On a bridge over the Río Colorado in southern Buenos Aires Province, midway between Bahía Blanca and the Río Negro, a roadside sign reading “Patagonia Starts Here” marks the boundary of southernmost South America’s vast, legendary region.
No other part of the continent—not even Amazonia—so stimulates the imagination. Ever since Magellan’s chronicler Antonio Pigafetta concocted encounters with a giant “so tall that the tallest among us reached only to his waist,” the remote southern latitudes have projected a mystique that has been a mixture of anticipation and apprehension.
Geographically, Patagonia is more diverse, with its long Atlantic coastline, boundless steppes, and Andean lakes, forests, and peaks, than simple statistics would suggest. Many of the country’s finest wildlife sites and national parks draw visitors from around the globe, but several towns and cities are also worth a visit. Though they vary in quality, increasing numbers of estancias (ranches) have become enticing getaways.
In Argentina, Patagonia comprises the area south of the Río Colorado, primarily the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut, and Santa Cruz. While the four provinces’ roughly 1.9 million residents are less than five percent of the country’s 40.5 million, they cover more than 27 percent of Argentine territory, an area roughly equivalent to Texas or the United Kingdom.
Between them, Neuquén and Río Negro Provinces, the overland gateways to Patagonia, contain most of the Argentine lakes district , the traditionally popular vacation area on the eastern Andean slopes. Along the Chilean border, its alpine peaks and glaciers, indigo finger lakes, and dense forests have long been a prime destination; if Patagonia were a country, its logical capital might be the Río Negro resort of San Carlos de Bariloche .
Together, though, the two provinces extend from the Andes to the Atlantic, and the coastal zone features the colonial city of Carmen de Patagones  and the Río Negro provincial capital of Viedma , plus a scattering of wildlife reserves and beach resorts. An energy storehouse for its petroleum reserves and hydroelectric resources, the intervening steppe is the site of some of the world’s most momentous dinosaur discoveries.
In addition to Río Negro and Neuquén, this section includes parts of Chubut Province, most notably the city of Esquel  and vicinity, including Parque Nacional Los Alerces , which are most frequently visited from southern Río Negro.