Travel Guide Argentina: Patagonia

The southernmost tip of South America forms Patagonia – a beautiful, wild landscape which stretches across high steppes, river valleys, golden grassland, cliffs and rocks. Learn more about this special region

David
David
Travel Guide
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Patagonia is a region in South America that consists of an Argentine part (in the east) and a Chilean part (in the west). With a size of 766,000 km², the Argentinean part is twice as large as Germany, but has only 1.6 million inhabitants.

Would there be something like the end of the world, it would probably be in Patagonia. The sparse and lonely land resembles the landscape of another planet. Gigantic mountain ranges, rough coastlines, vast high plateaus and majestic glaciers are characteristic for this area which also counts as the least densely populated area on earth with only one to two inhabitants per km².

Profile

Name
Patagonia

Location
In the southern tip of South America

Size
approx. 1,304,000 km²

Animals
Guanaco, nandu, Andean condor, flamingos, numerous other water birds

Best travel time
November to March

Highlights
Torres del Paine National Park, Los Glaciares National Park, Perito Moreno Glacier, the Ruta Nacional 40, the towns of El Chaltén and Bariloche

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Visiting Patagonia

Location, geography and climate

It is not easy to name the exact area that Patagonia covers. Generally speaking, it can be said that it stretches over parts of Argentina and Chile but not everyone agrees. Depending on the definition Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago on the southern tip of the South American continent, is seen as part of Patagonia and sometimes it is seen as independent. To put it roughly:
In the north the rivers Río Colorado in Argentina and the Río Bío Bío in Chile mark the borders of Patagonia, in the southern area the Strait of Magellan represents the natural border of this region.
Patagonia is divided into west Patagonia that belongs to Chile and east Patagonia that is part of Argentina. South of the Strait of Magellan you can find the so-called Land of Fire, an archipelago that is commonly seen as part of Patagonia. The population density is only as high as two inhabitants per square kilometre, which shows that this region is really only sparsely populated.
The Argentinian part of Patagonia can be divided in five provinces that are from north to south Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz und Tierra del Fuego.

The southern foothills of the Andes portray the natural border between west and east Patagonia. Not only are the Andes the longest mountain range worldwide but also the highest outside Asia.
The climate of the Argentinian part of Patagonia is mainly influenced by the bordering Andes. As the region is located in the rain shadow of the mountain range, it is usually very dry. Moreover, there is a constant wind which causes weather to be changeable and unpredictable at times. The low amount of rain is distributed quite evenly throughout the whole year and can also take the shape of snow in the months June to August. In the low lands, temperatures in Patagonia are around 6 to 7 °C. During winter time average daily temperatures are generally around 5°C, whereas temperatures can even fall below 0°C during the night. The warmest month is January with temperatures in the south of around 11°C and in the north between 15 and 20°C.

Flora and fauna in Patagonia

Due to the very dry climate in the Argentinian part of Patagonia you can find semi-arid or desert-like zones. This so-called Pampa – a veld-like plateau – as well as the wide range of grasses and bushes are very characteristic for wide areas of Patagonia. Further south the landscape gets wilder: you can find sees, fjords, glaciers and forests.
The region westwards of the Andes in the Chilean part of Patagonia is dominated by moist, cold climate due to the Valdivian temperate rain forest as well as the ice sheet. Besides the poles and Greenland this sheet is the biggest coherent ice mass worldwide.
In Patagonia you can visit the National Park Torres del Paine on the Chilean side and the National Park Los Glaciares on the Argentinian side. Los Glaciares is part of the UNESCO world natural heritage and is known for the icefalls of the glacier Perito-Moreno.

Patagonia has a unique fauna to offer. Especially nandus, guanakos (which are related to the lama) and the majestic Andean Condor are characteristic for the vast, open landscape. Since the second half of the 16th century, when the Spaniards conquered the land, also feral livestock like horses and cattle is roaming through the country. The colder south of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego are home to colonies of Magellanic penguins, sea bears and Patagonian sea lions. Whales can often be seen, as they can find a lot of food along the coast of Patagonia.

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Highlights in Patagonia

When in Patagonia, most travellers visit the Chilean National Park Torres del Paine and the National Park Los Glaciers which belongs to Argentina. Founded by the UNESCO in 1981, the Los Glaciers National Park is a world heritage site and famous for the spectacular Perito-Moreno-Glacier.

Patagonia is known as a paradise for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. The wide and often unexplored nature offers the possibility to totally focus on nature and yourself. It even can happen that you do not meet another person or signs of civilization for days or weeks. Further highlights include:

Glacier Perito-Moreno in Patagonia
The glacier Perito-Moreno is located in the National Park Los Glaciares in the province Santa Cruz and is part of the Campo de Hielo Sur – one of the biggest glacier regions in the South American Andes. You can explore these impressive glaciers on foot as well as by boat. Especially the ice falls that occur every few years are quite spectacular as well.

Ruta Nacional 40 in Patagonia

The Ruta Nacional 40 can be seen as Route 66 of Argentina. On more than 5,000 km this route runs along the eastern Andes – from Bolivia to the southern region of Patagonia. For approx. 2,400 km this second most famous highway of South America runs through Patagonia. This only partly asphalted road crosses uninhabited as well as very crowded areas.

El Chaltén in Patagonia

El Chaltén is located in the province Santa Cruz on the northern border of the National Park Los Glaciares and is part of the youngest village of Argentina. As the so-called “hiking capital” El Chaltén gives you direct access to the most famous mountains of the region, Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. There are also numerous offers of trekking tours for beginners.

Bariloche in Patagonia

Bariloche is a town in the province Río Negro that is not only known for its ski area at the Cerro Catedral but is also a great region for hiking and climbing within a beautiful landscape. Moreover, you can also do several extreme sports like kayaking, paragliding and mountain climbing. In addition to that the amazing lake scenery around Bariloche is a perfect setting for a road trip.

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By the way: The name Patagonia most likely originates from the portuguese explorer Ferdinand Mageallen, who named the indigenous Tehuelche Indians Patagones when he first met them on his expedition in the year 1520, because of their height. Patagones is probably deviated from the name of the giant Pathagon, a character from a legend described in the novel Novelas de Caballería, a book with stories about knights in the 16th century. Pathagon can be translated as “big feet”.

Sources

Klaus Bednarz: Am Ende der Welt – Eine Reise durch Feuerland und Patagonien. Reisebericht. Rowohlt, Berlin 2004

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