A world apart... In fact, Patagonia is neither a mere country, nor an administrative district belonging to an ordinary Latin American state. Patagonia is that end of the world land which stretches away on that Southern American cone shaped land, shared by Chile and Argentina. Although official borders are quite vague, one can say that Patagonia covers territories situated between 42° South (with Río Negro as a convenient landmark) and Cape Horn.
The Andes Cordillera stands as the true backbone of that sub continent, stretching down to Fuiegiean Archipelago, then diving deep under Drake Sea then springing up again on the Antarctic Peninsula. Although many times discussed upon as a natural border between Chile and Argentina, the Cordillera actually severs Patagonia into two quite geographically distinct zones. On the Wertern (Chilean) side, austral forest prevails on a strip of land rarely exceeding 50 miles width; it is quite dense; coupiously watered (more than 12 feet a year rainfall), and keeps on thriving down to the shores of the fjords along the jagged Pacific coast... On the Eastern (Argentinian) side, since the Cordillera acts as a shield against the Pacific downpours, there prevails a semi arid steppe, with mesetas (plateaus) stretching down to the arid cliffs of the Atlantic coast.
These specific differences can be observed in the Tierra del Fuego, but they follow a, East/West direction instead: the steppes are in the North, the mountains in the South.
Numerous earth tremors and glaciation periods have shaped that typical relief in Patagonian Andes, made of peaks and needle-shaped rocks, rarely reaching 10,000 feet. As a testimony to the various glaciations, there remain two gigantic continental glaciers: the Hielo Norte (to the North: 1,800 square miles), and the Hielo Sur (to the South: 5,200 square miles). They spread their frozen tentacles on the Eastern side of the Cordillera down to the fjords of the Pacific Coast.
Argentina and Chile share the Andes Cordillera as a natural border, a territory ruled by a fabulous animal: the condor. If you can see a condor, but even better if you can behold it quite close, level with it or even higher, this is really quite a breathtaking, unforgetable sight. The Andes Condor is a carrion crow bird. It is endowed with the largest wingspan. The average size of an Andes Condor is more than one yard and 22 pounds (for a male) and up to 26 pounds for a female.
Their wingspan can reach more than 4 yards. And they can live up to 90 years. They reach sexual maturity at around 6/7 years, and the female lays an only egg every two years. When gliding, taking advantage of the upward air streams, they can reach an altitude of more than 6,000 yards.
People will think that their wings and their claws enable them to fly away with a rather heavy prey. People even say that they can fly away with young babies or medium sized animals such as sheep or goats. The condors are gregarious sort of birds; they live in groups, under the leadership of a dominant male. Quite respected by the various folks in South America, the condors also kindle numerous legends. But the truth about them is less Romanesque, as they feed on carrion meat, mainly dead seal or fish, of sea birds' eggs. As their back toes are too high to close up, they prove unable to attack, hold a prey or even maul an occasional prey. Similarly to most of carrion birds, they are bald, to prevent them to be contaminated by putrid meat. Condors' daily meat intake averages two pounds.
Patagonia fauna is quite rich and diversified. Coming to Patagonia to watch wild animal life is one of the most exciting treats for such a voyage. Among the fauna living near the coast, let's quote sea wolves or sea lions with austral furs, and Southern sea elephants, penguins, petrels, cormorants and whales. You can watch these animals in Chile, but even better in Argentina.
Let's deal now with two world famous sites:
There are two main identations in the Valdes Peninsula: to the North, the San Matias Gulf, and to the South the Golfo Nuevo (New Gulf), with an extra - smaller - identation, the Caleta Valdes to the Esat. The weather here is fresh and arid. Feeding on scarce vegetation, the rather poor fauna is quite typical of these Patagonian plateaus: Maras, a few gunacos, grey foxes, chunks and various bird species. Conversely, near the coast, the sea fauna is quite abundant. The peninsula is endowed with quite a favourable climactic situation: it is sheltered from excessive rainfalls by the Andes Cordillera, and takes all the more advantage of its marine environent as it benefits from a longer coast line because of its peculiar shape. At first sight, when you reach that place, it seems quite mourn and arid; but - fortunately - the coast zone attracts many original species. The result is that unique collection of ecosystems, quite likely to marvel both tourists and scientists...
The unquestionable star of the peninsula is the austral right whale; it is a specific kind of whale, also named black austral or austral whale. They are approximately 7 000 living there. As they're deprived of any fins, they look like the Greenland right whales, but without any marking spot under their chins, although their mouths are surrounded by enormous callosities on which paratisical shelfish can cling.
They're nearly 20 feet long, and weigh 30 to 50 tons. They live mainly in the Antarctic, in the Southern Pacific and Indian Ocean, where they feed on plankton. Thanks to protection measures which have been taken, the whale population is now slowly but steadily recovering.
Every year, in winter, they can be observed during the reproduction and birth season. Whale watching has become one of the basic touristic activities in the country. From the beach or a boat, you can observe males' nuptial parades quite easily; when they court the females they've chosen. But you can also encounter many other wild species, such as sea elephants, sea lions surrounded by their would be personal "harems", penguins, nandoos, foxes, guanacos, cormorants and seagulls.
In 1999, the Valdes peninsula was added to the list of the UNESCO Natural Patrimony.
Punta Tombo is a wild fauna reserve on the Atlantic coast of the Chubut district (Argentina). Situated 60 miles south to the Río Chubut mouth, (where are the towns of Rawson and Trelew) it is renowned as one of the main continental reproduction sites for the Magellan Penguin.
Punta Tombo is the continental place in the Southern Hemisphere where can be found the most important concentration in Penguins. The site is 110 miles distant from Puerto Madryn. It is mainly concerned with Magellan penguins. The sight is really grandiose: as far as the eye can see, you can not only observe thousands of penguins, but also stand by them, almost within reach of them.
You'll be able to walk amidst a 1 million crowd of penguins (yes you aren't misreading: 1 million!). Quite a unique and unforgettable show! The right season for it is from September to April, when all the birds come to the coast for nesting and protecting their offspring. The sight is really magnificent, although qite hard to convey with simple words.
You must see it to beleive it. In that place, penguins are swarming from everywhere, as far as the eye can see. And such is their safety feeling end their confidence that you can almost touch them...
There you'll realize that Punta Tumbo and the Valdes Peninsula are quite special places chosen by these animals that come there year after year to breed in peace...
Patagonia in all seasons menu. For example, according to the climate, from Bariloche, in Patagonia Argentina, it is possible to go to Puerto Montt, in Chile, crossing successively three lakes by boat, as did the Jesuits and the first German settlers. I offer a tour that leads to the Pacific Ocean. It is quite long, but the beauty of the sites - forests, volcanoes and crystalline lakes - is such that it is worth to be carried. The Argentine side, cross the west arm of Nahuel Huapi and Lake Puerto Alegre and, the chilen side, Lake Todos los Santos. Moving from one lake to another by bus. This tour is feasible in all seasons, but in winter, it takes two days to reach Puerto Montt, stopping for one night at Peulla. We returned to Bariloche by air or by the same way, after a night in Puerto Montt. Borispatagonia is also responsible for visas to go to Chile and to book hotels. In Patagonia, winter and summer are tourist seasons. In summer, besides explore the surrounding, many activities are available: climbing, torrent fishing, sailing, horseback riding, hiking, rides, visits to Aciendas... In winter, the main activity is, of course, skiing, especially in July and August on the side of the Andes, but not only: snowshoe hikes, thematic tours, many walks to admire the beauty of Patagonia Argentina and Chile in this season, due a unique light, the warmth of the people of Patagonia... Just to talk about, I get goose bumps!