Restaurants, bars, and museums? Check. Wineries with tasting rooms facing the Andes? Check. A natural landscape that's perfect for outdoor adventures from whitewater rafting to rock-climbing? Check. From a cultural perspective, Mendoza is a sophisticated destination for world-class food and wine. For nature lovers and photographers, the landscape is just as appealing, with the rich greens and golds of the vineyards fading out to the ochres, pinks, browns, and whites of the Andes mountains.
Planning Your Trip
When planning a trip to Mendoza, remember that seasons are opposite in the southern hemisphere. Harvest season is in March (early autumn in Argentina). October and November (spring) are also popular times to visit. In June, July, and August, there's no actual wine production going on, but there's still plenty to do in terms of wine-tasting and outdoor activities, provided that you're prepared with warm clothing — and as an extra perk, you'll have a constant backdrop of snow-capped mountains to enjoy.
Summer days can get uncomfortably hot in Mendoza, though it can be a fun time to cycle around the vineyards and taste cold sparkling wines and rosés. Regardless of what time of year it is when you visit Mendoza, you'll need at least a few days to properly enjoy what the city and the most central wine regions have to offer — and at least five days (but ideally a week or more) if you're planning to do both wine tastings and outdoor adventures.
Many travelers visit Mendoza on an itinerary from Buenos Aires or Santiago, Chile. (The overland border crossing between Mendoza and Santiago is a great travel adventure: find out more about it here.) If you only have a few days to spend, consider this Mountains & Wine tour. Travelers interested in seeing various landscapes on a single trip should check out this ten-day tour of Mendoza, Bariloche, and Iguazú Falls. And if you'd like to visit more than one of Argentina's famed wine regions, this itinerary, taking in Buenos Aires, Mendoza, and Salta is for you.
Travelers arrive in Mendoza by air (via Mendoza city's airport, located six miles north of the city center) or by road. Several airlines make frequent trips to Mendoza from Santiago and Buenos Aires: if you're flying in from Santiago, make sure to get a window seat, as the scenery over the Andes is breathtaking. Taxis wait outside the airport's arrivals terminal to offer travelers a ride from the airport to the city center.
Many visitors also arrive by bus or car. Mendoza is located 650 miles northeast of Buenos Aires, 800 miles south of Salta and 125 miles east of the border with Chile.
Wine Tasting & Touring
The city of Mendoza, and the province of the same name, which surrounds it, are synonymous with wine — particularly red wine, and one popular varietal, Malbec. Wine produced in the 1500-odd vineyards here accounts for around two-thirds of Argentine wine production, which makes Mendoza one of the largest New World wine-making regions. The area is divided into three sub-regions: Maipú Valley (closest to the city), Luján de Cuyo, and Valle de Uco (or Uco Valley, the furthest region from the city).
Wine production and wine-related tourism are Mendoza's largest industries. There are lots of ways to get out and experience it: though many wineries require reservations, it's easy to do a self-guided tour of family-run wineries in Maipú Valley or rent a bicycle to explore the wineries around the town of Chacras de Coria in Luján de Cuyo. If you're really interested in learning about how wine is made, it's best to go on a guided tour with a knowledgeable guide who can manage the logistics, setting up an itinerary that includes transportation and lunch at a winery. This recommended wine tour takes travelers to two wineries in Luján de Cuyo and the Maipú Valley.
Sightseeing Around Mendoza City
In & Around Mendoza City
The Spanish founded Mendoza in 1561, taking advantage of the indigenous-built irrigation system that made the arid environment an oasis of green. What put Mendoza on the map in later centuries was its role in getting independence for Argentina: here, city governor José Francisco de San Martín raised a substantial force known as the Army of the Andes to fight against the Spanish during the Argentine Wars of Independence. The city's history comes together nicely at one of its most attractive plazas, Plaza San Martín, dedicated to the governor (better known in South American history as a freedom fighter). The plaza is also home to a modern art museum, Espacio Contemporáneo de Arte.
All around Mendoza, you'll notice green spaces and parks, including Plaza Independencia, the main central park, located two blocks away from Plaza San Martín. A walk southwest from Plaza Independencia brings you to the edge of Mendoza's largest park, Parque General San Martín, where there are plenty of walking paths, a pretty lake, and an impressive lookout point, Cerro de la Gloria, crowned with a memorial to the Army of the Andes.
Maipú and Chacras de Coria
Heading south from Plaza San Martín, Mendoza has few historic sights — many key landmarks were destroyed in an earthquake in 1861 — but it remains a smart and vibrant city full of cafés, restaurants, bars, and wine shops. South of the city proper, Mendoza merges with the town of Maipú, capital of the Maipú Valley sub-region, where you'll find a string of wineries. The most historic is Bodegas López, which dates from 1898. Tours are free; tastings in the intimate cellar, which come with a small cost, are highly recommended. In Maipú, you can also find the interesting Museo Nacional del Vino, the national museum of wine and grape harvesting, housed in historic Bodega Rural.
Continuing south, you'll reach Chacras de Coria, located near the fascinating Casa Fader, a museum displaying art by local artists.
Where to Eat
Mendoza is a food and wine capital, so it's not difficult to find a great meal in town. Josefina Resto is good for fine dining, with well-prepared steaks and an entire wall full of wine to choose from. Fuente y Fonda serves Argentine comfort food in a more casual setting. If you'd like to sample a range of regional wines alongside your lunch or dinner, try El Palenque, popular with locals.
Exploring the Vineyards
Caminos del Vino is the name of the wine route that passes through the broader region of Mendoza, with the main sights and wineries divided into four areas. Zona Norte includes the city of Mendoza, Maipú Valley, and Luján de Cuyo. Valle de Uco, southwest of Zona Norte, is the next area: it's of particular interest to wine enthusiasts because the grapes grow at extraordinarily high altitudes of 3,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level. Further afield, Zona Este is near the city of San Martín, and Zona Sur is near the city of San Rafael (almost three hours' drive south of Mendoza.)
Luján de Cuyo is home to one of the region's most important wineries, Bodega Catena Zapata. Owner Nicolas Catena Zapata is among Argentina's main wine pioneers, as he introduced Malbec wine to high altitudes (where the grapes regularly benefit from more sunlight) and helped distinguish Argentina's Malbec from its French counterpart. There are many other excellent wineries in the area, too. Take a break at Cavas Wine Lodge, a boutique hotel, restaurant, and spa specializing in wine-based treatments (like a Torrontés body wrap and a crushed Malbec scrub). You can also go horseback riding in the vineyards here. A couple of miles north, Bodega Ruca Malén is a great winery and a foodie destination: the owners were the first in the region to bring fine dining standards to a working winery.
Valle de Uco, further south, offers some of the best wine experiences in the region. The wine resort Vines of Mendoza has a first-class restaurant and features a hands-on activity: visitors can work with the winemakers to create their very own wines. Nearby, the French-Argentine-run Finca Blousson is a countryside bistro-guesthouse where gourmet meals are served in an idyllic setting amidst the vineyards.
Read this article for more on Wine Regions in Chile and Argentina.
Adventures in the Andes
The Andes mountains — which frame almost every vineyard photo snapped in Mendoza — have so much to offer outdoor adventurers. From the city of Mendoza, Highway 7 twists up into the mountains en route to the Chilean border. Off this road, there are thermal pools and reservoirs (ideal for water sports) at lower altitudes; these make easy day trips from Mendoza, whether you're driving yourself or going on a tour. Higher up, challenging hikes await, including the ultimate mountain hike (only possible to do with a guide) up to Aconcagua, the tallest summit in the Americas. This 22,837-foot summit requires a multi-day trek to reach the top, including time to allow for acclimatization.
To immerse yourself more fully in the Andean landscape, stay over in Potrerillos (an hour's drive west of Mendoza), an adventure hub popular with travelers who'd like to try whitewater rafting on the nearby Mendoza River. Unwind afterward in Cachueta, at the other end of the reservoir, where the Termas de Cachueta features natural thermal pools and a nice hotel. Another option is to spend the night at Los Penitentes, a ski resort close to the trailhead of the hike up to Aconcagua.
Highway 7 continues higher up into the mountains, ascending all the way to the border with Chile, through terrain that stood in for the Himalayas in the filming of Seven Years in Tibet. After Las Cuevas, the main road passes underground through a tunnel into Chile, but a minor road goes up to a statue known as Cristo Redentor de los Andes (Christ the Redeemer of the Andes), a lofty bronze statue of Christ symbolic of the peace between Argentina and Chile.
If you're interested in exploring this mountainous region, check out this recommended tour of historic villages in the Mendoza River Valley, which takes you through several Andean settlements between Mendoza and the Chilean border. For more on Argentina's top highlights (and how to do them differently), read this article.