Orientation

Strictly speaking, the provincial capital proper is a relatively small area with a population of only about 120,000, but the inclusion of the departments of Las Heras, Guaymallén and Godoy Cruz, along with nearby Maipú and Luján de Cuyo, swells the population of Gran Mendoza (Greater Mendoza) to a little over one million. Mendoza lies only 340km northwest of Santiago (Chile) via the Los Libertadores border complex.

The city’s five central plazas (in part, intended as places of refuge in case of an earthquake) are arranged like the five-roll on a die, with Plaza Independencia in the middle and four smaller plazas lying two blocks from each of its corners. Be sure to see the beautifully tiled Plaza España.

Av San Martín is the main thoroughfare, crossing the city from north to south, and Av Las Heras is the principal commercial street.

A good place to orient yourself is the Terraza Mirador, which is the rooftop terrace at City Hall, offering panoramic views of the city and the surrounding area.

Activities

Once you’ve sucked down enough fine wine and tramped around the city, get into the Andes, Mendoza’s other claim to fame, for some of the most spectacular mountain scenery you’ll ever see. Numerous agencies organize climbing and trekking expeditions, rafting trips, mule trips and cycling trips.

Climbing & Mountaineering

Mendoza is famous for Cerro Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas, but the majestic peak is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to climbing and mountaineering here. The nearby Cordón del Plata boasts several peaks topping out between 5000m and 6000m, and there are three important rock-climbing areas in the province: Los Arenales (near Tunuyán), El Salto (near Mendoza) and Chigüido (near Malargüe). Get in touch with Andes Vertical, recommended for beginning and experienced rock-climbers.

Pick up a copy of Maricio Fernandez’ full-color route guide (Spanish only), Escaladas en Mendoza, at Inka Expediciones. For up-to-date information and a list of recommended guides, contact the Asociación Argentina de Guías de Montaña. Trekking Travel Expediciones offers several multiday routes into the mountains, usually involving horseback riding.

For climbing and hiking equipment, both rental and purchase, visit Chamonix.

Skiing & Snowboarding

When there's snow, Los Penitentes has the best skiing near Mendoza, although further south, Las Leñas has arguably the best skiing in South America. For standard ski and snowboard equipment rental, try Limite Vertical or any of the shops along Av Las Heras. In high season, all offer packages with either skis, boots and poles (AR$230), or snowboards and boots (AR$280). Most rent gloves, jackets and tire chains, as well. If you’re an intermediate or advanced skier, Argentina Ski Tours can set you up with much better equipment and runs highly recommended full-service ski tours to both mountains.

White-Water Rafting

The major rivers are the Mendoza and the Diamante and Atuel, near San Rafael. Most agencies offer half-day descents (from AR$420) and multiday expeditions. Transport is extra. Well-regarded Argentina Rafting operates a base in Potrerillos, and you can book trips at its Mendoza office.

Fishing

Mendoza has its very own fly fishing school with an almost doctoral-like rigor. It takes five years for students to graduate as guides. Trout & Wine offers full-day guided trips, including a wonderful asado (barbecue) lunch, on several rivers in the Valle de Uco, on Río El Tigre near Uspallata and Río Mendoza in the winter.

Wine Tours

For the casual sipper, a self-guided tour of Maipú or any of the bodega tours offered by various travel agencies around town will likely satisfy. There are also a few highly recommended companies operating out of Mendoza offering deluxe wine tours. They’re not cheap, but benefits include small group sizes, knowledgeable and entertaining English-speaking guides and access to exclusive vineyards. Most also offer tours of the Valle de Uco, a beautiful, relatively new winegrowing region 150km south of Mendoza that’s near impossible to explore by public transportation.

All of the operators can set you up customized trips, some with horseback tours of the vineyards; usually a full-day affair with gourmet lunch included (US$190).

Don't Miss: Wineries near Mendoza

Thanks to a complex and very old system of river-fed aqueducts, land that was once desert now supports 70% of the country’s wine production. Mendoza province is wine country, and many wineries near the capital offer tours and tasting. Countless tourist agencies offer day tours, hitting two or more wineries in a precisely planned day, but it’s also easy enough to visit on your own. Hiring a remise (taxi) is also feasible. Some winery tours and tastings are free, though some push hard for sales at the end, and you never taste the good stuff without paying. Malbec, of course, is the definitive Argentine wine.

With a full day it’s easy to hop on buses and hit several of the Mendoza area’s most appealing wineries in the outskirts of neighboring Maipú, only 16km away. For a look at what the cutting-edge wineries are doing, consider renting a car or going on a tour of the Valle de Uco. Another option is the area of Luján de Cuyo, 19km south of Mendoza, which also has many important wineries.

There are several ways of getting to Maipú, including public buses leaving from La Rioja, between Garibaldi and Catamarca in central Mendoza; buses to wineries in Luján de Cuyo leave from Mendoza’s bus terminal.

Mendoza’s tourist office on Garibaldi near Av San Martín provides a basic but helpful map of the area and its wineries. Also look for the useful three-map set Wine Map: Wine and Tasting Tours.

Sleeping

Several international chains have nice upscale outposts, including a downtown Sheraton and the colonial-style Park Hyatt. Any hotel on or within a block of Av Aristides Villanueva (these are mostly hostels) should only be considered by those not bothered by noise. Note that hotel prices rise from January to March. Home-sharing services are more and more popular. Luján de Cuyo and Chacras de Coria are less urban options, still close to the city.

Eating

Some of Mendoza’s best restaurants, often with outdoor seating and lively young crowds, are along Av Arístides Villanueva, the western extension of Av Colón. West of Plaza Independencia, Av Sarmiento is lined with the city’s most traditional, albeit touristy, parrillas (steak restaurants), while east of the plaza along the Sarmiento peatonal (pedestrian street), you’ll find numerous sidewalk cafes with outdoor seating. Belgrano, between Gutirrez and Zapata, is another good stretch of restaurants.

Top Tips

  • If you want to bring your own bottle of vino into a restaurant, most have a corkage fee (look for 'no incluye descorche' on the menu) of around AR$170.
  • Tap water is safe to drink. It comes from the same source – Andean snowmelt or mountain springs – as bottled water. However, most restaurants in Mendoza do not provide it. Even upon asking, they tend to be resistant. Be persistent and you'll save big pesos.
  • To save money at lunch, go with the plato del día which usually includes a side and drink along with the entree, usually a small piece of meat.

Drinking & Nightlife

For a great night on the town, walk down Av Arístides Villanueva, where it’s bar after bar; in summer entire blocks fill with tables and people enjoying the night. On the other side of town is the Alameda, which is grungier and less salubrious, though you might be able to catch some live music. Wine is available everywhere in Mendoza (right down to gas stations).

Nightclubs

Finding a dance floor generally means abandoning downtown for one of two areas: the northwest suburb of El Challao, or Chacras de Coria, along the RP 82 in the southern outskirts. The former is reached by bus 115 from Av Sarmiento. Chacras de Coria, a better choice, is reached from the stop on La Rioja between Catamarca and Garibaldi by taking bus 10, interno 19, or from the corner of 25 de Mayo and Rivadavia by taking bus 10, interno 15. In both cases simply asking the driver for los boliches (the nightclubs) is enough to find the right stop.

The nightclubs in both El Challao and Chacras de Coria are all right next to each other, and you can walk along to take your pick from the ever-changing array. Most don't get going until very late, which presents problems getting back to hotels in the city.

Many visitors to Mendoza (and mendocinos for that matter) find the effort involved getting to these places far outweighs the fun they have there, often opting for the smaller bars along Av Arístides Villanueva and the Tajamar.

Entertainment

Unfortunately, Mendoza is not the city for tango. But check tourist offices or museums for a copy of La Guía, a monthly publication with entertainment listings. Los Andes, the daily rag, also has a good entertainment section. For everything from live music to stand-up comedy, check the program at the Centro Cultural Tajamar. The main theater in town is Teatro Independencia, with Teatro Quintanilla a distant second; Nave Cultural, north of the center, also occasionally hosts performances.

Shopping

Av Las Heras is lined with souvenir shops, leather shops, chocolate stores and all sorts of places to pick up cheap Argentine trinkets. Items made of carpincho (spotted tanned hide of the capybara, a large rodent) are uniquely Argentine and sold in many of the stores.

Specialty wine stores stock fine wines, have staff who speak at least a little English and can pack your bottles for shipping. Locally produced olive oil is another fine souvenir.