12 Vast Facts About The Patagonian Desert

One of the vastest landscapes in the world is a fascinating desert located in the utmost southern part of South America.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Patagonian Deserts, a desolate, yet intriguing area in the world.

1. It’s located within the borders of 3 countries

The Patagonian Desert is also referred to as the Patagonian Steppe and is a huge arid region located in the southern part of South America.

Most of the desert is located in the Patagonia Region of Argentina and Chile, but the Falkland Islands, which are part of the United Kingdom, are also included. These islands are located on the so-called “Patagonian Shelf” in the South Atlantic Ocean.

The desert is bounded on the west by the southern part of the Andes Mountains and the east by the Atlantic Ocean.

The northern part of the desert transforms into Argentine Monte, one of the driest areas in the country, and the Cuyo, a mountainous area in Argentina famous for its wine production.

Patagonian Desert facts
View of the desert / Jason Hollinger / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

2. This huge desert is the 8th-largest in the world

The desert is an enormously vast region that covers a total area of 673,000 square kilometers (260,000 square miles).

This makes it the 8th-largest desert in the world (with the Antarctic and Arctic Deserts included).

To give some reference to this number, the Sahara Desert (3rd in the world) covers an area of 9,200,000 square kilometers (3,552,140 square miles), and the Kalahari Desert (7th) an area of 900,000 square kilometers (347,492 square miles).

3. It features multiple natural wonders and a varied landscape

Even though some deserts are much larger, the landscape inside the Patagonian Desert appears to be extremely vast. That’s mainly because most of the central part of the desert is a steppe consisting of apparently endless bushes, shrubs, and grasslands.

The bushes and shrubs are located in the aridest areas of the desert. These are replaced by vast grasslands in places where the precipitation is slightly higher.

Regardless of this notion, the desert features a varied landscape of plateaus, valleys, river canyons, fascinating lakes of glacial origin, and massive mountains in the western part while approaching the Andes.

Patagonian steppe fun facts
Road inside the desert / Deensel / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

4. It’s a very cold place due to its southern location

When you hear the word “desert,” you instantly get a mental image of sand and excruciating temperatures. This is not the case at all here because the Patagonian Desert is actually a cold winter desert.

Especially the southern parts near Tierra del Fuego, the utmost southern tip of South America, are extremely cold with temperatures ranging from -3 °C to 3 °C (26.6°F to 37.4°F).

This doesn’t mean that every region inside the desert is this cold, though. The northern sections can have pretty enjoyable temperatures during the summer, especially in the Rio Colorado region.

Here, temperatures between 26 °C to 29 °C (78.8°F to 84.2°F) are pretty common during the summer months.

5. The animals that live here mostly reside on the outskirts of the desert

Deserts are some of the harshest regions in the world for any type of life. That’s why most animals and plants living and growing here have adapted very well to the arid conditions.

Regardless, there aren’t that many animals living here, and the ones that do live in the somewhat friendlier outskirts of the deserts, except on the farms built here for cattle.

Some of these animals are native to the Patagonia Region such as the Patagonian weasel and the Patagonian gray fox. Others are common in other areas as well such as the burrowing owl, lesser rhea, pygmy armadillo, puma, and desert iguana.

The desert iguana is also common in deserts in North America such as the Sonoran Desert and the Mojave Desert.

Patagonia desert cattle
Some parts of the desert are suited for cattle / Wiki Commons

More interesting facts about the Patagonian Desert

6. The formation of the Patagonian Desert started about 14 to 12 million years ago during a geological epoch known as the Middle Miocene (23.03 and 5.333 million years ago).

Before this period, it’s very probably that the region was covered with an abundance of temperate forests, but because the Andes was lifted, the region became too arid and turned into the desolate desert landscape we see today.

7. One of the most fascinating features of the desert is the so-called “petrified forest.” These are fossils of a forest that existed here millions of years ago. The trees that grew here back then were primitive forms of conifers and palm trees.

It’s one of the best-preserved of its kind in the world and is located in the central part of the desert, just south of the town of Sarmiento. It has been preserved so well because of ashes from nearby volcanoes that emerged when the Andes rose.

Petrified forest patagonian desert
Part of the petrified forest / Eassi / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

8. Around the year 1900, European settlers started inhabiting the less arid regions of the Patagonian Desert. These replaced the pre-hispanic hunter-gatherers that had lived here for thousands of years.

Because of a large number of predominantly Welsh, Argentine, and European farmers migrating here, the area transformed into the most productive export region related to sheep products.

9. Many parts of the region look extremely dusty, and that’s because they are. The arid conditions in combination with the cool mountain air from the Andes create a fascinating phenomenon.

The desert winds transport massive amounts of dust over the South Atlantic Ocean. A similar effect is created by winds coming from the Sahara Desert which transports dust all the way to countries in Europe.

10. The mountainous areas inside the desert mostly consist of volcanic rocks. These cover an estimated 120,000 square kilometers (46,332 square kilometers) of the desert. Most of these can be found in the Somún Cura Massif (North Patagonian Massif) and the Deseado Massif.

Patagonian desert farmers
Mountains inside the desert / Wiki Commons

11. The protected area inside the desert covers about 70,970 square kilometers (27,401 square miles). The most important are located within preserves such as the Perito Moreno National Park, Patagonia Azul Biosphere Reserve, and Valdes Biosphere Reserve.

12. Even though the Desert itself isn’t exactly a popular tourist attraction, there are several towns on the eastern side of the desert that have become popular tourist destinations.

That’s mainly because of the huge beaches with fine sand that are perfect for sunbathing and water sports. One of the most popular tourist destinations here is called “Rada Tilly,” a coastal town with a beach that extends 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) along the Atlantic Ocean.

Rada Tilly Beach
Rada Tilly Beach / Nestor Galina / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en