1) The explorer Magellan named the region, which includes the southernmost portions of Chile and Argentina, after the native people there. He used the word Patagón, or giant, to describe the group, who were an average height of about 6 feet tall, much taller than the Europeans of the time.
2) Rawson, the capital of the Chubut region of Patagonia, was settled by Welsh immigrants in 1865, as part of an effort by the Argentinian government to attract settlers to areas outside of Buenos Aires. The going was even tougher than they anticipated; the settlers had been told the arid plateau of Chubut was much like lush, green lowland Wales.
3) Humans have inhabited Patagonia since 10,000 BCE, if not longer, and traces of past settlements can be found across the region. One of the best known is the Cueva de las Manos (cave of hands), located in Santa Cruz, Argentina. The cave painters used ink made from hematite, and some archaeologists speculate that the young men stenciled their hands on the cave as part of a tribal rite-of-passage ritual. The cave was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
4) The Patagonian region of Santa Cruz, in Argentina, is home to a 52-square mile petrified forest. The forest grew 150 million years ago, during the Jurasssic period, and was later buried under volcanic eruptions at the beginning of the Cretaceous Period, when the Andes began formation.
5) Some of the most famous residents of Patagonia include the Magellanic penguins of Magdalena Island. Situated in the center of the Strait of Magellan, Magdelena Island hosts 60,000 breeding pairs of penguins. Penguins mate for life, going back to the same nest to meet and breed each year.
Need more reasons to travel to Patagonia? Check out Smithsonian’s Patagonian Explorer tour, where you’ll explore the glaciers, islands, and windswept landscapes of Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle Channel, and more.
Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s southernmost urban center, is 6,500 miles away from Washington, DC. What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home? Please share.