What (and Where) is Patagonia?

Patagonia is an outdoor clothing and equipment supplier based in California. At least, that’s what many people think of when they hear the word “Patagonia.” But few people may know that Patagonia is a real place with some of most beautiful terrain and treacherous climates in the world. But where exactly is it, and exactly is there?

Here are some things you probably didn’t know about the real Patagonia.

Location

Photo of jagged snow-covered mountains behind lakes and grassy plains
Credit: ichywong/ Shutterstock

Patagonia is enormous — consisting of more than 260,000 square miles — and covers nearly the entire southern portion of Argentina and Chile. It is also one of the very few regions in the world that is in contact with three different oceans: the Pacific in the West, Southern Ocean in the South, and Atlantic in the East. Ushuaia, a city located in Patagonia, is considered the southernmost city in the world, which gives it the nickname “The End of the World.”

Geography

Photo of jagged snow-covered mountains behind lakes and grassy plains
Credit: NiarKrad/ Shutterstock

Most of Patagonia is made of steppe-like plains with very little vegetation and a cold, dry climate. In the hollows of the plains are lakes and ponds. Rainfall in this region is minimal, barely reaching an inch annually.

In the west, the terrain becomes more mountainous as it reaches the southernmost peaks of the Andes. This area is also home to the second largest ice field outside of Antarctica, boasting 356 glaciers. Perito Moreno, the largest glacier in Patagonia, is more than 180 feet tall and four miles wide.

Population

Photo of a farmer corralling cattle with mountains in the background
Credit: maksim bogdanov/ Shutterstock

Because of its unforgiving landscape and climate, Patagonia is one of the least densely populated areas on Earth with approximately 1-2 people per square kilometer. Although it is nearly one-third of Argentina’s area, it is home to less than 5% of the population. The first known inhabitants of Patagonia were nomadic tribes that would follow big game over the grasslands.

Wildlife

Photo of a llama
Credit: Ionov Vitaly/ Shutterstock

Patagonia is home to a wide variety of wildlife due to its geographical diversity. Guanacos are a relative of the llama and prefer to live in the cold, unforgiving mountains. They typically live in groups of 25 to 50. Around 90% of the world’s population of Guanacos live in the Argentine steppes.

Andean condors are the largest flying bird in the world with an impressive wingspan that can reach up to 10 feet. They enjoy the high winds of Patagonia to help them keep their massive 30-pound bodies in the air.

Magellanic penguins got their name because they were the first to greet Magellan when he passed the southern tip of South America on his round-the-world voyage. Patagonia is home to around 1.7 million pairs of penguins who visit the area each year to hatch their young. There are more penguins in Patagonia than there are humans!

History

Photo of a person on horseback wrangling sheep
Credit: Galyna Andrushko/ Shutterstock

Well before humans existed, Patagonia was home to many species of dinosaurs, whose bones are still being uncovered today. The Patagotitan is the largest known dinosaur to ever walk the Earth at over 120 feet long and weighing 69 tons. Its massive femur was discovered by a farmer outside of Trelew, Patagonia. The earliest humans inhabited the area around 12,500 BC, but not much is known about their civilization beyond a few cave paintings and artifacts.

The nomadic Tehuelche people inhabited the plains of Patagonia during European exploration. They became well known in European literature due to their great stature and strength. In 1520 during his famous voyage, Magellan claimed to have met a race of 10-foot-tall giants in what is now southern Argentina, stating that he came up only to their waist. It’s likely he met early members of the Tehuelche, who were indeed larger than the average European but only by a couple inches. Over the years, the story became exaggerated, leading the name "Patagonia" to mean "Land of the Bigfeet."

Once Europeans began exploring Patagonia, the Tehuelche culture began to disappear due to wars and cultural assimilation. Once Argentina was granted its independence, they attempted to settle Patagonia. Not many people immigrated due to the harsh terrain and climate, but a few groups of people did settle the area for its natural resources and political and religious liberties.

Cover image credit: Galyna Andrushko/ Shutterstock

Share this article:

More from the Blog

Related article image

The 5 Newest States (Besides Alaska and Hawaii)

Related article image

What (and Where) Is Death Valley?

Related article image

Most Bizarre Town Names in the U.S.