Patagonia - South America’s cold rugged wilds over two countries (31 May)
Interesting Facts about Patagonia
ONE OF THE WORLD’S largest wilderness areas, South America’s Patagonia region is shared by Argentina and Chile, and it encompasses a range of rugged landscapes. Its northern end edges against the grassy Argentine Pampas, and it stretches south to the untamed, remote islands of Tierra del Fuego scattered within the Beagle Channel. Whales frolic in the Atlantic waves breaking against Patagonia’s eastern edge, and the Andes Mountains loom over glacial lakes on the Chile–Argentina boundary. The region’s roads and vistas have been traversed and explored by legendary figures like Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Bruce Chatwin, and Charles Darwin.
Península Valdés, called by some a cold Galápagos, juts into the Atlantic, its beaches a playground for seals, sea lions, penguins, and other marine life. Pods of whales and orcas migrate just off the peninsula’s shores at Punta Norte, and in the Golfo Nuevo. Welsh pioneers settled here over a century and a half ago and founded the town of Puerto Madryn. Their descendants still live on the peninsula; in small towns, some even continue to speak Welsh. A serene, alpine center of chocolate-making and ski lodges awaits in San Carlos de Bariloche, Patagonia’s Teutonic heart, with architecture that’s a homage to Bavaria. Patagonia is raw, rugged, and at its most spectacular on the Chilean border along the Andes Mountains. At the heart of this landscape is the famous pinnacle Monte Fitz Roy. Locals call it Cerro Chaltén, a fusion of Spanish and Tehuelche words meaning “smoking mountain,” for the misty ring around its 11,073-foot (3,375 m) summit. Its sheer granite surface looms over Lago Viedma on the northern edge of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, home to nearly 50 major glaciers.
The most impressive glacier of all is Perito Moreno, a three-mile-wide (5 km) wall of aquamarine-colored ice that rises almost 200 feet (61 m) above Lago Argentino and emits a grinding roar as it shifts. This is one of Patagonia’s essential sights, and viewing platforms are crowded with visitors awed by bus-size chunks of ice shearing off the glacier and crashing into the lake’s water. Others strap on spiked crampons and climb over the glacier’s white, wrinkly, lunar surface.
South of the park, Torres del Paine, a dramatic triplet of mountain summits, straddles the Argentina–Chile border. Patagonia’s end-of-the-earth feeling is strongest in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, pressed between the soaring tail of the Andes and the violent waves of the Beagle Channel. Its lonely port is a base for ships leaving for Antarctica.