Patagonia (from patagones, the large 'footsteps ' seen by early Spanish voyagers; or from the Indian patacuna, 'terraces'), the most southern region of the South American continent, extending from S. lat. 39° southwards to the Strait of Magellan. Length, upwards of 1000 miles; greatest breadth, 480 miles; area, 322,550 sq. m.; pop. about 20,000. Like the rest of the continent, Patagonia is divided by the Andes into two very unequal and dissimilar territories. Since 1881 nearly the whole country east of the watershed is recognised as part of the Argentina; Chili has contented herself with the country to the west and a strip along the southern coast.
Western or Chilian Patagonia (63,000 sq. m.), a narrow strip between the mountains and the sea, is rugged and mountainous. Along the coast are numerous islands, the principal being Chiloe, the Chonos Archipelago (q.v.), and Wellington Island. In the Cordilleras proper the summits are less lofty towards the south; the volcanoes of Min-chinmavida and Corcovado are 8000 and 7510 feet high, and Monte San Valentin 12,697 feet. In Chiloe the mean temperature of winter is about 40°, that of summer rather above 50°. The atmosphere is very damp; prevailing western winds constantly deposit their burden of rain. South of 47° S. lat. hardly a day passes without rain, snow, or sleet. This continual dampness has produced luxuriant forests. Coal is mined near Punta Arenas (Sandy Point), where there is a Chilian penal settlement (pop. 6500). The population consists of small nomadic tribes of Araucanian stock, and a few Chilian settlers.
Eastern or Argentine Patagonia consists mainly of high undulating plains or plateaus rising in successive terraces, and frequently intersected by valleys and ravines. These plateaus are occasionally covered with coarse grass, or stunted bushes and herbs; elsewhere the surface is rugged with heaps of stones or ridges of bare rock. Keen blasts sweep chiefly from the west; and as this wind has already parted with its moisture on the other side of the mountains, hardly any rain falls in Argentine Patagonia during seven or eight months of the year. The soil in many places is strongly impregnated with saltpetre, and salt-lakes and lagoons are numerous. Along the eastern base of the Andes there is a great tract of picturesque and fertile forest-clad territory. The principal rivers of Argentine Patagonia rising in the Andes are the Rio Negro (q.v.), which forms its northern boundary, the Chubut (q.v.), and Deseado. Herds of horses and, in the more favoured regions, cattle are bred; guanacos, pumas, foxes, armadillos, skunks, and tucotucos (a peculiar rodent) are met with; and among the birds are rheas, condors, hawks, partridges, flamingoes, and ducks. Argentine herdsmen are beginning to pasture their cattle in the northern valleys, and Chilian immigrants are moving eastwards. The Pata-gonians proper or Tehuelche Indians, who are confined to Eastern Patagonia, are now almost quite extinct. They are often large but not gigantic men, sometimes over, generally under, 6 feet. Patagones, 18 miles from the mouth of the Rio Negro, has a pop. of about 2000, composed of Spanish settlers, negroes, and convicts. There is a Welsh colony on the Chubut (q. v.). Magellan sailed along the Patagonian coast in 1520. English works on Patagonia are Falkner's (1774), Snow's (1857), Musters' (1871), Beerbohm's (1878), Lady Florence Dixie's (1880), and Coan's (1880).