Land of the Giants: How Awe-Inspiring Patagonia Got its Name

by | 27 Mar 2024

The spirit of Patagonia is wild and untamed, a force that cannot be harnessed but can be experienced and cherished.

In the southern reaches of South America, in Chile and Argentina, lies a land of wonder and awe. A plateau of 260,000 square miles, filled with desert, steppe, and roaring mountains. A remote area of the world that’s larger than 80% of countries. This is Patagonia, a region renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, diverse wildlife – and mythological aura.


The Land of Giants

The tale of how Patagonia got its name is as captivating as the the region’s rugged terrain. The name goes back to the 16th century when European explorers first set foot here. On a voyage led by Ferdinand Magellan, the famed Portuguese explorer who led the first circumnavigation of the globe, Magellan and his crew came across a tribe of indigenous people (the Tehuelche) who were – according to their reports – almost double the height of the average European.

Oil painting of Ferdinand Magellan

Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian explorer who was on the expedition, wrote that Magellan bestowed the name ‘Patagão’ upon the land, but his explanation ends there. There are several hypotheses as to why he used this name. Pata means paw in Portuguese, so it was thought that this name meant ‘bigfooted’, or ‘Land of the bigfeet’. Another theory is that there was a popular cavalry novel in the early 1500s, in which there was a monstrous character named ‘Pathagon’. The theory goes that Magellan may have read this novel, associated the fictional character with the huge Tehuelche people he came across, and so dubbed the land ‘Patagonia’.

Either way, the name stuck and so did the perception that this was a land of giants. Early maps of the  New World sometimes labelled the area regio gigantum (“region of giants”). And there were many more reports of these huge natives from several other explorers. In 1569, Francis Drake’s ship captain wrote of meeting huge natives, of ‘7 foote and a half’. Several other accounts of these giant tribes have been written over the years by many Dutch and English sailors.


Patagonia is larger than 80% of countries on earth

While the veracity of these accounts have been debated by historians, the name Patagonia has endured, becoming synonymous with a land of giants and mystery, capturing the imagination of travelers for centuries.

Today, Patagonia’s expanses of untamed wilderness and dramatic landscapes captivates anyone lucky enough to visit. From the towering peaks of the Andes Mountains to the windswept plains of the pampas, the region offers a breathtaking array of natural wonders to explore.

One of the highlights of a visit to Patagonia is its pristine national parks, which encompass a staggering diversity of ecosystems. In Torres del Paine National Park, located in Chilean Patagonia, travelers can take epic treks amidst towering granite spires, turquoise lakes, and sprawling glaciers. Meanwhile, in Argentine Patagonia, Los Glaciares National Park boasts the iconic Perito Moreno Glacier, a shimmering behemoth of ice that seems to defy the passage of time.

Image of a large glacier, taken from a distance facing the glacier as it calves into the sea, with mountains either side

But Patagonia is not just a haven for outdoor enthusiasts; it is also a sanctuary for rare and endangered wildlife. The region is home to species found nowhere else on Earth, including the Patagonian Maras, the South American Gray Fox, and the iconic huemul.

With a region as vast and imposing as Patagonia, it’s hard to tackle it yourself. That’s why it pays to get an expert’s perspective, someone who knows the region like a local, who can teach you about Patagonia’s history and mysteries. That’s where we can help.

Discover Patagonia with a ‘Business Class’ Tour

One of the best ways to discover this incredible region is with our immersive 11-Day tour, ‘Best of Chile: from Atacama to Patagonia.’ Starting in the bustling streets of Santiago, we’ll first journey across Chile and make our way into the remote wilderness of Patagonia, all while traveling in ‘Business Class’ style. That means top-rated restaurants, handpicked 4- and 5- star hotels, and extra legroom and increased window span (all the better for taking in those heart-stopping views) on our extra-comfortable coaches.

Also try reading: Brighten Up Your Vacation in the World’s Most Colorful Cities

From the moment you set foot in Santiago, framed by the majestic backdrop of the snow-capped Andes, you’ll start discovering the sights and insights of South America up close and personal in premium comfort and style. First with Chile’s top sights, starting at the Casablanca Wine Country.


Chile has some of the world’s oldest grape vines, as it’s the only wine-producing country not to have been affected by the pest phylloxera.

We’ll enjoy a private wine tasting at the esteemed Kingston Family Vineyard. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to savor the finest local tipples, including regional Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, all while soaking in the stunning scenery of the vineyard-dotted landscape.

Also try reading: Wine Tasting Around the World

Then we venture further south. The UNESCO protected city of Valparaíso beckons with its colorful streets and rich maritime history. We’ll then head to the Atacama desert’s beautiful Moon Valley, impressive geysers and vast salt flats. Explore these natural delights with a Local Expert, giving you Insider Access from a local’s perspective. We’ll then return to Santiago to rest and take stock, for we have our Patagonia expedition to prepare for. We’ll indulge in delicious premium dining and tours of the city’s main market to give us some energy, before we fly the next day to Punta Arenas.

red-coloured sand dune and sculptural rocks feature in Chile's Moon Valley

From here, we’ll drive to Puerto Natales: the gateway for explorers in search of the Patagonian fjords. We’ll start off traipsing across Torres del Paine, spotting glaciers, lagoons, and towering granite horns. We’ll take a cruise along the glacier to get up close and personal with this jaw-dropping beauty.

Prepare to be swept away by the rugged beauty of the landscape at your own pace, where you’ll get an Insight Choice for what to do on your next day. Join a Local Expert to discover more of the National Park’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve System known for its rare wildlife, with plenty of scenic photo stops along the way. Or, opt for an immersive tour of Patagonia’s oldest organic kitchens and gardens, learning about bio-intensive sustainable methods of agriculture.

Exterior photo of Hotel Remota in Puerto Natales

Throughout your journey, you’ll enjoy the utmost in comfort and luxury, with accommodations and transportation tailored to ensure a seamless and indulgent experience. From stylish boutique hotels to gourmet dining experiences showcasing the best of Chilean cuisine, every aspect of your trip is designed to exceed your expectations.

In Patagonia, the spirit of exploration lives on in this land of giants. Come and discover it with us.

Discover all the sights and insights of Chile and Patagonia on Best of Chile from Atacama to Patagonia


I'm Jay – born in Italy, raised in South London. Having French sisters and Hungarian ancestors, I've always been fascinated with the world and its cultures, and I carry this curiosity into my writing for Insightful. My favourite destinations I've traveled to so far have been Italy, Peru, France and Brazil.