Mendoza, the vineyard capital of Argentina nestled in the Andes
All in all, we’d say this is a pretty pleasant place, and a must-see for a trip across Argentina. Mendoza city isn’t too dissimilar to Córdoba, although it feels a little less crowded on the streets and isn’t quite as shopping-centric. There is a young-ish vibe in the centre on a weekend, but nothing like the larger university cities like Rosario. The region is famed for its lush vineyards that stretch from the city’s outskirts all the way into the Andes, so of course thousands flock every year to take part in some Mendoza wine tours. This guide will let you know all the cool things you can do in and around Mendoza.
During our time in this area, we stayed both in the city of Mendoza and then at an AirBnB in a village called Lunlunta on the outskirts.
Where to stay in Mendoza city
When staying in the centre, we set up base camp at Hostel Lagares, a basic but comfortable hostel with plump mattresses and a decent breakfast. The place is mostly run by Javier during the day, a charming bloke who remembers everyone’s names and shakes all their hands at the ends of his shifts. He totally bends over backwards for his guests; a real gem. For this (and the mattresses), Hostel Lagares earned a place in our best accommodation in South America list.
What to do in the Mendoza city
Though most people are here for Mendoza wine tours, there are still a fair few things to keep you occupied in the city for a day or two! A key spot to visit is the ginormous Parque General San Martín. You can get lost in this place, but we recommend you visit the entrance where Av. Emilio Civit meets Av. De Livetad with the amazing black gates leading facing the Andes mountains.
Follow the road a little and then veer right into the forest where you’ll see a small watchtower that is completely unexplained but a pretty cool thing to see. After that, go back on yourself and head down the only remaining road on the roundabout towards to main park to see rose gardens, fountains, statues and lots of cute dogs being walked.
The town centre itself is a little more relaxed than other cities in Argentina, but there is an excellent bar scene the whole way down Avenida Villanueva Aristides where university students tend to convene. You’ll find everything from sticky-floored vodka bars to hipster craft beer houses. It seems the vineyards have produced so many grapes that they’re not quite sure what to do with them, and so have created a Grape IPA beer – which we do actually recommend trying. Check out its mention in the Argentina beer guide.
What to do around Mendoza
Seek an adrenaline rush
The city can keep you occupied for a couple of days, but to really experience Mendoza you have to get away from the urbanisation and get stuck into an adventure. For our bit of adrenaline, we were tempted by rock climbing, but settled on signing up for the white water rafting + zipline tour in the Andes that’s advertised in all hostels (the rafting was well worth it but to be honest we’ve seen better ziplines in kids’ parks back home). Be careful that you’re getting the best deal when booking through your accommodation though; two women on our trip paid more than us without the zipline included AND they were then told they had to pay extra to get a transfer back to their hostel.
Go wine-tasting… at 10,000 ft
Yep, you read that right. Mza Argentina offer the opportunity to jump out of an aeroplane and taste some wines mid-skydive. A completely batshit crazy idea that judging by reviews seems to actually have been pulled off. Hats off to them!
Hike the highest peak in the Andes
For those nutters out there who enjoy pushing their bodies to the limit, there is an 18-day hike to Cerro Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes… Or you can just take a tour which takes you for a short trail around the Aconcagua national park and up to the base camp in one day. Your choice.
See the Andes the easy way
Now this is our kind of exploration. Lots of options are available from Mendoza that take you out in a bus to catch sight of the beautiful landscapes around you. This tour will take you around the key attractions with a focus on Incan history – the Puente del Inca (Bridge of the Inca) is a particularly interesting stop.
Ride like a gaucho
Get into character as an Argentinian cowboy and set off into the stunning foothills of the Andes! Available experiences range from a 2-hour horse-ride with a stop for a traditional Argentinian BBQ (asado) up in the mountains, to a full-day gaucho experience with meals included to learn about this fascinating way of life, to getting truly immersed with a 3-day ride up into the mountains with gauchos, enjoying BBQs and bonfires under the stars. Giddy-up!
Soak up the views from the Cacheuta Thermal Spa
Built into the valley of the Mendoza River, Cacheuta offers a large range of natural pools, bubble beds and water jets to truly wind down. With this tour, you can also enjoy mud baths, a BBQ lunch and transfers from Mendoza city.
Experience local life in Lunlunta village
To get out of the city, we spent a lovely few days at an AirBnB in a nearby village called Lunlunta, deep in the heart of wine country and the perfect place to pick up one of the wine tours around Mendoza. Our hosts were incredible, and treated us to a full asado and local wines. If you’re looking for that kind of experience, we really recommend Rolo & Ana’s place (Ana does speak some English but best experienced if you can speak Spanish). Ana also does private Peruvian cooking classes, and believe us when we say her cooking is DIVINE. This AirBnB also made into it our list of favourites for South America.
Sip your way through some Mendoza wine tours
What you’re all here for. We actually decided to skip the guided Mendoza wine tours (we had heard from many people that some of the vineyards they went to weren’t fantastic), and conducted our own using our AirBnB hosts Rolo and Ana’s recommendations. It sounded like a good idea at the time.
This went swimmingly, until trying to get from the third to the fourth of our Mendoza wine tours we realised a taxi from the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere was going to be hugely expensive and hard to come by, so we ended up walking most of the way (including down a dual carriageway). But hey, the weather was good and the wine had made us jolly. We would have been better to hire bikes from the local village, but being a Sunday we weren’t able to get hold of them unfortunately.
We visited Carinae, Vistandes, Benegas and, much to Andy’s delight, we also stopped in Laur olive oil and used their taster palette as lunch. All of the Mendoza wine tours provided a brief explanation and tasting for a small price – the most expensive was Benegas at around £7-8 each, but to be fair their tasting included a 12 year old Gran Reserva and their winery was by far the most impressive.
If you’d prefer not to risk having to walk down a dual carriageway, be smart and check out some of the full-day and half-day Mendoza wine tours available, which would pick you up from your accommodation in the city and take you around several vineyards. Popular with younger travellers are the multibike Mendoza wine tours – just go check out the pictures to see what why!
Getting from Mendoza to Chile by bus
Probably one of the most amazing things about Mendoza was the bus journey from there to Chile. We took the earliest bus possible to avoid queues at the border (Chileans are horrendously strict with bag scans, sniffer dogs and “random” searches on backpackers), and caught the Andes at first light. Well worth waking up at 6am for! The journey itself is very windy at times, so pack an anti-sickness tablet if you’re prone to getting travel-sick.
Tip for the Chilean border: you will be given a slip of paper at Passport Control, which just looks like a receipt. It has ‘PDI’ written on it, which to non-Latinos means absolutely nothing, but Chile expects you to know that this means police, and you therefore need to cherish it as you would your first-born child. Do not, as we did, bin it. You will still be able to leave Chile when they find out you don’t have it, but you will almost certainly encounter hassle, which is pretty annoying to your fellow bus passengers having to wait.
How long to stay in Mendoza, Argentina: 3-4 days
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