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Located at the south of Argentina, Patagonia is a land of beauty, with deserts, mountains, glaciers, lakes, and foremost, its mystique! It is comprised by five provinces, and covers a third of the total territory of Argentina.

In the provinces in the west, neighboring with Chile, the Andes mountain range shows its beauty. Millennial forests with native vegetable species are extended along the shores of glistening waters. On top of the mountains, nature overflows with granite peaks and ice fields spreading their glacier tongues into lakes of unsurpassable beauty.

To the East, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, imposing mammals and sea birds, halfway between real life and fantasy, spend certain seasons on the rough coasts of Patagonia where they complete part of their life cycle. Seal colonies play on the islets and sandbanks. The world’s most important continental elephant seal colony is located in Peninsula Valdés. Every year, southern right whales come to Nuevo and San José gulfs to breed. Patagonian hares, ñandúes (South American ostrich) and guanacos (llamas) run wildly on the steppes, and the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world is located in Punta Tombo. This life cycle, repeated since time immemorial, unfolds itself in front of the astonished visitors’ eyes.

In the south, Tierra del Fuego province and the world’s southernmost continental settlement, Ushuaia, are the gateway towards the vast and mysterious Antarctica.

The myth was ever since the first men arrived to the southern edge of Patagonia canals ten thousand years ago. Their ethnical origins were diverse but surely all of them came in from the north and belonged to tribes that crossed the Bering Strait during the glacial age. During their development, these tribes inherited from other ones the same material, spiritual and racial influences. These men fished and hunted for survival and were nomads leaving little or none evidence of those days and their ethnics. At the Magellan Strait, there are currently two dominant ethnic types, which descend from those of the old days: The canoe aborigines (alacalufes and yámanas) and the land aborigines (Onas in the Tierra del Fuego Island and Tehuelches or Patagones in the continent). Evidence of cultural expression are the, semicircular shelters used for temporary lodging by groups of hunters, as well as pyramidal burial mounds. Surprisingly, there are abundant imprints and paintings, some of them in excellent conditions like the ones at the Hands Cave, next to the River Pinturas, in the province of Chubut.

The best reference of native inhabitants has been obtained in the archeological sites of El Juncal, near the city of Viedma, in the east of the Province of Ro Negro. The "Black Skulls" were found there, so called because of the salt impregnation during their long burial.

Then came the so-called Desert Conquest, a war between the white population of Buenos Aires and the natives dominant in the south of Argentina. It was the cruelest war in the history of Argentina. The goal was land, needed for growing crops and raising livestock for meet and leather; the area was in transition between two completely different indigenous races. One came from the pampas and the other one from the Pacific Andes: the argentine Tehuelches and Chilean Mapuches.

The Tehuelches inhabited from the Colorado River to the Magellanic canals. They were nomads, spoke the Ken group language and were hunters of guanacos and ostriches. Their physical appearance was stout; their average height was 6 ft. 10 in., with a thin and elongated head. They were called Patagones because of their large foot prints left on soil and snow. The origin of the name Patagonia is the word Patagones which was used to refer to a land of 'large-footprint people,' and was first used by the Spaniard conquerors in early 1500.

Antonio Pigafetta, a member of Magellan's expedition, described his encounter with a Tehuelche native:

"One day, a gigantic man appeared before us. He was so big that our head would barely reach his waist. His face was wide and painted in red. His robe was made of skins, of a local animal, and well sawn. This animal has the head and ears of a mule, body of a camel, deer legs and the tail of a horse...He was wearing some sort of shoes made with the same skin…”

The life of the Tehuelches was conditioned by a very hostile environment: terrible winds, extremely cold winters and lack of water, which prevented them from farming.

In contrast, the Mapuches were short and robust, with a wide and round head, with a superior cultural level due to their sedentary customs. They were farmers and hunters, with knowledge of weaving and pottery. The Mapuches (meaning "people from the land") originally inhabited Chilean territory and remain in reductions still now adayds in Northwest Patagonia. In the 18th century, driven by the Spanish invasion, they learned to ride horses and moved to other lands. The entered the Patagonia, which marked the beginning of the agony of the Tehuelche population.

They occupied northern Patagonia and the south of the Pampa plains, and given their more evolved culture and bellicosity, they imposed their customs and language, and finally overpowered them. This, added to the Spanish extermination and the incorporation of white cultural features, determined the end of the Tehuelches. Some of the present groups are descendants of the original tribes, with leaders and chiefs; others were built based on dispersed families and ethnic mixtures.

The present areas occupied by Patagonian settlers correspond in its majority to arid lands, with low precipitation, scarce and hard grass. They are poor in organic matter, with no meaningful water resources, neither superficial nor underground. The climate is cold and harsh, with extreme temperatures most of the year, seven months of drought and dry and intense winds. These special geographical and climatic conditions prevented the development of suitable vegetable species for feeding cattle and population. As a result, the main industry is sheep and goat breeding.

Through the centuries, white men postponed the occupation of those territories, and limiting to the possession of these lands for the extensive exploitation of the sheep herds. This facilitated the permanence of those aborigines, who constitute the most important indigenous group in the country. The Mapuche population in the region is today estimated at 40,000, although the young immigrate to the cities in search of economic welfare.

Patagonia was also a dreamland for explorers. Most of them were probably not seeking gold or personal wealth like those heading to the rest of South America. Instead, they were driven by a thirst for knowledge and the discovery of new species, in order to describe the natural world that surrounded them.

Frenchman D'Orbigny and later Charles Darwin, the famous Englishman, were in Patagonia during the first half of the nineteenth century. D'Orbigny devoted his efforts to the area at the Negro River Lower Valley, where he made important discoveries, particularly in the ethnological area. The naturalist Charles Darwin arrived in Argentina in 1832, aboard the famous Beagle ship that was commanded by Captain Fitz Roy. During the next two years, this English vessel performed thorough researches covering the whole of the southern tip of the country.

During his trip, Darwin used the phrase "damned land" to describe Patagonia. Although it is true he used this description to refer to a particular area (the Santa Cruz river), he also made clear in many passages of his writings that he was totally amazed by the surrounding landscapes, which he openly admired.

A bit later, during the second half of the nineteenth century, other well known explorers and scientists followed these first men's (D'orbigny and Darwin) steps. At least two of them should be mentioned: Musters, who did not have a scientific background himself but compensated this with his skills and passion for observation, and of course, the famous Francisco Perito Moreno, whose remains rest at a small island in the middle of Lake Nahuel Huapi, surrounded by one of the most beautiful places on earth.

The colonization method used by the Spanish was quite different from the one exerted in the United States, which was based upon rural colonization. In Argentina, the model was urban colonization and, as a consequence, huge territories (Patagonia included) were left unpopulated. This determined to a great extent the uneven demographic development of Argentina. Right from the beginning, the existence of large land tracts with scarce human presence posed a problem for the governments. That's why there were widely adopted criteria that "to govern is to populate," which led to the adoption of official plans specifically devised to attract colonists, preferably European.

Within Patagonia, many of them came from Northern Europe: Germans and Swiss in the province of Rio Negro, while in Santa Cruz province's estancias there were English and Scottish. In Chubut, there is definitely a predominance of the Welsh, and of course, there are plenty of Italian and Spanish, who specialized in the planting of fruits and vegetables.

Nowadays, Patagonia is experiencing a growth in population with many people coming from other provinces seeking for a more peaceful life. Patagonia is trying to reconcile its demographic imbalances, with one inhabitants for every two square kilometers, as opposed to 20,000 in the same area of downtown Buenos Aires. Luckily, Argentina is one of the less populated countries in the world, yet fortunate to have a high level of literacy and a vibrant culture.