I lived in Mendoza for two years and I went on countless day and overnight trips. Here are three of my favourites.
Aconcagua / Alta Montaña circuit
Mendoza is located on a desert plain, 2300ft above sea level. Aconcagua, which at 22,841ft is the highest peak on the continent, is only two hours away by car. The two places couldn’t be more different, which makes a day trip to the base of Aconcagua a must on any Mendoza itinerary.
The tour which Vaya Adventures arranges makes a scenic loop, which means that on the return journey you will be seeing new and spectacular scenery which most tourists never go near.
On the way there you will pass through the towns of Potrerillos and Uspallata. The Uspallata valley is particularly scenic – exotic poplars and countless rivers and streams make for a pleasant drive. Beyond Uspallata the landscape changes: instead of being picturesque it is harsh and awe-inspiring. A brown torrent of a river and grey scree mountains. A few drab mustangs and perhaps a condor. And then you get to Aconcagua – a picture-postcard aberration of white and blue on this otherwise austere landscape. At the base you can go walking or, if your lungs allow, hiking.
The drive back takes you through the lovely valley of Villavicencio. This is the back route, and as such it is more desolate and empty and there is more chance of seeing wildlife, such as guanaco and condors. It’s a long day, but worth it for those who love mountains.
Winetasting in the Valle de Uco
The Uco Valley, located a bit to the South of Mendoza, is one of the newer wine-growing regions in the province of Mendoza but it is also arguably the best. The wineries here are all high-end endeavours and many of them are foreign-owned. More modern irrigation and trellising systems, as well as more ambitious winemakers and a unique terroir all make for fantastic wines. As is usual for Argentina, the Malbecs fly the flag but there are also some very interesting Torrontes and Cabernet Sauvignons coming out of the valley.
It’s not all about wine either. The Cordon del Plata provides a snow-capped backdrop which is second to none and many of the wineries themselves are architecturally out there. There’s nothing quaint or colonial about the pyramid which is Septima’s cellar, while the winery at O’Fornier more closely resembles an air-traffic control turret than a French vigneron. The architectural diversity from winery to winery is a particular highlight of the Uco valley.
Of course, with good wine comes good food and the restaurants in the valley are all from the top drawer. Vaya Adventures’ local guides will help you to choose where you eat, but wherever you go you will not be disappointed.
Rafting and zip-lining at Potrerillos
About an hour out of town in the precordillera (the small hills which precede the Andes proper), lies a small town called Potrerillos. It is built on the shores of a manmade lake of the same name. The lake is fed by the raging Rio Mendoza and it is in the stretch just above the lake that the rafting takes place.
In summer there’s more snowmelt so the ride is faster and more furious while reduced flow in winter months means that the ride is slower but more technical. It’s also pretty cold in winter, but wetsuits are provided. If you know what you’re doing you can go in a kayak instead of an inflatable dinghy.
You can do a full day of rafting or you can combine a shorter rafting trip with some zip-lining. Steel cables have been strung across the point where the river meets the lake, the longest of which measures 500 yards. Zipping through the air way above the lake is exhilarating, and will certainly clear your head after all the wine tasting!