Torres del Paine National Park

From Desolation to Fury: The Poetry of Patagonian Place Names

A view of the wild geography, Chilean Patagonia

The Chilean part of Patagonia was and has always been a place very difficult to reach and colonize, even to this day, with all the development in the areas of technology and communications, construction, connectivity, etc. It is a vast territory of great scenic beauty where the American Continent ends, of a rugged geography, full of islands, fjords and channels, and an inhospitable climate that especially during the harsh Winter does not give respite, making it difficult to reach and settle. We have to imagine the adversities experienced by the first settlers and their families who came to the region, without having any kind of advance, much less technology.

Separate chapter and a special recognition to the natives of the region, Yaganes, Selknam, Tehuelches and Kaweskar who provided only with their wisdom, rustic elements and weapons were able to survive for thousands of years and win the battle to a nature and climate even more inhospitable than the one we know today. However, they could not win another battle even harder: facing an unknown civilization.  

As a demonstration of how hard it was for the first Chilean and European immigrants to arrive and settle in this corner of the planet, here is the list with some names given to certain places, according to the experiences they were living. Almost all these names refer to the Southern Patagonia.

Some strange terms of the Patagonian Toponymy

"Gulf of Sorrows" (Golfo de Penas)

A ship of the Chilean Navy near the Golfo de Penas.
A ship of the Chilean Navy in the area of Golfo de Penas
Geographical accident located in the Pacific Ocean in the XI Region of Aysen, between Cabo Mogotes on the South and Cabo Tres Montes on the North. Its name is the perfect description to explain the mood of travelers by sea that even today cross the dreaded passage. The photo shows a ship of the Chilean Navy going to the aid of a stranded vessel in the area of the Golfo de Penas (Gulf of Sorrows).

"Tortuous Passage" (Paso Tortuoso)

Paso Tortuoso is the main sea route through inland waters of the Magallanes Region, where the tidal currents reach up to seven knots due to the meeting of two streams, Strait of Magellan and Jeronimo Channel.

“Last Hope” (Ultima Esperanza Province)

Name given to one of the four Provinces that constitute the Region of Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica. It is a remote area but full of magnificent tourist attractions, highlighted worldwide. So named by the Spanish navigator and explorer Juan Ladrillero who, in one of his voyages, called it his "last hope" of finding the Strait of Magellan from North to South. 

Finally, his longing was frustrated when he headed South through the fjord that he would later call Fiordo Obstruccion (Obstruction Fjord) and did not find the Strait of Magellan.  

"Disappointment Bay" (Bahia Desengaño)

Located to the east of the Almirante Montt Gulf, geographical features near the city of Puerto Natales. 

“Shipwreck Point” (Punta Naufragio)

Located in inland waters of the province of Ultima Esperanza. Its name alone says it all, the number of maritime accidents in this part of the world is very high.

“Port Famine” (Puerto del Hambre)

Monolith where the town was located                   
    56 km. South of Punta Arenas. Its name recalls the first European attempt in 1584 to colonize what is now the Chilean Patagonia on the Northern shore of the Strait of Magellan. 

Officially founded with the name of Rey Don Felipe, its population formed by just over 300 men, women and children dies almost all decimated by the disease, the harsh climate and especially hunger. Only 2 survivors were picked up, one in 1587 by the English corsair Thomas Cavendish and the other in 1590 by the English ship The Delight.

"Useless Bay" (Bahía Inutil)

Large bay on the western coast of Tierra del Fuego Island. Phillip Parker King, a hydrographer and explorer who became Rear Admiral of the Royal Navy, called the bay in this way to show that the inlet offered no advantage to navigators.


"Desolate Bay" (Bahía Desolada)

100 miles W of Puerto Williams, area near Cape Horn. It is a bay of open and dangerous waters, where there are no repairs, hit by the strong wind typical of the area.

“Despised Lake” (Lago Despreciado)

Small lake located next to Lake Deseado ("Desired Lake"), Island of Tierra del Fuego, an area world famous for sport fishing lovers.

“Obstruction Inlet” (Seno Obstruccion)

Sound located 45 Km. S. of Puerto Natales, in an area known as the Southern Channels. So named by the navigator Juan Ladrillero when he could not find a route to the Strait of Magellan. 

"Cape Froward" (Cabo Froward)

A very important geographical location because it is the southernmost point of the continental shelf of the Americas. It was called Froward in 1587 by the English corsair Thomas Cavendish due to its extremely hostile climate, with strong winds, rains and swells.

"Desolation", Island and Book

Mountainous and rugged, this island belongs to the Archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. Due to the lack of resources, it has remained almost uninhabited, until the 19th century it was visited by the Kaweskar natives, now almost extinct.

For her part, the Chilean writer and Nobel Prize for Literature, Gabriela Mistral, captured in all its magnitude the feeling of "desolation" when, in the second decade of the 20th century, she stayed for a few months at the Hotel Tres Pasos, on the road leading from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park. Fascinated by the immensity of the Patagonian landscape, the at the time young teacher wrote "Desolation", a book with several poems which was first published in New York in 1922.

"Deception Island" (Isla Decepcion)

Specifically located in the Antarctic continent, Archipelago of the South Shetland. Its name in Spanish would come from a mistranslation of the original name Deception Island, chosen by the whaling captain, explorer and co-discoverer of the Antarctic Continent Nathaniel Palmer.

When he discovered that the supposed island was actually a ring of land around a submerged volcano and upon seeing that it was on its crater, he realized the deception.

"Bitter Lake" (Laguna Amarga)

Small superficial lake very close to the famous Torres del Paine National Park. Its name is due to the bitter taste of the waters as a result of the high PH.

"Northern and Southern Ice Fields" (Campos de Hielo)

Campos de Hielo Norte y Campos de Hielo Sur are two large extensions of Glaciers located in the Patagonian Andes. 85% in Chile and the rest in Argentina. The Northern Ice Field, with an extension of 4200 Km.2 is located in the Region of Aysen, has an approximate length of 120 km and a width between 50 and 70 km. 

The South Field lies in the Magallanes Region, with an extension of 350 km long and an area of 16,800 km2 constituting the third largest extension of ice in the World after the Antarctic Continent and Greenland. This mass gives rise to a total of 49 Glaciers.

"Island of the Dead" (Isla de los Muertos)

The island located in the Baker River, Aysen Region, owes its name to the fact that here were buried the bodies of 59 forest workers who died during the Winter of 1906. To this day, the causes of the tragedy are not entirely clear. Of the deceased workers, only 33 crosses remain.

Drake Passage (Paso de Drake)

The Drake Passage, also called Drake Sea, is a maritime crossing of approximately 800 km long, characterized by strong winds and frequent storms that separates Cape Horn at the southern tip of the American continent with Antarctica. Through it flows the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which connects the main ocean basins of the planet. 

It is probably the most inhospitable place in the world for navigation and aviation. Just passing through the vicinity of Cape Horn is a daring action for any sailor.


  1. The photo “ship of the Chilean Navy in the area of Golfo de Penas” was taken in Seno Ultima Esperanza, near Puerto Natales, in May 2012.

    1. Chile Travel and NewsSeptember 30, 2023 at 1:13 AM

      Thank you, we greatly appreciate your comment...


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