Patagonia is a distinct geographical region at the base of South America, spanning the southern areas of Argentina and Chile. Sparsely populated, Patagonia is known for its arid plains, breathtaking mountain vistas, lakes, glaciers, and bountiful, diverse wildlife.
Patagonia is a distinct geographical region at the base of South America, spanning the southern areas of Argentina and Chile.
On the Argentine side, it begins in the province of Rio Negro and continues south to Tierra Del Fuego. On the Chilean side, it begins in the Araucanía region and extends down to the extreme southern tip of the country.
Sparsely populated, the vast Patagonia region covers about 777,000 sq km (300,000 sq mi) of Argentina, which is about a third of the country, and another 340,000 sq km (131,275 sq mi), or nearly half the total landmass of Chile.
Patagonia has become renowned as one of the few surviving regions of the world designated as an "Eden" or region where pristine nature still exists. Known for its arid plains, lakes, breathtaking mountain vistas, glaciers, and bountiful, diverse wildlife, Patagonia is an exciting lure for eco-tourists and outdoor sports enthusiasts.
The region comprises the southern section of the Andes Mountains as well as the deserts, pampas, and grasslands (the Patagonian Desert and Patagonian Steppe) to the east. The archipelago of Tierra del Fuego is sometimes included as part of Patagonia.
Map showing the Patagonia geographic region of Argentina and Chile
At a state level, Patagonia lies inside two countries: approximately 10% in Chile and 90% in Argentina. The Patagonian Provinces of Argentina are Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego. The southernmost part of Buenos Aires Province can also be considered part of Patagonia.
The two Chilean regions undisputedly located entirely within Patagonia are Aysén and Magallanes. Palena Province, a part of the Los Lagos Region, is also located within Patagonia. By some definitions, the Chiloé Archipelago, the rest of the Los Lagos Region, and part of the Los Ríos Region are also part of Patagonia.
Patagonia is geographically and climatically diverse. As well as the classic dry southern plains of Argentina, the region includes the Andean highlands and lake districts, the moist Pacific coast, and the rocky and frigid Tierra del Fuego. The diverse terrain is all shaped in one way or another by the Andean Cordillera, the longest continuous mountain chain on earth.
The Andes are formed by the Pacific Ocean Nazca Plate pushing under the South American Plate. This seismic activity is accompanied by volcanic activity. Patagonia still has many active volcanoes. Petrified forests are still found here, formed by volcanic ash burying large tracts of land.
Argentine Patagonia is for the most part a region of steppe-like plains, rising in a succession of 13 steep terraces about 100 m (330 ft) at a time and covered with an enormous bed of shingle almost bare of vegetation. In the hollows of the plains are ponds or lakes of fresh and brackish water.
Towards Chilean territory, the shingle gives place to porphyry, granite, and basalt lava types. Here, animal life becomes more abundant and vegetation more luxuriant, consisting principally of southern beech and conifers.
The high rainfall against the western Andes (Wet Andes) and the low sea-surface temperatures offshore give rise to cold and humid air masses, contributing to the ice fields and glaciers, the largest ice fields in the Southern Hemisphere outside of Antarctica.
The overall climate is cool and dry. The east coast is warmer than the west, especially in summer, as a branch of the southern equatorial current reaches its shores, whereas the west coast is washed by a cold current. However, winters are harder on the inland plateaus east of the slopes as well as further down the coast on the southeast end of the Patagonian region.
The area's principal economic activities have been mining, whaling, livestock (notably sheep), agriculture (wheat and fruit production near the Andes towards the north), and oil after its discovery near Comodoro Rivadavia in 1907. Energy production is also a crucial part of the local economy.
In the second half of the 20th century, tourism became an ever more important part of Patagonia's economy. Originally a remote backpacking destination, the region has attracted increasing numbers of upmarket visitors, cruise passengers rounding Cape Horn or visiting Antarctica, and adventure and activity holiday-makers.
Principal tourist attractions include the Perito Moreno glacier, the Valdés Peninsula, the Argentine Lake District, Ushuaia, and Tierra del Fuego. Ushuaia is also a jumping-off place for travel to Antarctica, bringing in still more visitors.
Tourism has created new markets locally and for export for traditional crafts such as Mapuche handicrafts, guanaco textiles, confectionery, and preserves.