Didem Doğan

Argentina’s Patagonia: an introduction

At the end of my three hours flight from Buenos Aires to el Calafate, from the window of the plane I see the first images of Patagonia: plain brown mountains with no trees, little lakes formed by melting of the snow, empty vast lands that seem endless, closer to our landing a huge turquoise blue lake that is just at the right handside of the airport. 

Known as the end of the world, Patagonia is a huge territory with mountains, fjords, lakes, glaciers at the end of the South American continent; it is bigger than the sum of France, Germany and England. Shared by both Chile and Argentina, it was first named by the Western explorer in the sixteenth century, referring to the native people called by them Patagons; later in the 18th and 19th centuries many scientists came here for scientific investigations, to study its fauna, geography, living beings. After Antarctica and Greenland it is the third place where most of the glaciers are found. Many of them carry took the name of these Western scientists or explorers who came to see them: Perito Moreno, Upsala, Spagazzini, all of which are now inside the National Glacier Park of Argentina, opened to public at the second half of twentieth century. 

But before it became an accessible tourist destination, for adventurers and vagabonds the name Patagonia was always identified with an utopia or a voluntary exile; Chatwin’s famous travel book In Patagonia, Luis Sepulveda’s book Patagonia Express tell the stories of people of this peculiar place. During my couple of days here I have the impression that the same search for an topic place continues till this day; from the shop keeper at the bookstore to the receptionist at the hotel, every one I meet has this calm and undisturbed expression on their faces; they look like they have left the haste and the worries of the city life behind; the reason may be living by the mountain, in this landscape formed by millions of years and realizing that your life time on earth is not even a split-second.

Back to practical information, if you are in Argentina there will be two main cities in Patagonia you may fly to from Buenos Aires: El Calafate and Ushuaia; El Calafate is preferred because of its glaciers, whereas Ushuaia is the city at southernmost of the world and you have cruise options for sightseeing. You may do both if you have time, direct flights are available between these two cities. From El Calafate you can also visit the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile as I did; you can cross the border between these two countries by car, make a day trip or sleep at the national park. As you can visit the Glaciers by organized tours, you can also rent a car and visit them on your own. The prices in Patagonia are expensive but when you are there and see all these people who work at the national parks to preserve these natural wonders, and consider the distance of Patagonia from the rest of the world it seems reasonable. Welcome to Patagonia, the land of the most beautiful blue I’ve ever seen!

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