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San Rafael, Argentina: The Perfect Place for Wine & Adventure

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San Rafael, Argentina is an incredible area of Mendoza province, and a must for wine and adventure lovers! It is a popular day trip from Mendoza city, but we think it is worth a trip on its own. It is the gateway for Atuel Canyon, and is truly for any kind of traveler, no matter what your style, or how old you are.

Fede has family in Mendoza, so we got some great recommendations for visiting, and can't wait to make it back one day!

We spent a short 36 hours in San Rafael while visiting Mendoza, and it was packed with great wine, and lot's of adventure. We're not only sharing a complete guide for San Rafael, Argentina, but we also have group trips that we're offering here shortly! This guide will help you with everything you need to know in order to have the perfect trip, and is packed with local tips and hidden gems.

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Where is San Rafael in Argentina?

San Rafael is located in the region of Mendoza in western Argentina. It is 234 km south of Mendoza city, and a little over 3 hours away.

where is San Rafael Argentina

San Rafael is located just a few hours south of Mendoza.

How to Get to San Rafael, Argentina

Now that you know where San Rafael is, let's go over how to get there!

Where Do You Fly Into for San Rafael, Argentina?

The closest major airport to San Rafael is Mendoza Airport, which is 240 km north of San Rafael, and takes around 3 hours and 15 minutes in a car.

You can easily get to Mendoza by flying from Buenos Aires or Santiago, Chile, and also can fly there from Cordoba, Neuquen, Panama City, and Sao Paulo. Also, there are plans for direct flights to Mendoza from Spain in the near future, so that will be an easier option for those coming from Europe.

How Do You Get from Mendoza to San Rafael?

Now that you have gotten to Mendoza, it's time to get to San Rafael. There are three options for getting there, which are taking a bus, renting a car, or taking a tour.

Taking a Bus from Mendoza to San Rafael

The most affordable option for getting to San Rafael from Mendoza is by taking a bus. They leave regularly all day long, and are a 3 hour and 15 minute ride from the main bus terminal in Mendoza city.

Renting a Car from Mendoza

The easiest option for going to San Rafael from Mendoza is by renting a car.

We used a cool app called Rentennials, which is basically an Airbnb for cars! It's awesome because it's not only super affordable, but it also helps support locals in the area. 

We have a special discount with Rentennials, so just email us and we'll hook you up.

Tours from Mendoza to San Rafael, Argentina

If you're short on time, and just visiting Mendoza for a few days, the easiest option for experiencing San Rafael and Atuel Canyon is by taking a tour. Tours leave early in the morning, visit for the day, and come back to Mendoza late in the evening.

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Entry Requirements for Argentina

Now that you know how to get to San Rafael, Argentina, let's go over the entry requirements for getting into the country.

What Do US Citizens Need to Enter Argentina?

US citizens just need a valid passport to enter Argentina, and can stay for a period of up to 90 days without needing a visa. I go in and out of Argentina very often, and find the customs officers to always be warm and welcoming to tourists when they arrive.

Visa Entry Requirements for Other Countries to Visit Argentina

Almost every nationality can enter Argentina visa-free for 90 days. The only nationalities that need to apply for a travel authorization are people from Kosovo, Nauru, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Taiwan, Tonga, and Tuvalu.

Is Health Insurance Required to Enter Argentina?

You do not need to have health insurance to enter Argentina, nor do you need any specific vaccinations before visiting.

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Local Adjustments for San Rafael, Argentina

When traveling to a new country, it's always important to learn about the local adjustments like the tipping culture, language, currency, and which plug adapter you'll need. Here are the basics for traveling to San Rafael, Argentina.

What Language is Spoken in San Rafael, Argentina?

Spanish is the offiical language in Argentina. While Buenos Aires has a thicker "traditional Argentinian accent", you'll find in San Rafael that they sound a little different. Their "ll and y" sound is much smoother, and they speak a bit more similar to Chileans (but are much easier to understand!).

What Currency is Used in Mendoza, Argentina?

San Rafael uses the Argentinean peso. Actually, Argentina is one of the most unique countries in the world when it comes to currency exchange, so you'll want to read our Blue Dollar Travel Guide before visiting!

What Plug Adapter Do I Need for San Rafael, Argentina?

San Rafael, Argentina uses plug type I, which has three prongs- the bottom is vertical, and the two above it are slanted towards one another. 

Argentina runs on a 220 V supply voltage and 50 Hz. There are very few countries that use this same plug type, and two of them are Australia and New Zealand. If you are coming from any other country, you will need to get a travel adapter.

Can You Drink Tap Water in Ssan Rafael?

The water is perfectly safe to drink from the tap in San Rafael! We suggest bringing a reusable water bottle so that you can be a more eco-friendly traveler and save money too.

What is the Tipping Etiquette in San Rafael, Argentina?

The general tipping etiquette in Argentina is to leave an extra 10% on top of your bill when dining out. This is typically for larger meals, and does not apply to services like coffee shops, nail salons, or taxi drivers, whom are typically not expected to work on tips.

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Things to Do in San Rafael, Argentina

Now that you know the basics for visiting San Rafael, Argentina, here are the best things to do in the area.

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Things to Do in San Rafael, Argentina: Explore Atuel Canyon

The number one highlight in San Rafael, Argentina is the famous Atuel Canyon. It's known for it's stunning natural landscapes around it, as well as its variety of adventure activities to choose from.

Located an hour away from the city of San Rafael, this really is where all the action happens, and where we suggest spending most of your time while in San Rafael, Argentina.

Atuel Canyon, San Rafael, Argentina

Cruise Around the Canyon

Portal del Atuel (the longest running excursion business in Atuel Canyon) offers 1 hour boat rides around the canyon. The captain tells everyone about the the history and geography of the canyon, making it a great activity for once you arrive, and they also make a stop at one of their private beaches inside the canyon. 

cruising Atuel Cayon, San Rafael, Argentina
cruising Atuel Cayon, San Rafael, Argentina
cruising Atuel Cayon, San Rafael, Argentina
cruising Atuel Cayon, San Rafael, Argentina

A boat ride is a great way to experience the different angles of Atuel.

Visit the Beaches

While you can have a quick stop at the beach on the catamaran guide, we personally love the idea of spending a few hours to relax and enjoy the beauty of relaxing at one of the beaches.

Trips to the beaches start early in the morning, and you can spend the full day or even just a couple of hours swimming, sun bathing, or using the stand up paddle boards.

beaches at Atuel Cayon, San Rafael, Argentina
beaches at Atuel Cayon, San Rafael, Argentina
beaches at Atuel Cayon, San Rafael, Argentina

Rent a Canoe or Kayak

Another great way to enjoy Atuel Canyon is by renting a canoe or kayak, which are available right at the entrance.

Check out the Viewpoints

Atuel Canyon is huge! While we love the views on the boat ride, there really are a ton of other great perspectives to enjoy the beauty of Atuel. Head to one of the viewpoints scattered around, or join one of the tours that has a stop at the viewpoints included.

viewpoint Atuel Cayon, San Rafael, Argentina

Things to Do in San Rafael: Enjoy Activities on the River

Atuel Canyon is the main highlight, but the river flowing from the canyon itself is also a major highlight of the area.

Relax on the Water

Unlike the Mendoza River, Atuel River has a beautiful turquoise water, and has plenty of great areas to enjoy going for a swim. You'll find a variety of grassy areas, or rocks where you can set up your space and find natural pools alond the riverside.

river Atuel in San Rafael, Argentina
river Atuel in San Rafael, Argentina
river Atuel in San Rafael, Argentina
San Rafael, places to visit near Mendoza in Argentina

The river has plenty of great areas to relax.

Go Rafting

Rafting is the number one activity on the Atuel River! While rafting in Mendoza is typically higher intensity, rafting on Atuel Canyon is suitable for all ages. 

It is super fun, and a great way to enjoy the beautiful landscapes surrounding the river!

rafting on river Atuel in San Rafael, Argentina
rafting on river Atuel in San Rafael, Argentina
rafting on river Atuel in San Rafael, Argentina

Go Night Rafting

Rafting is one of the best experiences, but if you want something extra special, you can experience rafting at night too! With just the moon shining, it's a mysterious experience, and if it's a full mooon, it's really magical.

Try "Cool River"

Cool River is a really fun activity, and another great way to experience going down the river. Rather than rafting, you actually float down the river in a single tube. This is great for those that want even more adventure, and a fun and unique way to experience Atuel.

Things to Do in San Rafael: Other Fun Experiences in the Area

We couldn't believe the amount of activities that you could do right in one small area. Apart from the river and canyon, there are a ton of other fun things to do around Atuel Canyon in San Rafael, Argentina.

Go on a 4x4 Tour

Driving around Atuel Canyon and the river you get to enjoy a ton of unique landscapes and viewpoints. Join a group tour on a 4x4 and you'll get an adventurous twist on sightseeing.

Go Trekking

The canyon has a variety of trails that you ca experience, most of which are best explored with a local. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to do this, but it's one of the best ways to see special parts of the canyon you wouldn't be able to experience otherwise.

Try Rappel & Canyoning

Hiking into the canyons is fun, but getting down is even more fun! There are a few companies that include adventure packages, and rapel is a great way to enjoy the views from above, and make it down in an exciting way.

Try a Canopy Adventure

Ziplining is one of our favorite adventure activities! Get an adrenaline rush by swinging across the lake, while enjoying beautiful views on your way down.

Try Out Some Astrophotgraphy

Atuel Canyon and the surrounding area has little light pollution, therefore on a clear night you'll be able to enjoy a sky full of stars! If you're into photography, then definitely drive to an area with as little lights as possible and get some fun astrophotography shots.

astrophotography in San Rafael, Argentina
astrophotography in San Rafael, Argentina

Things to Do in San Rafael: Visit Embalse del Nihuil

While most people visit San Rafael, Argentina for Atuel Canyon, there is another gorgeous body of water an hour further down the road. Embalse de Nihuil is an artificial lake that also offers a variety of activities around it.

Ride the Dunes

Right outside the dam you can find giant sand dunes, and there are fun tours with jeeps that bring you on a wild ride up and down the dunes. Agencies can be found right in town next to Embalse de Nihuil.

Go Kayaking

Just like Atuel Canyon, Embalse de Nihuil is the perfect area to go kayaking. You can rent them right from the shore, from either Uka Shaka or Kayak Nihuil.

Things to Do in San Rafael: Explore Reserva Natural Laguna de las Salinas & Museo de la Sal

Right past Embalse de Nihuil are salt flats! Walk along them and enjoy this incredible natural landscape, and if it rains, you'll get to have an awesome reflection to experience, which is amazing for sunset.

Things to Do in San Rafael: Discover Unique Landscapes

The drive from Embalse de Nihuil to Atuel Canyon is simply stunning! It has a variety of cool rock formations and landscapes to admire, and here are a few that you can check out along the way:

  • Roca Double 
  • Museo de Cera
  • Sillon de Rivadavia
  • Garganta Natural
  • Roca el Astronauta
landscapes of in San Rafael, Argentina
landscapes of in San Rafael, Argentina
landscapes of in San Rafael, Argentina
landscapes of in San Rafael, Argentina
landscapes of in San Rafael, Argentina

Things to Do in San Rafael: Visit the Wineries

It's no secret that Mendoza is the wine capital of the country, and San Rafael, Argentina has a variety of wineries to choose from. There are dozens of them, and they are all right outside the city.

You can either go for a tasting, tour the vineyards, or go for a several-course meal with wine pairing.

winery San Rafael, Argentina

Things to Do in San Rafael: Explore the City Center

We honestly didn't have time to make it to the city of San Rafael itself. If you have only a short amount of time, we would suggest sticking to the nature. However, if you do have time, the city is where you'll find more shops, restaurants, and historical landmarks.

The main highlights of the city include Plaza Francia, Plaza San Martin, Hipólito Yrigoyen Park, Ferroviario museum, and the natural history museum.

Things to Do in San Rafael: Visit Museo Ferroviaro

Located right in San Rafael is the locamotive museum, which includes trains, gardens, and a small museum. It's open daily from 8 am to 7:30 pm.

Things to Do in San Rafael: Check Out Borges Labrynth

The final recommendation for San Rafael, Argentina is the Borges Labrynth, which is a beautiful garden maze that offers wine and literature tours. It's the perfect mix of culture, hisotry, and nature, and one of the top highlights of the city of San Rafael.

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Local Food & Drink in San Rafael, Argentina

So you obviously already know that it's crucial to try the wine in the region of Mendoza. But what food is this area of Argentina famous for? Don't worry- there are actually plenty of incredible options, especially for the meat lovers out there.

What Food is San Rafael, Argentina Famous For?

Argentina has some of the best meat in the world, so having an "asado" (traditional Argentinean barbecue) is a must! San Rafael is also known for its elaborate menus at the wineries, which are typically tasting menus with local ingredients, paired with different glasses of wine.

There are a ton of amazing food options in Argentina to try, many of which are easily found in Mendoza and the surrounding areas like San Rafael.

We suggest trying the local tea made of flowers from the area, the red wine, steak, and empanadas. But if you want to learn more, make sure to check out our full article of Argentinean Cuisine for a list of more specific foods to try while visiting.

For coffee with a great view head to Jarilla! It's a riverfront cafe with a cute shop as well, and is just 10 minutes from Atuel Canyon.

cafe near Atuel Canyon