Patagonia is the scene of the world's great adventures. Even if we know little of the place, the name itself inhabits our subconscious, whispering of an unknown finger of the earth, el fin del mundo. We picture large silent spaces, tempestuous seas, windblown solitude.
The first Europeans to lay eyes on this landscape were led by Ferdinand Magellan, who pioneered passage through the treacherous strait that now bears his name. His expedition named the mainland 'Tierra de los Patagones,' unwittingly spawning the myth of a race of Patagonian giants. To the south, they saw the horizon darkened by smoke from the natives' fires, and named the great island Tierra del Fuego.
The legend of Patagonia was set in motion. The indigenous groups who inhabited Tierra del Fuego deserved to be legends, as these were the world's first and greatest adventurers. In arriving on Tierra del Fuego they had completed the world's furthest human migration, arriving finally at the very end of the earth, where the Andes disappeared into the sea and glaciers flowed to the water's edge. With nowhere else to wander, they stayed and fished the coast in canoes, collected shellfish, hunted guanaco and rheas on the pampa.
Photos taken at the turn of the century depict a stone age culture where extremity had crystallized: the end of the road for the most restless wanders in history. To the east of the Andes, the Patagonian pampa is an immense desert, by some accounts among the five largest deserts in the world.
Southern Patagonia, known as Magallanes, is a world apart, where the broad expanses of the pampa meet with the glacially sculpted spires of the Andes. Torres del Paine National Park and World Biosphere Reserve is the most famous of the vast protected areas in Magallanes, preserving habitat for guanacos, foxes, rheas and flamingos. Punta Arenas is the capital of the Magallanes province. Facing the Straits of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego, Punta Arenas is the principal departure point for cruises and flights to Tierra del Fuego, to the Canal Beagle, Isla Navarino, Cape Horn and Antarctica.