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
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
Chile also sits along the eastern edge of the seismically
"ring of fire". It therefore has numerous active volcanoes and earthquake faults.
Source: Moon Handbooks Patagonia by Wayne
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
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
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.
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.
From southern Patagonia to the tip of Tierra del Fuego, Argentine and Chilean
woodlands consist primarily of dense southern beech forests.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
(Click on map to see it in detail)
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
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
|Spanish is the
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
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,
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: www.Patagonia-Argentina.com, Moon Handbooks Patagonia by Wayne
Bernhardson 2005, CIA World Fact Book 2005
- Basic Info
Official Chile Tourism site, great maps
del Fuego photos
Check out their Image Gallery
Guide to Flora & Fauna
Photos from Chile Patagonia
Check their excellent photos
the free Encyclopedia, InfoPlease.com,
Kim and Don Greene,
Contributors; publication date December 1, 2005