The southern half of El Nuevo Cuyo is taken up by Mendoza Province, the self-styled Tierra del Sol y del Buen Vino, the “land of sunshine and good wine”. Within its borders are some of the country’s most dramatic mountain landscapes, where you can try a host of adventure pursuits, from kayaking to hang-gliding. Its lively capital city, Mendoza, can satisfy yearnings for creature comforts after treks, climbs into the Andes or a day of whitewater rafting. While Mendoza Province shares many things with San Juan and La Rioja – bleak wildernesses backed by snow-peaked mountains, remarkably varied flora and fauna, an incredibly sunny climate prone to sudden temperature changes and pockets of rich farmland mainly used to produce beefy red wines – it differs in the way it exploits them. Mendoza leads the way in tourism just as it does in the wine industry, combining professionalism with a taste for the avant-garde. The two industries come together for Mendoza’s nationally famous Fiesta de la Vendimia, or Wine Harvest Festival, held in early March, a slightly kitsch but exuberant bacchanalia at which a carnival queen is elected from candidates representing every town in the province.
Mendoza Province can be divided into three sections, each with its own base. The north, around the capital, has the country’s biggest concentration of vineyards and top-class wineries, clustered around Maipú and Luján de Cuyo, while the scenic Alta Montaña route races up in a westerly direction towards the high Chilean border, passing the mighty Cerro Aconcagua, an increasingly popular climbing destination. Not far to the southwest are the much more challenging Cerro Tupungato (6570m) and the remote Laguna Diamante, a choppy altiplanic lagoon in the shadow of the perfectly shaped Volcán Maipo, which can only be visited from December to March. Central Mendoza is focused on the laidback town of San Rafael, where you can taste more wine, and from where several tour operators offer whitewater-rafting trips along the nearby Cañón del Atuel, or rivers like the Sosneado and Diamante. If you’ve always wanted to ski or snowboard in July, try the winter sports resort at Las Leñas, where you’ll be sharing pistes with South America’s jet-set. The third, least-visited section of the province wraps around the southern outpost of Malargüe, a final-frontier kind of place promoting itself as a centre for nature, scientific discovery and adventure. Within easy reach are the Laguna de Llancanelo, home to an enormous community of flamingoes, the charcoal-grey and rust-red lava deserts of La Payunia and the karstic caves of Caverna de las Brujas.