonia was once full of giants of another kind. A huge Patagonian herbivore named Argentinosaurus huinculensis was believed to be one of the largest animals to ever walk the Earth. Recently, it was dethroned by another Argentinean behemoth, a titanosaur which scientists have yet to name.
7. IT’S THE SITE OF A LONGSTANDING CUSTODY BATTLE.
One section of the border between southern Chile and Argentina has been the subject of dispute since it was first delineated in 1881. While most of the territory has been settled on one side or another, the section of Patagonia’s southern ice field north of Mount FitzRoy remains hotly contested. Attempts to claim the land have ranged from the militant (landmines) to the humble (persuasive bumper stickers).
8. IT’S HOME TO A MAGICAL FRUIT.
The calafate berry (Berberis microphylla), also known as the Magellan barberry, is a humble fruit with a big reputation: local lore has it that anyone who eats the sweet little blue-black berries fresh or in jam while in Patagonia will be sure to return.
9. IT GETS LOW.
Appropriately nicknamed “The End of the World,” Patagonia reaches all the way to the bottom of the South American continent. The Patagonian city of Ushuaia, Argentina, is the southernmost city in the world, and is a popular departure point for cruises and departures to Antarctica.
10. IT’S GOT PENGUINS. A LOT OF PENGUINS.
Magellan saw more than huge people on his 1519 visit. He also saw boatloads of penguins. Today, there are an estimated 1.7 million pairs of Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) honking, waddling, and fishing up and down the coasts of both Argentina and Chile. (By contrast, the entire region of Patagonia is home to just 2 million people.)
11. IT’S A PRETTY GOOD PLACE TO BE WELSH.
Fearing the extinction of their language and culture and dreaming of a new utopia, 150 Welsh people sailed from Liverpool to Argentina in the mid-1800s. The settlement had a rough start but eventually flourished. Over time, a new dialect—Patagonian Welsh—developed, and today it’s spoken by more than 5000 people in the region.
12. “COWBOY” IS STILL A REAL JOB TITLE.
Skill on horseback is the name of the game for Patagonia’s gauchos (ranchers) and bagualeros (cowboys who hunt feral animals). The wildlands of Argentina and Chile are beautiful but unforgiving, and survival skills are an essential part of a day’s work.
13. IT’S RIGHT ACROSS FROM RUSSIA.
Geometrically speaking, that is. If you drew a line straight through the globe starting in Puerto Natales, Chile, you’d come out the other side in its sister city of Ulan-Ude, Russia. These antipodes, or diametrically opposed cities, are two of only 16 perfectly paired cities in the entire world.