Travellers on a tour of Argentina often zip through the city of Mendoza, pausing only long enough to down a glass of Malbec at the famed vineyards before rushing to their next bucket-list location. Adventure travellers are missing out: the region – even containing the highest mountain in South America – is one of the best places for outdoor activities in the country.
A wine tour of the bodegas (wineries) is the top reason most tourists come to Mendoza, but visiting by bike makes the experience even more thrilling. Pedalling through acres of grape-rich vineyards lined up against the pale shimmer of the snowy Andes couldn't be lovelier – and of course stopping off at regular intervals for a tipple is a major bonus. Go easy on the drink though; you'll have to cycle back again. Maipù is the closest wine region to Mendoza but setting out on bike tour from the relaxed town of Luján de Cuyo is highly recommended.
Physical challenges don't get much bigger than this: scaling the world's second-highest peak, Mount Aconcagua (6962 metres). It's a phenomenal climb that draws international mountaineers who come to tackle one of the "Seven Summits". It's not technical so it's possible for anyone to achieve the summit, as long as they have a good level of fitness and time to acclimatise. For those with less time, shorter treks in the region include El Plata (6000 metres over seven days) and easy day-hikes, particularly around Cacheuta, Cerro Arco and El Salto. For high-altitude insights, read our interview with an Aconcagua mountain guide.
With mountains this big, it's no wonder Mendoza is a one of the major hubs for South America's climbing community. Head out to El Conglomerado at Potrerillos, where the Mendoza River has carved out a dramatic gorge and in doing so created the perfect playground for rock-climbers of all abilities. If you're a more advanced climber, you'll want to explore Los Arenales, one of the best outdoor climbing spots in central Argentina. In either location, when you reach the top of your rope, take a moment to appreciate the spectacular natural setting – while keeping a steady eye on the task in hand, of course.
Any self-respecting home of adventure sport will have facilities for people who get a buzz from hurling themselves off high places. If you're one of them, try bungee-jumping (or "puenting") from a 27-metre high suspension bridge at Cacheuta, 40 km out of town. Or you can speed across the Mendoza River on a 450-metre zip line. And even paraglide from Cerro Arco for views out over the foothills. People who prefer to go fast on water can try rafting on Level 3 rapids at Potrerillos, which rise to Level 4-5 in summer due to snow melt in the high mountains.
Whether you're already a keen flyfisher or simply want to immerse yourself in the landscape with less of an adrenaline rush, you can have a go at trout fishing between November to late April or early May. You'll stand knee-deep in a stream, casting off into the icy water that rushes straight from the mountaintop and, all being well, hooking a plump trout. Various locations offer superb fishing, including the rivers of the Valle Hermoso and Los Castillos de Pincheira near Malargue, around four hours south of Mendoza.
There are plenty of opportunities to admire the landscape on a cabalgata (horse-riding excursion), particularly in the Valle de Uco or at the Quebrada del Condor (Tupungato), both to the south of the city. Typically, you'll travel in the style of a true gaucho, crossing the plains and exploring the foothills, then stopping to share a maté (tea sipped through a metal straw from a gourd) and ending the day with a mighty asado (Argentine-style barbecue) as the sun sinks into the Cordón del Plata.
Where there are mountains, there tends to be winter sports – and the Andes is no exception. Among the peaks between Mendoza and the border with Chile, there's an established ski resort at Los Penitentes, with 24 runs suitable for beginners through to advanced skiers and snowboarders. You'll find better snow at Argentina's biggest resort, Las Leñas, four and a half hours south by car, which has one of the longest intermediate trails in the world and opportunities for heli-skiing and extreme skiing.
It may be macabre, but one of the most fascinating outdoor adventures here is a trekking, horse-riding or mountain biking expedition to the "Avion de los Uruguayos". This is the site of a renowned 1972 air disaster where a Uruguayan passenger plane crashed in the Valle de las Lágrimas killing 12 of the passengers including members of a student rugby team. The subsequent gruesome tale of survival was the subject of the 1993 film Alive. A trip out to the location of the wrecked fuselage not only passes through some of Argentina's most beautiful scenery but gives a unique perspective on this story of human endurance.
At the end of an action-packed day of adventure, there's no reason why the outdoor activity has to stop there. Make straight for the bars on Calle Arístides Villanueva, Mendoza's unstoppable centre of nightlife and relax over a beer or cocktail whilst sitting at outdoor tables. And if you've got the energy, let the open-air fun continue all night...