Here, in the land of sunshine and good wine, life is lovely. With the gorgeous, high Andes mountains forming a dramatic backdrop, and rows upon rows of Malbec in the foreground, Mendoza is a very pretty place, one where you'll want to linger, relax, and feel good. The ultimate Mendoza moment is at a country lodge, with a copa in hand, vines at your side, and the mountains in front. Deeply connected to the land, Mendocinos, the smiling residents of this delightful city and vast province are relaxed, creative, and so very friendly. They feel lucky to live in the "land of sol y buen vino."
Capital of the Province of Mendoza, the city of Mendoza is an oasis amid an almost desertlike high plain, somewhat of a miracle, and a testament to the hard work and determination of local pioneers. If you consider that only 5% of the entire province is cultivated, and that the area receives around 15 centimeters (6 in.) of rain per year, you'll realize the achievement of the simple shade cast by the many giant sycamore trees that line the towns. Thanks to a vast network of aqueducts and dikes, which run through the rural vineyards and even through the heart of Mendoza city, grapes and olives have been harvested to international standards. The most famous grape here is Malbec; it's of French origin, but since storming to global attention in the early 2000s, it has put Argentine wine on the map.
In the past few years, wine exports have jumped 30%, helped significantly by investors and experts from Europe. Tourism is following suit and booming likewise. Fortunately, it is growing from the ground up. Locals continue to live as always, but now they welcome visitors into their lives -- into their homes, their family farms, and their vineyards.
There is a lot to see and do here. The first decision to be made is whether to stay in the city or out in the wine country. Downtown makes a good base for people who like nightlife, cafes, and strolling on their own. Country inns (and there are some outstanding ones) will be better for those who want to relax and soak up as much of the wine scene as possible. Either way, after spending a few days exploring the bodegas (wineries) close to the city, don't miss a day of adventure in the alta montaña, or high mountains -- rafting, horseback riding, or trekking. If you are staying in the country, take a remise or taxi into town for a leisurely day visiting museums, enjoying restaurants and the lovely plazas of downtown Mendoza. Blending time in the lovely city of Mendoza with time in the quiet wine towns is ideal.
You should spend at least a day exploring Mendoza's old city -- visiting the plazas, and wandering about Parque General San Martín -- before heading for the wine routes that wind through the most important wine-producing zones of Mendoza. Choose your own pace when touring the bodegas (wineries); two or three visits are possible in half a day. Five would be the absolute most doable in a full day. Make a reservation for lunch either at one of the many excellent restaurants in the wine country -- or, better yet, a bodega itself. Some have truly outstanding restaurants. More and more wineries are now charging for tours, although if you purchase wine at the end of a tour, the entry fee is usually waived. Some are closed on Sundays. Reservations are generally required -- don't count on being able to just show up at a vineyard. Another important factor is that the roads in Mendoza can be very hard to navigate, and drivers are particularly aggressive. Only the most confident should rent a car.
A journey into the magnificent mountains, however, is possible anytime, and can be easily done on your own. The best circuit is Alta Montaña, which follows parts of the old Inca trail and Andes railroad through the tall Andes to the border with Chile.
Mendoza also offers a wealth of outdoor activities, ranging from Class III, IV, and V white-water rafting in the Mendoza River to horseback riding, mountain biking, and trekking in the Andes. Tour operators in Mendoza will arrange an itinerary according to your preferences, from part-day outings to multiday excursions.
Two-and-a-half hours south of Mendoza is the province's second-largest city, San Rafael. More the size of a large town, it's a laid-back, rural place that has some great outdoor activities nearby, as well as its own share of important bodegas, although it has little of particular interest to foreigners.
Even farther south, Las Leñas is a world-class ski resort that is a winter playground of Porteños escaping the capital for a snowy retreat. Los Penitentes offers decent runs closer to Mendoza. For the bold and the brave, Mount Aconcagua provides an irresistible challenge, and at 6,960m (22,829 ft.) it towers above all other peaks in the Western Hemisphere. With a good bit of endurance, money, and time on your hands, the mountain can be conquered.