Exceptional wine, top-quality cuisine, exhilarating outdoor activities, and the skyscraping Andes framing almost every view: it’s easy to see why people come here, and why many stay longer than they’d planned. The provinces of Mendoza and San Juan might just have it all. In the center of Argentina, this region is often referred to as the Cuyo; and the name—passed down from the early indigenous Huarpe people, who called it Cuyum Mapu (Land of Sand)—is a reminder that the terrain is naturally semi-arid.
It is only because of carefully managed snowmelt from the mountains that the provinces are so green and, through irrigation, able to produce around 90% of the country’s wine. Acéquias (canals) built by the Huarpes and improved upon by the conquering Incas and Spaniards, as well as by modern engineers, continue to capture the flow of the region's great rivers and channel it along the shady streets of the major cities: Mendoza, San Juan, and San Rafael.
Jesuit missionaries crossed the Andes from Chile to plant the first grape vines in 1556. Today more than 200,000 hectares (494,200 acres) of vineyards bask in the sun from the suburbs of Mendoza City south through the Valle de Uco to San Rafael. The grapes are protected from the humid winds of the Pacific by the Andes, and grow at altitudes between 609 and 1,700 meters (2,000 to 5,500 feet), where they ripen slowly during long, hot summer days, while cool nights maintain acidity for long-lasting taste. Indeed, many vineyards could be classified as organic, as chemicals are seldom used or needed, and vintages are very consistent.
Many bodegas offer tours and tastings; some also have atmospheric restaurants that pair fine wine with inspired food. But beyond the wineries, active adventures await. With more than 330 days of annual sunshine, this region is a four-season destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Ski resorts like Las Leñas attract snow bunnies in winter, and Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of the Himalayas, lures ambitious hikers and climbers in summer. At lower altitudes, there are less dizzying activities for all ages year-round, including horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and soaking in thermal baths.