For my birthday this year, I knew I wanted to get out of the country — I was born on March 3rd, and I always end up with the worst weather for it if I stick around the Mid-Atlantic! Tom had the grand idea to head to Mendoza, Argentina to celebrate Year 29, which is Argentina’s wine region. Wine and warm weather? I couldn’t pass up the opportunity! I knew this trip was going to be one for the books, but I was surprised at how much I fell in love with Argentina.
In the first part of my Mendoza Travel Guide series, I’ll give you the low down on everything you need to know before heading to Argentina: the culture, where to stay, and all about downtown Mendoza/the day trips out of the city. Next week in the Mendoza Travel Guide part 2, I’ll go a bit more in-depth about the wine tasting experience — because it’s incredibly different than what you’re used to in the States!
Mendoza Travel Guide:
How to Get to Mendoza
Mendoza has its own International Airport (MDZ) which is located about 10 kilometers from Downtown Mendoza. It ended up being a lot cheaper for us to get a flight from Miami to Mendoza vs. booking a flight from D.C. to Mendoza, so we purchased separate flights from D.C. to MIA and decided to do an extended layover in Miami before and after our trip (we stayed in Florida for 2 nights both before and after the trip!)
When you’re booking a flight to Mendoza, I would NOT recommend flying to Buenos Aries and then Mendoza — opt for a layover somewhere else in South America. We had layovers in Santiago and Lima, and it was a breeze getting through the airport. I heard horror stories of the customs lines in Buenos Aries, so I would try to avoid having a layover there at all costs.
For U.S. citizens, you do not need a visa to travel to Argentina for trips up to 90 days long (but I would always double check the State Department’s website before you book your trip, in case anything ever changes).
Where to Stay in Mendoza
You can opt to stay in either Downtown Mendoza, or venture out to the country and stay in the Uco Valley — it depends on what type of experience you’re looking for.
We decided to stay in Downtown Mendoza, and loved the experience. It was very walkable, and we only used Uber once during our trip. Plus, we loved the nightlife and festivals that the city had to offer. If you want to get out to the wineries, you can either hire a driver, meet a tour group in Downtown Mendoza, go on a bike tour or rent a car — but I’ll break all of that down in next week’s article.
Airbnbs are super affordable in Downtown Mendoza: we stayed in a gorgeous house for only $34/night. You can also opt for a hotel (most 3-star hotels average about $50-60/night in Mendoza) and not break the bank either.
Staying in the Uco Valley is also a great option if you’re looking for a more relaxing experience (you’d be in the foothills of the Andes, and it would be gorgeous), but you would need to rent a car to get out to your hotel/cabin, and it’s super spread out. Again, it depends on your travel preference!
Best Time of Year to Visit Mendoza
If you can visit around the first week of March, that would be ideal: the weather is incredible (it’s early fall in Argentina at that point), and it’s right around the time of harvest. During our trip in March, we got the chance to attend a few Harvest Festival events in Downtown Mendoza (including a big wine tasting festival with a DJ!), and the vines at the vineyards looked stunning. We even got to pick a few of the grapes and taste them right off the vines during some of our winery tours!
Really, any time of year is great to visit Mendoza, however. October-April is generally regarded as the best time to visit Mendoza: January and February are going to be the hottest months of the year, but Mendoza has a semi-arid climate, so you’d experience a dry heat. It’s a bit cooler in May-September, and the vines aren’t as picturesque during those months, but you’ll still have a fantastic time if you decide to visit during the winter!
Culture Tips: Money, Language & Tipping
The national language of Argentina is Spanish. Most of the wineries offer tours and tastings in English, so we didn’t have any issues while we were out wine tasting. When we were in Downtown Mendoza, I’d say about 75% of the people we encountered spoke English — and we used Google Translate to communicate with the other 25% that didn’t. All in all, we were able to get around fine without speaking Spanish super well on this trip, but I’d brush up on your español before you go!
The Argentinian Peso is incredibly volatile right now, and we couldn’t find a bank in the U.S. who would exchange money for us before we left for our trip since the exchange rate changes daily. Your best bet is going to a bank or ATM while you’re in Argentina to get money changed, and to use a credit card with no exchange rate fees when you can.
Definitely try to leave tips in Argentina: for restaurants, 10% is standard, and you’ll want to tip any tour guides 10-20%. Also, siestas are a pretty big thing in Mendoza: between 3-7 PM, things are pretty quiet, and there are several restaurants and shops in town that aren’t open during that period. It’s pretty standard to have dinner sometime between 9-11 PM in Mendoza (a 7 PM dinner there is the equivalent of a 5 PM, “Early Bird” dinner in the States!)
Also: restaurant service is going to be slow in Mendoza pretty much anywhere you go. It’s just a part of the culture to not rush a meal. If you’re in a hurry and have less than an hour to ear at a restaurant, I wouldn’t suggest going to a sit-down spot. All of our dinners lasted about 2 hours here! Just sit back, relax, and don’t stress if it takes 30 minutes to get a dish or drink.
Best Things to Do in Downtown Mendoza
You don’t need to budget that much time to explore Downtown Mendoza. You can see most of the touristy spots in town in 1-2 days. If you’re a foodie, however, by all means: eat (and drink!) your way through the city!
Some of our favorite things to do in Downtown Mendoza include:
- Take a Stroll through Parque General San Martin. Parque General San Martin is Mendoza’s equivalent of Central Park, and it is beautiful — and huge. It’s an 865-acre park that has beautiful walkways, a zoo, a science museum, a human-made lake and more. Take a leisurely stroll through the park, go on a run, or set up a picnic along the water!
- Enjoy the Nightlife on Aristides Street. It is insane how many people are out and about on Aristides Street at night: once the clock strikes 10 PM, this street gets packed, the restaurants fill up, and there’s an energy that captivates you. Some of our favorite spots included Chachingo Craft Beer and Gingger Cocktails Bar.
- Eat & Drink Your Way Through Town. Not going to lie, this is what we mostly did in Downtown Mendoza — no shame! Mendoza gets up super late so we usually grabbed a quick breakfast from a coffee shop while we were in town, but if you’re looking for brunch, The Nook was fantastic. Anna Bistro was our go-to spot for lunch and dinner (I still dream about their steaks!). Azafran came highly recommended by the locals, but we didn’t make reservations ahead of time and weren’t able to get a table— it’s on our list for next time, though!
Naoki Wine Garden was a gorgeous spot to relax mid-day, and we loved the gelato and ice cream at Ferruccio Soppelsa (prepare to use your Google Translate at this spot if your Spanish is rusty!)
Best Day Trips from Mendoza
- Venture Out to Wine Country. Hello, this is the main reason why we came. The State of Mendoza is home to over 1,000 wineries and vineyards, and we loved every second of our wine tasting experience. We ended up doing five days of wine tasting, and I’m going to break down everything you need to know about winery hopping in Mendoza in a separate blog post that will go live next week. We ended up going to 15 different wineries over those five days, but for the average wine drinker, I would recommend doing 2-3 days of wine tastings in Mendoza.
- Explore the Andes Mountains. Since it was my birthday trip, I had no desire to hike (hah!), but if you’re outdoorsy, you won’t want to pass up the opportunity to see the Andes Mountains. You can go hiking, do a bike tour, live like a gaucho and go horseback riding…there’s so much to do in one of the best mountain ranges in the world!
- Rafting and Tubing in the Mendoza River. Again…we didn’t end up doing this (too busy drinking all the wine!), but for my outdoor enthusiasts, you’ll want to venture out to the Mendoza River and go rafting or tubing.
- Enjoy a Spa Experience at the Thermal Springs. If you enjoy soft adventure as I do, Thermal Springs would be right up your alley. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Downtown Mendoza, and you can enjoy their hot springs and soak up the best views of the Andes.
Have you ever been to Mendoza? What were your favorite things to do in the region?
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Mendoza Travel Guide which will dive into our wine tasting experience!