While one could spend days leisurely exploring the plazas and cafes in town, there is incredible outdoor adventure right outside the city that includes white water rafting, fly fishing for trout, horseback riding into the Andes at sunrise, biking through the vineyards for casual wine tastings, and for the more ambitious, climbing Mt. Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America.
Wine-fueled lunches can last for hours and formal dinner plans can be dropped last minute to instead throw down a blanket and munch on cured meats and perfectly ripe sun-warmed peaches while viewing an epic sunset over the Andes.
The downtown area is picturesque and easy to find your way around, but the heart of the classic Mendoza experience lies in visiting the vineyards scattered throughout the small surrounding towns and rural areas.
Public transportation is not available to many of these places. The easiest way to get around is to rent a car, although many tour companies offer all-day wine tours that are a great way to see a bit of the countryside (and ensure you always have a designated driver).
Travelers should know that in late February/early March, Vendimia Festival, a 10-day celebration of the grape harvest, completely takes over town. Tens of thousands of people from around the world show up for the party, so booking becomes more complicated and the relaxed vibe in town gets replaced by a bit of festive chaos.
April is a beautiful time of year to get to know Mendoza, as the weather is cooler, the harvest has been collected (making the winemakers more available for chatting), the tourists have mostly gone and the poplar trees turn a gorgeous golden yellow.
Asado et cetera
Dine on traditional asado.
Fernando de Noguera Arnal
As much as for its tango and wine, Argentina is known for asado, or traditional grilling. There is no lighter fluid or bags of charcoal involved, and forget about grilling with gas. Argentines, with all the love and patience they can muster, start burning wood early to create the embers that will be used to slow cook some of the finest cuts of meat in the world. While beef is the most common, lamb and goat are also staples in Mendoza.
Outside of Buenos Aires, a good variety of vegetarian food is not common (although, in a pinch, pasta and pizza and vegetable empanadas can be found on every corner).
While on the pricey side, the vibe is casual. It’s the perfect spot for lunching on a cured meat and cheese plate, accompanied by one of the more than 300 different bottles of wine available on the wine list. For a memorable experience, reserve the large table right in Azafran’s wine room and chat with the sommelier to find the perfect wine for your tastes.
The restaurant is in an old winery — try to snag a table outside in the gorgeous garden where you will be able to watch the chefs at work. Arrive hungry and go for the ojo de bife for two with provoleta and classic empanadas to start. The service can be hit or miss, but the food is always on point.
It’s where the local winemakers gather to eat well and drink well over long, leisurely lunches, and the extensive wine list reflects the standards of its knowledgeable clientele. The menu revolves around home-cured ham, but if that sounds limiting, it’s anything but. There are pages of options on the menu, but go for the ham that’s been infused with Malbec wine.
Worlds of wines
Malbec wine is arguably Mendoza’s most famous export.
Because there are more than 1,500 wineries spread out through the three main wine regions — Lujan de Cuyo, Valle de Uco and Maipu, it can be overwhelming to even know where to begin. Many of the vineyards are up to an hour outside of town and require a car or a tour van to get to, so its best to make a game plan and get organized.
Search Experience Mendoza to get a feel for all of your options and where they are located. If you have the time, it’s best to not try to hit up more than one a region a day. Make reservations for all wineries and restaurants at least one day in advance, and bring lots of Argentine pesos — many wineries are not set up to accept cards.
There’s no shortage of large, more modern, commercial wineries, (Salentein, Zuccardi, Trapiche, O. Fournier and Catena Zapata to name a few) but with them come larger amounts of tourism. Smaller wineries offer a better chance for intimate tours.
Cipresso is a spirited artist and grapes happen to be his medium. He plays with growing Malbec grapes in every terroir imaginable, from young to old geologies and from alluvial to non-alluvial soil structures, so his wines can emerge as different expressions of nature.
They are the only Mendoza winery to offer tastings at night, making for a unique and relaxed evening out. Tango shows with live music are planned for the near future, and they currently offer wine and movie nights in the cellar.
Bikes and Hikes
One great way to experience the region is on horseback.
Adela Jablonska / EyeEm
While the focus of the “Napa Valley of South America” is often solely the vineyards, don’t forget that you are in the Andes with some of the finest outdoor adventure tourism in Argentina at your fingertips.
If you’d prefer to stay land-based, cycle your way around the vineyards of Maipú with Maipú Aventuras.
You can leisurely pedal around the most representative wineries in Maipú, go to an olive oil tasting and learn about the history of wine in Argentina at a wine museum. The roads are flat and paved, although there is car traffic (that is very used to bikers). Bring a hat and sunscreen, because the sun can be intense and many of the roads are unshaded.
There are six expeditions between November and March. Great physical condition is a must, as is a tolerance of the legendary “white winds” of Aconcagua that keep this mountain respected by climbers worldwide.
Run by local larger-than-life personality Nino Masi at his mountain retreat, you’ll soon find out that the horse ride is just a pleasant bonus to a lunch of the freshest local produce and meat, and wine is just an invitation for dance, song and stories accompanied by new friends. A day or half-day with El Viejo Manzano will open your eyes to true Argentinian hospitality.
Each guest has their own private lodge hidden in the vineyards, so privacy is at a maximum. Bikes are available to go visit nearby vineyards, and don’t worry about leaving for dinner — the restaurant features a seasonal menu of organic, harvested foods and there is a wine cellar that holds 250 carefully selected Argentine wines. Stumble your way back with a full belly to stargaze from the roof of your lodge.
The “rooms” are more the size of houses, ranging from 1,000 to 2,700 square feet. The resort is a bit out of the way (over an hour from downtown Mendoza), but once you check in, you won’t want to go anywhere as you will feel like family here in no time. Need a solid excuse to come back? Play winemaker by purchasing a plot of private vineyard land on-site and have your crops looked after by the resort’s expert agronomist — you can waltz in just to blend and drink.
This exclusivity means you get incredibly personalized attention and get to learn about the winemaking process from start to finish, as guests have firsthand access to the winery and its workers, can walk freely through the vineyards and even taste the wines with the oenologist (the Corte B is a must try). Vistalba is also a good starting point for visiting nearby wineries, including Kaiken, Favre Montmayou and Nieto Senetiner.