Planning a Trip
By Plane -- Mendoza's international airport, Francisco Gabrielli (tel. 261/520-6000), lies 8km (5 miles) north of town on RN 40. Aerolíneas Argentinas (tel. 0810/222-86527; www.aerolineas.com.ar) offers seven daily arrivals from Buenos Aires. LAN (tel. 0810/999-9526; www.lan.com) flies to Mendoza from both Buenos Aires (two times a day) and from Santiago, Chile, once in the morning and once in the evening, making a day trip from Santiago possible. Because Buenos Aires has both an international and a domestic airport (which are a minimum of 45 min. apart), it's both faster and easier to get to Mendoza in 1 day via Santiago, which has only one airport.
By Bus -- The Terminal del Sol (tel. 261/431-3001), or central bus station, lies just east of central Mendoza. Buses travel to Buenos Aires (12-14 hr.; $72/£49); Córdoba (12 hr.; $42/£28); Santiago, Chile (7 hr.; $38/£26); Las Leñas (7 hr.; $19/£13); and other cities throughout the region. Chevallier (tel. 261/431-0235; www.nuevachevallier.com.ar), Expreso Uspallata (tel. 261/421-3309; www.turismouspallata.com), and Andesmar (tel. 261/431-0585; www.andesmar.com) are the main bus companies. Buses from Buenos Aires and elsewhere in Argentina generally arrive in the early morning -- book an early check-in with your hotel to avoid being stranded!
By Car -- The route from Buenos Aires is a long (10 hr.) but easy drive on either the RN 7 or the RN 8. Mendoza is more easily reached by car from Santiago, Chile, along the RN 7, although the 250km (155-mile) trek through the Andes can be treacherous in winter, when chains are required. Give yourself 4 to 6 hours to make the journey from Santiago.
Mendoza's Subsecretaría Provincial de Turismo, on Av. San Martín 1143 (tel. 261/420-2800), is open daily from 9am to 9pm. The helpful staff will provide you with tourist information on the entire province, including maps of the wine roads and regional driving circuits. Municipal tourist offices, called Centros de Información, are located at Garibaldi near San Martín (tel. 261/423-8745; daily 8am-1pm), 9 de Julio 500 (tel. 261/420-1333; Mon-Fri 9am-9pm), and Las Heras 340 (tel. 261/429-6298; Mon-Fri 9am-1:30pm and 3-7:30pm). They provide city maps, hotel information, and brochures of tourist activities. You will find small visitor-information booths at the airport and bus station as well. Information and permits for Aconcagua Provincial Park are available at the Centro de Informes del Parques, in Mendoza's Parque San Martín (tel. 261/420-5052). The office is only open during the climbing season, from December through March. During the rest of the year, you must contact the Subsecretaría Provincial de Recursos Naturales (tel. 261/425-2090). Permits to climb the summit cost $500 (£338), and you must go in person to obtain one. In addition, several websites offer useful tourist information: www.turismo.mendoza.gov.ar, www.aconcagua.mendoza.gov.ar, www.welcomeargentina.com/mendoza, and www.mendoza.com.ar.
Safety in Mendoza: Not What It Used to Be -- Mendoza has been the scene of some pretty intense thefts and robberies of late, and more than a few have specifically targeted the upscale inns and restaurants frequented by foreign travelers. Snatch-and-run grabs have also been reported. There is no real reason to be alarmed since few have been injured. There is little one can do except keep only small amounts of cash on you, leave your passport at your hotel, avoid walking in the city late at night, and keep an eye out for pickpockets. Most wineries and hotels now have very strict security measures mainly because the local police aren't effective.
You can easily explore central Mendoza on foot, although you will want to hire a driver or rent a car to visit the wine roads and tour the mountains. Taxis and remises (private, unmetered taxis) are inexpensive: Drivers cost no more than $15 (£10) per hour. Travelers should be wary of walking alone outside the main center of town, especially at night. Traditionally Mendoza is one of Argentina's safest cities, but it has experienced an increase in crime, part of its growing pains. Ask your hotel to call a remise or radio-taxi, rather than flagging down a taxi on your own. For a remise, try La Veloz Del Este (tel. 261/423-9090) or Mendocar (tel. 261/423-6666). For a taxi, call Radiotaxi (tel. 261/430-3300).
If you do rent a car, parking is easy and inexpensive inside the city, with paid parking meters and private lots (called playas) clearly marked. Easy to navigate, the city spreads out in a clear grid pattern around Plaza Independencia. Avenida San Martín is the city's main thoroughfare, Paseo Sarmiento is the pedestrian walking street that extends from Plaza Independencia to Avenida San Martín, and Avenida Emilio Civit is the posh residential avenue leading to the entrance of Parque San Martín. Outside the city, road signs are sometimes missing or misleading, and you should pay careful attention to road maps. The main highways are Hwy. 40, which runs north-south and will take you to Maipú and Luján de Cuyo; and Hwy. 7, which runs east-west and will take you to the Alta Montaña Route.
Both Budget (tel. 261/425-3114; www.budget.com) and Hertz Annie Millet (tel. 261/448-2327; www.hertz.com) rent cars at Mendoza's airport. Expect to pay about $55 (£37) per day for a compact car with insurance and 200km (124 miles) included. If you reserve the car before arriving in Argentina, you can usually negotiate a similar rate, but with unlimited mileage. AutoMendoza [S] (tel. 261/420-0022; www.automendoza.com), a locally run company, has flexible rates and will drop a car off wherever you need it. Rates start at $55 (£37) per day. You'll get a better deal if you pay in cash.
Mendoza's public bus system is one of the best in the country. Regular buses depart from various stops in town to the outlying wine areas. El Troli, a trolley that follows the main roads in the city, is fun and cheap, at 80¢ (55p) per ride. It's an easy way to get up to Parque San Martín and back.
When to Visit
Mendoza is alive four seasons of the year. In winter (June-Aug), you can combine very quiet wine touring with great skiing at Las Leñas. In spring (Sept-Nov), the whole area is in bloom. Days are warm, and the air is remarkably aromatic. The hot summer months from December through February require a good sun hat and access to a pool. My personal favorite time to visit is the fall (Mar-May), when the vendimia wine harvesting is wrapping up, the alamo and poplar trees glow golden, and the nights are fresh.