Argentina's west is wild and largely unvisited, despite having one of the country's most stylish and vibrant cities at its heart. Mendoza is the centre of the biggest wine-producing region in Argentina, and with its setting at the foothills of the Andes, and fine restaurants, it's a great base for exploring the surrounding vineyards for a few days. The secret to Argentina's successful wine industry is the climate: hot days and cool nights, and a consistent supply of pure snowmelt from the Andes. You could happily spend a week visiting bodegas, before heading west to climb Mount Aconcagua, South America's highest mountain. If this is too daunting, there are many other dramatic peaks to hike up in summer, or ski down in winter, with the country's most famous ski and snowboarding resort, Las Leñas, in the south of the province.
South of Mendoza, find champagne producers in San Rafael, or set off for adventures in the wild landscapes beyond. Go rafting in the eerie ravine of Cañón del Atuel; find yourself seduced by the quieter charms of Llancanelo where thousands of flamingos rise from the Prussian-blue waters; or ride a horse through the starkly beautiful volcanic landscape of La Payunia, where
roam unhindered. A spirit of adventure is definitely needed to explore the quieter provinces of San Juan and La Rioja, but the intrepid will be rewarded with forgotten valleys offering perfect peace and natural beauty. But the undoubted stars of the region are two national parks; likely to make you feel dwarfed by both time and space. The 'Valley of the Moon' at Ischigualasto is indeed an other-worldly landscape: a 200-million-year-old lake-bed, strewn with fossils from first life forms to dinosaurs. And Talampaya's vast canyons of terracotta rock, eroded by wind into gigantic sculptures, are magnificent at sunset when they turn a vivid red.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF