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The region known as Patagonia is claimed by both Chile and Argentina and there are no set legal boundaries. In Argentina it is agreed that Patagonia contains the territory south of the Rio Colorado, including the provinces of Neuquen, Rio Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego.  Chilean Patagonia’s boundaries are more difficult to define as it is not an official region.  However, the two Chilean Regions (elsewhere called states) XI (Aisen) and XII (Magallanes) would be considered as part.  The southernmost point, at a latitude of nearly 56 degrees is the southernmost continental point on the planet.

Calculation of its size is therefore difficult to be exact.  From the Rio Colorado to Cape Horn is a distance of about 2,200 km.  At its widest point, the distance from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean measures nearly 1,000km, while at its most narrow point it is barely 400km across.  

Argentine Patagonia has an area of approximately 787,000 square kilometers.  Chilean Patagonia adds up to nearly 340,000 square kilometers.  Altogether Patagonia totals nearly  1,127,000 square kilometers.  This amounts to an area roughly the same size as France, Germany and England combined.

The Andean mountain range is the dominant feature of western Patagonia.  The Patagonian Andes do not reach the heights found in Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile or Argentina, but they do have many glaciers because of their latitude.

Chile also sits along the eastern edge of the seismically active "ring of fire".  It therefore has numerous active volcanoes and earthquake faults.

Source: Moon Handbooks Patagonia by Wayne Bernhardson 2005

Regional History


Monte Verde, Chile, is one of South America’s oldest archaeological sites confirmed by radiocarbon dating to be 13,000 years old.  In cave sites like Cueva del Las Manos found along the southern Andes, the prehistoric people left colorful pictographs on the rocky overhangs. These people eventually developed into the several indigenous groups that populated the region. The Yámanas and Onas (or Selknam) were in Tierra Del Fuego and the rest of the continent was populated with the Pehuenches, Mapuches and Tehuelches.

Ferdinand Magellen’s legendary expedition arrived in Santa Cruz province in 1520 and spent the winter there before rounding the Horn. This initial European contact with the natives was peaceful, but future contacts were not. Diego de Almagro attempted to cross Argentina and Chile overland in 1535, but was poorly organized and his expedition ended in failure.  Four years later, Pedro de Valdivia traveled south from Peru founding Santiago in 1541. 

While much of South America was being conquered by the Spanish, in the Andean lake district of Argentina, the local people known as Araucanians fought off all attempted conquerors for over three hundred years. In southern Patagonia most attempts to settle failed because of poor planning and the difficult environmental conditions. 

In 1879 General Julio Argentino Roca ruthlessly displaced the native population in favor of settlers’ cattle and sheep.  The government also began to encourage settlers into the southern territories.  

Source: Moon Handbooks Patagonia by Wayne Bernhardson 2005

Origin of the name  According to legend, the region owes its name to the Tehuelches. They were very tall, with well-developed bodies so the Spaniards called them "Patagones", relating them to a giant called "Patagón", a character in a novel popular at the time. 

Another version related to the origin of the word Patagonia, also makes reference to the Tehuelches, but in this version it says that the name comes from the huge tracks they left on the snow, due in part to their physique and also to the fact that they covered their feet with animal skins.



The mountains that separate Chile and Argentina are high enough that Pacific storms drop most of their rain and snow on the Chilean side. In the extreme southern reaches of Patagonia, however, enough snow and ice still accumulate to form the largest southern hemisphere glaciers outside of Antarctica. East of the Andean foothills, the cool, arid Patagonian steppes support huge flocks of sheep, whose wool is almost all exported to Europe.

Tierra del Fuego consists of one large island (Isla Grande) and many smaller ones. The northern half of Isla Grande is devoted to sheep grazing, while its southern half is mountainous and partly covered by forests and glaciers

Both Argentina and Chile are famous for their Andean lake districts, where the melting ice of Pleistocene glaciers has left carved out valleys.

In Patagonia’s high latitudes, grasses and shrubs grow on the arid plateau that stretches to the Atlantic. In a few areas, eastward-flowing rivers have cut deep canyons through the bedrock.

Like other countries, Argentina and Chile suffer from environmental problems such as air, noise and water pollution. Patagonia also suffers from the deterioration of the Antarctic ozone layer which has exposed both humans and livestock to increasing ultraviolet radiation.

Deforestation and soil erosion are also environmental issues. In recent years illegal logging of protected Alerce trees in the Andean lake district has caused problems and centuries of livestock activities have caused serious erosion.  Over fishing is also an environmental issue.

Sources: Moon Handbooks Patagonia by Wayne Bernhardson, Lonely Planet Argentina by Danny Palmerlee, Sandra Bao, Andrew Dean Nystrom, & Lucas Vidgen

Flora & Fauna




Broadleaf & Coniferous Forest

In the Patagonian Lake District, various species of southern beech, both evergreen and deciduous, are the most abundant trees. There are, however, several conifers, particularly the umbrella or monkey-puzzle tree, so called because its crown resembles an umbrella and its limbs take the shape of a monkey’s tail. The long-lived alerce or lawen is an endangered species because of its high timber value, though most stands of the tree are now protected; it is more common on the well-watered Chilean side.

Temperate Rain Forest

In southwestern Chilean Patagonia, heavy rainfall supports coastal and upland forests of mostly southern beech (nothofagus), though there are many other broadleaf trees and even the occasional conifer such as the Guaytecas cypress. In some areas though, the forest has suffered severe depletion because of logging.

Patagonian Steppe

In the Andean rain shadow, on the eastern Patagonia plains, Chilean Magallanes and even parts of Tierra del Fuego, decreased rainfall supports grasslands where the wind blows almost ceaselessly. In some areas scrub brush is abundant. Since the late 19th century, sheep grazing has had a tremendous detrimental impact on these natural pastures.

Magellanic Forest

From southern Patagonia to the tip of Tierra del Fuego, Argentine and Chilean woodlands consist primarily of dense southern beech forests.


Land Animals

In Patagonia, the largest and most widely distributed carnivore is the puma or mountain lion. The smaller Andean cat is an endangered species. The southern river otter is also an endangered species, while the Argentine gray fox qualifies as threatened.

Wild grazing mammals include the guanaco, a relative of the domestic llama and alpaca, which is most abundant on the Patagonian steppe but also inhabits parts of the high Andes. The South Andean huemul, a type of deer, is the subject of a joint conservation effort between Chile and Argentina.  In the mid-19th century, there were some 22,000 huemul in both countries, but at present only about 1,000 survive in each country south of Chile’s Rio Biobio.

The pudu is a miniature deer found in wooded areas on both sides of the Patagonia Andes; like the huemul, it’s difficult to spot. Other animals include red and gray foxes and armadillos.

Marine, Coastal, and Aquatic animals

Marine mammals include the southern sea lion, which inhabits the coastline from the Rio Plata all the way south to Tierra del Fuego and north into the Pacific. From Argentina’s Chubut province south, the southern elephant seal and southern fur seal are both on the Endangered Species List, classified as threatened or endangered.

The most famous of Argentine whales is the southern right whale, which breeds in growing numbers in the waters around Peninsula Valdes. Other whales found in these waters include the blue whale, the humpback whale, the fin whale, the sei whale, the Minke whale, the pygmy right whale and beaked whales. The orca or killer whale is also present, along with smaller marine mammals such as Commerson’s dolphin.

The main pelagic fish in the southern oceans include conger eel, corvina, and the over-fished hake and Chilean sea bass or Patagonian toothfish. Shellfish and crustaceans include mussels, scallops and squid.

Freshwater Fish

In the Andean Lake District, native species include big-mouthed perch, small-mouthed perch and Patagonia pejerrey and peladilla. Introduced species include brook trout, European brown trout, rainbow trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon.


The Argentine Pampas’ signature species may be the southern lapwing, it and other similar species have a wide distribution. The widely distributed buff-necked ibis or bandurria is a striking presence, with its curved beak.

The Andean condor soars along the mountains, while migratory birds like flamingoes, along with coots, ducks and geese frequent shallow steppe lakes.

In northern Patagonia’s dense forests, some birds are heard as often as seen, especially the shy chucao. Others, like the flocks of squawking Patagonian parakeets that flit through the woods, are more visibly conspicuous.

Some 240 bird species inhabit the south Atlantic coastline and Tierra del Fuego, including the albatross with its four-meter wingspan, the black-necked swan, the flightless steamer duck, the kelp gull and several penguin species, most commonly the Magellanic or jackass penguin. Its close relative, the Humboldt penguin, is an endangered species that ranges far to the north on the Chilean side. Additionally there are Red-legged cormorants, Rock cormorants and Blue Eyed Cormorants, Snowy Sheathbills, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Dolphin Gulls, Crested Ducks, Real Terns, South American Terns and Cayenne Terns, Great Grebes, Blackish Oystercatchers, Magallanic Oystercatchers and Neotropic Cormorants.

The ostrich-like greater rhea can be seen in less densely settled parts of Argentine and Chilean Patagonia while the lesser rhea is fairly common in the provinces of Neuquen, Rio Negro, Chubut and Santa Cruz.


CNN) -- Millions of years ago, the largest dinosaurs rumbled through the steamy jungles of northern Patagonia. Now a desert of bleak mountains and blistering heat, the remote South American region is giving up a bonanza of bones from the behemoths, some of which have come back to life in North American natural history museums.

A spate of mysterious monster finds has placed Argentina on the paleontology map in recent years. Fossilized discoveries over the past decade include Giganotosaurus, the largest dinosaur carnivore; Argentinosaurus, the largest herbivore; and other bones that suggest an even longer species.

Relatively unexplored, the fossil fields of Patagonia could produce scientific bounties that rival or surpass prolific dinosaur discovery sites in the western United States and Canada, according to scientists.

"They have vast areas of rocks that appear to have a lot of dinosaur remains in them," said Karl Flessa, former president of the Paleontology Society. "It's a matter of them having rocks of the appropriate age and character."

Jurassic, Triassic, Cretaceous, all of the great periods of the dinosaurs show up on the fossil history of Argentina.

"It has one of the most complete fossil records that we know of," said Marissa Vivona of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, which sponsors dinosaur hunters in the South American country. She recently accompanied an expedition as an observer, but managed to get her hands in the dirt.

"Someone handed me a hand tool and said, 'Here, dig.' I found bone fragments. It was amazing. There are dinosaurs everywhere."

Source: Moon Publications Patagonia by Wayne Bernhardson 2005, Cable News Network By Richard Stenger


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Patagonia is not a country it is a region that covers part of two countries:  Argentina and Chile.


Argentina’s federal system resembles that of the United States, with executive, legislative and judicial branches at the national level and similar institutions for each of the 23 provinces and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires. At the national level, the legislative branch consists of a 257-member Chamber of Deputies and a 72-member Senate with three members for each province and Buenos Aires. 

Chile’s national government consists of separate and legally independent executive, legislative and judicial branches, but its twelve regions, plus the Metropolitan Region of Santiago, lack the autonomy of Argentina’s provinces – their governors, for instance, are appointed from the president’s office in Santiago. 

At the national level, the National Congress consists of a 46-member Senate and a 120-memberChamber of Deputies. Only 38 senators are elected, however, as eight are "institutional" including former heads of the armed forces and ex-presidents. There is strong public sentiment to abolish the institutional senators, but reform efforts have stalled.

Source: Moon Handbooks Patagonia by Wayne Bernhardson 2005


Spanish is the official language. 



In late 2001, Argentina defaulted on part of its US$141 billion foreign debt, causing a political and economic disaster. But ironically, the Argentine economic implosion revived the lagging wool industry, as the new exchange rate made Argentine wool more competitive internationally. Devaluation also made tourism more competitive, spurring a boom throughout the country, but especially in Patagonia.

Today, thanks to fishing, industry and tourism, Argentine Patagonia is the country’s fastest-growing region. Since 1980, Tierra del Fuego’s population has nearly quadrupled, while Neuquen’s has nearly doubled. Santa Cruz has grown 70 percent and Chubut 57 percent.

Patagonia has Argentina’s highest employment rates outside of Buenos Aires, but it also has the highest mean monthly income at US$245, the lowest poverty rates at 18.5 percent, lowest mortality rate at 4.7 per thousand (the nationwide figure is 7.4), the lowest rate of death by heart disease and infection and the lowest infant mortality. It has the highest percentage rate of potable water and sewer service, and the highest literacy rates.

Chile’s economy is one of the region’s most stable and dynamic. For nearly two decades, its economic performance has been one of almost uninterrupted growth, though averages for the decade that ended in 1998 have fallen off.

Mining and forestry are important economic sectors but controversial in Patagonia for environmental reasons. Tourism is important as well, but with the Argentine economic collapse, Chilean vacationers took their vacations with the much cheaper prices in Argentina. Chile’s relatively high travel costs have not yet deterred overseas visitors, though – there’s only one Torres del Paine, for example, and officials estimate that tourism will grow nine percent over the previous year.

Chilean Patagonia’s population has also grown but less dramatically than Argentina’s. Since the 1982 census, Aisen’s population has grown by 38.5 percent, but Magallanes has grown barely 14 percent. Much closer and more accessible to Santiago than comparable Argentine provinces, the Andean Lake District regions of La Araucania and Los Lagos have grown by 24.5 percent and 26.4 percent respectively.

Source: Moon Handbooks Patagonia by Wayne Bernhardson, 2005

People and Culture

People and Culture

In immediate pre-Columbian times, bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers peopled much of Patagonia. Living in small bands with no permanent settlements, they relied on wild game like the guanaco (a relative of the modern llama) and flightless ostrich-like nandu or rhea, as well as fish, for survival.  What remains of their culture is primarily arrowheads, spear points, and the rounded stone balls known as boleadoras. Today, most of the Patagonian aborigines live in reserves or work in estancias. The Mapuches constitute the most numerous community, with some 40,000 people.

According to the 2001 census, Argentina has 36,223,947 inhabitants, but the Patagonian provinces are thinly populated. Among them, Neuquen, Rio Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego have less than five percent of the country’s population in more than 28 percent of its territory.

Argentina is a land of immigrants, with Spaniards, Italians, Basques, English, Irish, Welsh, Yugoslavs and other nationalities making their homes in Patagonia. The racial breakdown is white: 97%, mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian ancestry), Amerindian, or other non-white groups making up 3%. Their religion is predominantly Roman Catholic with 92% (less than 20% practicing), Protestant 2%, Jewish 2% and other 4%.

According to the 2002 census, Chile’s population is 15,116,435, but, as in Argentina, the distribution is skewed. Only about 2.2 million people, less than 15 percent, live in the Andean Lake District regions of La Araucania and Los Lagos and the Patagonian regions of Aisen and Magallanes, which together comprise about 45 percent of Chilean territory.

Chilean Patagonia’s population ethnically resembles that of Argentine Patagonia, with a particularly strong representation of Croats. Whites and white-Amerindians make up 95% of the population, Amerindian 3% and other 2%. The religion is also predominantly Roman Catholic 89%, Protestant 11%.

Spanish is Argentina’s official language, but English is widely spoken in the tourist and business sectors of the economy. Foreign language use such as German and Italian is vigorous among ethnic communities. Welsh is making a comeback in Chubut province.

Spanish, likewise is Chile’s dominant language, but perhaps 400,000 speak the Mapuche vernacular of Mapudungun. English is also widely used in the tourism and business sectors.

Source:, Moon Handbooks Patagonia by Wayne Bernhardson 2005, CIA World Fact Book 2005

Patagonia Links

Patagonia - Basic Info

Chile TurisTel
Official Chile Tourism site, great maps

Chilean Patagonia

Orcas of Patagonia

Tierra del Fuego photos

Los Notros Hotel
Check out their Image Gallery

Ushuaia Galeria

Patagonian Recipies

Patagonia Cuisine

Latin America links

Chile: Guide to Flora & Fauna

Flora Photos from Chile Patagonia

Estancia La Ernestina
Check their excellent photos

Patagonia Photos

Source: Wikpedia the free Encyclopedia,, Moon Handbooks

Kim and Don Greene, Contributors; publication date December 1, 2005