“THE FARTHEST PLACE TO WHICH MAN WALKED FROM HIS PLACE OF ORIGIN”; “THE END OF THE WORLD”; PATAGONIA STILL RETAINS ITS MYTHICAL STATUS AMONG THE ADVENTURERS. THIS AMAZING LANDSCAPE, WHICH JUST CALLS FOR EXPLORATION, IS THE RESULT OF MAJOR GEOLOGICAL TRANSFORMATIONS THAT HAPPENED MILLIONS OF YEARS AGO. MOUNTAINS, VALLEYS, GLACIERS AND LAKES THAT CREATE THE PHENOMENAL SCENERIES IN THIS ENORMOUS REGION THAT SPANS THROUGHOUT ARGENTINA AND CHILE ARE STILL UNSPOILED, ATTRACTING MOUNTAINEERS, HIKERS AND CLIMBERS FROM THE WHOLE WORLD; THOSE EAGER FOR VIRGIN TERRITORIES, PRISTINE NATURE AND ADRENALINE.
Here are 19 Interesting Facts about Patagonia, the Land of Fire and Ice, followed by more information about the mountains and adventures that await.
1. The name Patagonia derives from the Spanish word “patagónes”, meaning “big feet”. In 1519, Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan reported seeing giants on the beaches of Patagonia. Many subsequent explorers also confirmed seeing 10-foot-tall humans in this region. It is now believed that they saw Tehuelche people that were actually slightly higher than average Europeans of that time.
2. Tehuelche, or Aónikenk people, were the first known inhabitants of this region. Tehuelche is the Mapuche word meaning “fierce people”. They were hunter-gatherers living as nomads. Today, there are no known Tehuelche tribes, though some tribes assimilated into Mapuche groups.
3. Tehuelche are famous for their cave paintings – The Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the hands) contains exceptional cave arts executed between 13,000 and 9,500 years ago, the most interesting being the stencilled outlines of human hands.
4. Reaching all the way to the bottom of South America, Patagonia is nicknamed “The End of the World”. Ushuaia in Argentina is the world’s southernmost city in the world, it’s popular as a departure point to Antarctica.
5. The area of Patagonia is enormous, spanning a massive 1,043,076 km2, bounded by the Atlantic ocean in the west and Patagonian Andes in the East. It occupies almost half of Chile’s and Argentina’s territories, yet it’s one of the most uninhabited areas in the world – it’s home to less than 2 million inhabitants (less than 5% of either country’s population).
6. Patagonia has 6 National Parks: Torres del Paine (Chile), Los Glaciares (Argentina), Laguna San Rafael (Chile), Nahuel Huapi (Argentina), Tierra del Fuego (Argentina) and Alberto de Agostini (Chile).
7. Torres del Paine in Chile is the largest and probably the most visited National Park in Patagonia. The Park includes three distinctive granite peaks of the Paine mountain range or Paine Massif that rise up to 2,500 meters above sea level. It’s a popular hiking destination where you can go on a day hike to see the towers, walk the popular “W” route in about 5 days, or trek the full circle in 8-9 days. The park has clearly marked paths and refugios (shelters). It has been elected as the fifth most beautiful place in the world by National Geographic and the 8th Wonder of the World by TripAdvisor.
8. One of the most coveted peaks in the world because of its difficulty is Cerro Torre (3133 m/10278 ft), located in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in the Patagonia Region of Argentina, as part of the four mountain chain: Cerro Torre, Torre Egger, Punta Herron, and Cerro Standhart. Cerro Torre is the tallest of these four mountains. It’s famous not for its height but rather its foul weather, its very long pointed shape and difficult technical climbs. Climbs usually take three to eight days.
9. To the east of Cerro Torre rises the other famous mountains in Patagonia - Mount Fitz Roy (3375 m/ 11073 ft), also known as Cerro Chaltén. Chaltén comes from a Tehuelche word meaning "Smoking Mountain", due to a cloud that usually forms around the mountain's peak. Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno named it Fitz Roy, in honour of Robert FitzRoy who captained the HMS Beagle that charted large swaths of the Patagonian coast.
10. One section of the border between southern Chile and Argentina, especially the section of Patagonia’s southern ice field north of Mount Fitz Roy, is still the subject of dispute since it was first created in 1881.
11. If you’re into whale watching, Patagonia is definitely a place to go. Puerto Madryn in Chubut Province in Argentina is the perfect place to see these beautiful creatures up close.
12. This region is also great for penguin spotting. There are around 1.7 million pairs of Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) on the coast of Argentina and Chile. And remember, the entire region of Patagonia has only 2 million humans!
13. Patagonia has its own famous Welsh communities! In mid-1800, 150 Welsh people sailed to Argentina, where they eventually flourished and a new dialect (Patagonian Welsh) developed. Today it’s spoken by more than 5000 people in the region.
14. The Patagonian Desert is the largest desert in the Americas and the 8th largest desert in the world, occupying 673,000 square kilometres (260,000 square miles).
15. The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Argentine Patagonia. This gargantuan glacier, measuring 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high, is the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world, and is one of just two glaciers in all of South America that is still growing despite the climate changes. The glacier is also constantly moving forward up to 2m per day.
16. The other famous glacier in Patagonia is The Upsala Glacier in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park. It’s known for its rapid retreat and is named after Sweden’s Uppsala University, which sponsored the first studies of glaciers in the area.
17. The fossilised skeleton of the biggest dinosaur to ever walk the planet, Argentinosaurus huinculensis, was discovered near Plaza Huincul. The whole Neuquén Province in northwest Patagonia is known for its many dinosaur fossils.
18. One of the last and largest wild horse herds can be found in the mountains around Cape Horn, in Chilean Patagonia. Those horses didn’t have any human contact for over a century!
19. And for the end, while you’re in Patagonia remember to eat the calafate berry (Berberis microphylla), also known as the Magellan barberry. There is local legend that if you eat this blue-black berry while you’re here you will surely return.