If you’re going to Mendoza, there will, of course, be wine. But if you only hit one wine trail, make sure it’s the Uco Valley. Situated along the Tunuyan River, this prominent wine-growing region is famous for Malbec, but it’s the unpretentious vibe mixed with the breathtaking backdrop of the Cordón de Plata mountains that makes this valley special.
When you’re done grape-sampling, do as the locals do and head out to Lake Potrerillos on a summer weekend for sunbathing, swimming, and relaxing surrounded by snow-capped peaks and cypress forests.
Just north is the quaint little town of Uspallata, your jumping-off point to explore the Inca petroglyphs at Cerro Tunduqueral (where some of the movie Seven Years in Tibet was filmed). Check out Los Paramillos, a petrified forest often called the Bosque de Darwin as a nod to its discoverer.
Stop at the Puente del Inca, a natural arch over the Rio Vacas, on your way to Aconcagua, South America’s tallest mountain. A day hike to the first base camp, Confluencia, is worth it for the incredible views. Alternately, head south to see Volcano Tupungato, one of the tallest volcanoes in the world.
If you’re in Mendoza in early March, you’re in luck. The Fiesta de la Vendimia, or Annual Grape Harvest Festival, is a 10-day affair celebrated across the region. You’ll witness folk dancing, massive parades, endless wine tastings, and a pageant where beauty queens from Mendoza's 18 districts compete to be crowned the Harvest Queen.
South of Mendoza proper is Malargue, where you'll find La Laguna de la Niña Encantada, a lovely lake with crystal-clear, turquoise waters. Drive on to Valle de Las Leñas, a popular ski resort in winter turned natural paradise in the summer. Hike, mountain bike, or horse ride through the aptly named Valle Hermoso before heading off to relax at El Azufres hot springs.
South of Malargue is the Caverna de las Brujas, or Witches Cave, a nature reserve that’s home to one of the largest cave complexes in Argentina. Nearby is Cascadas de Manqui
Next, head to the high-altitude Laguna Llancanelo, known for its flamingos. While water birds are the main attraction, it’s worth checking out la Cueva del Tigre (the Cave of the Tiger) and the Laguna de Cari-
Continue south to the Reserva la Provincial
La Rioja and San Juan are best known for their two star attractions: Ischigualasto, aka the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), famed for its bizarre rock formations and some of the earliest known dinosaur remains; and Talampaya National Park, with its 656ft (200m) high red sandstone cliffs, Triassic-period fossils, and 1,500-year-old rock carvings.
To visit the parks, stay in Villa Unión in La Rioja or the quaint town of San Agustín de Valle Fértil in San Juan. Talampaya especially merits a longer stay – be sure to start early, when the morning sun hits the colored rocks and illuminates the canyon.
Afterward, explore the Laguna Brava Provincial Reserve, which boasts stunning colors and ample wildlife, before heading to Valle de Calingasta. Star-gazers must stop in
Finally, head west to Las Hornillas, the point of departure for adventurous treks and climbs at Cerro Mercedario, a favorite summit among mountaineers and the eighth-highest mountain of the Andes, before trekking back to Mendoza for a farewell glass of Malbec.
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