The extraordinary history and legends of the southernmost region of the world, the last area of the New World to be colonised.
Visit Patagonia in the 500th anniversary of its discovery by Europeans.
Sublime landscapes, mountains and glaciers, lakes, coasts and seas.
Close encounters with penguins, sea lions and guanaco, native trees and shrubs.
Patagonia is the archetypal landscape of the imagination. For many people, it exists as much in myths, in fiction and in travellers’ tales as it does in reality.
The first Europeans to visit the coast of Patagonia, in 1520, were Ferdinand Magellan and his crew – during the first stage of his landmark Voyage of Circumnavigation. When they made landfall, they met a native Aonikenk man who, according to the on-board diarist Antonio Pigafetta, was of “gigantic stature”. They called him a “patagon”, after a monster that featured in a chivalric romance.
Thus was born Patagonia, in homage to a race of giants. Drake followed a few decades later, then Thomas Cavendish, and also John Davis. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Argentina’s Patagonian coast and the interior drew conquistadores looking for a southern El Dorado, for passages to the Pacific, for new lands in which to build cities. Early settlers perished on lonely capes. Wanderers got lost in the bleak wastes. Shipwrecks were common, not least in the tortuous strait that bears Magellan’s name. John Byron – the poet’s grandfather – was marooned off the coast of Chile. In the 1830s, Robert Fitzroy was tasked to sound the treacherous waters; he was joined by the young Charles Darwin.
Much of Patagonia’s history is a tale of explorers, mariners and outcasts. The region has British connections not found elsewhere in South America; English pirates and pastors, Welsh colonists and Scottish sheep farmers all played a role in defining and describing the faraway land. As cartographers, scientists, merchants, financiers and manufacturers, Anglo-Saxon names keep cropping up. The history of the Falklands/Malvinas is bound up with that of the mainland.
The last corner of the New World to be colonised – and only partially, following bloody wars and massacres – Patagonia remains thinly populated, with swathes of the steppe dotted with little more than sheep-rearing estancias. Its roads are long and lonely. Hotels cluster around ports and lakeside resorts.
History and culture are the foci of this tour, but other major threads are animal, ornithological and topographical. A region of sublime landscapes, Patagonia has some of the best sightseeing in South America. Mountain ranges are a constant accompaniment to our journeys, sometimes forbidding, frequently snow-capped, often eliciting the highest delight which nature is capable of providing. Here the world’s third largest ice field and the great glaciers are an unparalleled wonder.
Equally characteristic is the limitless steppe and scrubland, sometimes like an old green sweater, much of it melancholic khaki. Here the calculation is hectares per sheep, but wildlife is abundant. When we descend to the wind-swept coastline, you’ll get close to penguins and sea lions. The tour embraces both the sublime and the strange.