What is Patagonia?

Updated: Jul 8, 2019

Spanning from Rio Negro in the North all the way South to Cape Horn, Patagonia is a richly diverse geopolitical region full of culture, history, and breathtaking nature.


The iconic Torres del Paine formation in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

Geography


Patagonia's distinctive geography was formed during the last global ice age, which carved out the mountains and valleys that you see today. The unique striations in sediment are a result of various ocean and land sediments being deposited over time here. The Patagonian Andes and Cordillera Paine are two beautiful- and very different- mountain ranges that both give this region its identity. The erosion by ice, wind, and water of the layered sediments also allowed the formation of several extensive caves in this region, which have been the source of iconic finds in both paleontology and archaeology.


This region is also characterised by the fjords and channels of its sea coast, which are deep, cold, and teeming with life. The play of the mountains, the ocean, and the undulating coastline allow for the creation of distinct microclimates across Patagonia. Driving for less than an hour can bring you to an entirely new type of vegetation and weather- part of Patagonia Chile's greatest charm.


The feature that Patagonia is perhaps best known for is its punishing high winds, which can gust up to 200km/h. These are caused by a combination of cold air blowing in from Antarctica and the Southern Ice Fields mixing with air from the ocean and winds coming over the Patagonian Andes. With all these factors, the weather here is constantly unpredictable, with weather from all four seasons frequently occuring over the span of only one day. Be sure to consider this while you're packing for your journey here.


Wildlife


This part of South America does not have the diversity of fauna found in the more central part of the continent, but it does have many beautiful animals that call the region home. The populations of puma, or cougar here, are generally held to be the largest in size compared to their northern counterparts, owing to the lack of competing predators here. They feed heavily on the ubiquitous guanaco and ñandu (Darwin's or Lesser rhea) that are native here, as well as on the introduced sheep, a problematic feature of life here for the farmers.


Birdlife here is extremely diverse. Andean condors are frequently spotted soaring overhead looking for prey. Caranchos (Southern Crested Caracara), the second largest falcon species in the world, can be spotted almost anywhere. The forests are home to the enormous Magellanic woodpecker, as well as Austral Parakeet. Bright pink Chilean flamingoes, along with Canquen colorado (Caiquen geese) can be seen in wetlands throughout the region.

Patagonian people are coloquially called "Pinguinos" owing to the other resident birdlife here-the penguins. Magellanic penguins can be found on the coasts and small islands of Patagonia from September to March, when they leave to spend time feeding at sea again. In Tierra del Fuego there is a resident colony of King penguins as well, who can be seen at their beach all year round.


The Strait of Magellan also boasts populations of orca, Humpback whales, and four species of dolphins, all of which are sometimes possible to be seen from the shore.


Culture and Language


The land of this region is shared by Argentina and Chile- in fact, to travel to the North of Chile by land, you must pass through Argentina to get there. As such, the Patagonians tend to share more with each other on the two sides of the border than they do with their fellow countrymen in the Northern regions of Chile and Argentina.


Added to this distinct cultural interaction is the influence of the multitudes of settlers that populated the region. Patagonia was settled more heavily, not by Chileans, but from European settlers from Spain, England, Ireland, Germany, Croatia, Italy, and France. The languages and cultures of these regions have woven into the fabric of the people here. Patagonians therefore speak a distinctive dialect of Spanish. The base is Castillian Spanish from Spain, borrowing heavily from English, with bits of all the other cultures, as well as the indigenous cultures of Aonikenk and Mapuche all thrown in.


Let us give you a hand communicating! Check out our article on Useful Phrases.


Food


The food of the region,heavily borrowing from its European influences, is largely meat and potatoes. Stews and soups, along with lentils, are eaten weekly as good hardy meals, always with a bit of chorizo or other meat for flavour. Vegetables here tend to be expensive, and come secondary to the meat in the meal- a challenge for vegetarians.


Chilean Patagonia has also developed a street food culture that is unique. Pichangas calientes and Salchipapas are a favourite comida typica of the region, and contain french fries along with meats, cheeses, and other assorted delicacies.





Overall, Patagonia is greater than the sum of its parts, and there is no one facet that defines it more than the others. Its geography is breathtaking, its wilderness is vast, and its people and culture are vibrant. But don't take our word for it- come here and see them all for yourself!


Have a question that you didn't see answered here? Check out our other articles about Patagonian travel or drop us a line and we will find the answer for you!


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