Destination Information Series
Things to Do in Mendoza, Argentina
By Sara Tiffany
Mendoza has a long history with explorers and adventure-seekers. In 1561, the founder of the city, Pedro del Castillo, traveled from Chile over a 13,120ft/4,000m pass to create a new settlement for the Spanish – no easy feat! Today, 450 years later, the city is thriving with about 110,000 inhabitants and strong wine and tourism industries.
Many mountaineers who travel to Argentina to attempt the summit of South America’s highest mountain, Aconcagua, only visit the national park office to obtain their climbing permits before heading to the mountains; they don’t know what they’re missing. The beautiful tree-lined streets and shady plazas of the city are rich with history, culture and class.
City Center and Parks
First some background, you can’t travel to Mendoza without learning about Jose Francisco de San Martin because statues and places bearing his namesake are everywhere. Born in Argentina and educated in Spain, San Martin was a strong proponent of South American independence. After fighting for Spain against the French in the Peninsular War of 1808, he returned to Argentina to use his military expertise to fight against the Spanish in the war for independence. Much of his time was spent navigating the Andes Mountains and orchestrating strategic attacks. Though he is considered a hero throughout South America, San Martin is especially loved in Mendoza where he settled for some time after the war ended.
Mendoza’s city center is not very large and is easily navigated on foot. At the center of it all is the relaxing Plaza Independencia which is a well-manicured park that is home to cultural events and is a good place for a stroll. Artisans often set up booths in the plaza to display their handicrafts. Nearby Plaza Espana is arguably the most beautiful of the city’s plazas with its intricate mosaics, colorful murals and plush gardens.
Ten blocks west of the city center is the Parque General San Martin. Nearly 1000 acres in size, this park has it all – a large sports facility, an amphitheater, a beautiful lake, a zoo, an aquarium, spectacular gardens and miles of walkways. The Hill of Glory towers high above the rest of the park and is easily reached by a 45 minute walk or short bus ride for spectacular views of the city and neighboring Andes. If you don’t want to walk back down, you can hang-glide from the top!
For the museum lovers, Mendoza is a gold mine. One of the most interesting and most thoughtful museums is located in the Area Fundacional just 12 blocks north east of the city center. It showcases the former heart of the city which was destroyed by a large earthquake in 1861. Glass walkways reveal the excavated sites underground and give visitors a glimpse of what the former city looked like. Museo del Pasado Cuyano showcases Spanish memorabilia from the 16th and 17th centuries and includes a number of San Martin artifacts. It is located near Plaza Italia in a large 19th century mansion. The Museo de Ciencias Naturales y Antropologia is a found in the Parque General San Martin and the Museo del Arte Moderno is in the Plaza Independencia. Farther afield are the Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes and the Museo Nacional del Vino. The former is perhaps the best art gallery in Mendoza surrounded by lovely gardens and the latter is all about Argentine wine.
Wineries, Wind Tour and Food
And that leads us to the main event – the wine. No trip to Mendoza is complete without a visit to some of the local wineries. Climate in the Mendoza region is ideal for growing grapes as it is warm and sunny with cool nights that give the grapes their bold flavor. Many claim that the mineral-rich waters flowing from the Andes add a unique character to Mendoza’s wines. Today the region specializes in Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, but grows a wide variety of grapes.
To being your exploration of Mendoza’s bodegas, you’ll have to head into the outskirts of town. Most vineyards are in the two southern suburbs of Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo and Maipu. Because the vineyards are quite spread out, it is difficult to go by any means other than vehicle. You can hire a car yourself or arrange a driver. Another great option is to spend a night out in the countryside. A number of the bodegas have lovely boutique-style accommodations that are great for a romantic evening away from the city. We have a great winery tour guide who we are happy to arrange for you – give us a call!
With good wine comes good food. Mendoza has a wide variety of great restaurants ranging from classic and affordable Argentine food to French fine dining. There are too many great choices to list here, so you’ll have to go explore for yourself!
Aconcagua Climbing Expedition
Aconcagua is the highest mountain in South America and standing at 22,841/6962m, it is also the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere. The Berg Adventures Aconcagua climbing expedition begins and ends in Mendoza, just a few hours drive from Los Penitentes where the climb begins. You can learn more about the Aconcagua expedition here.