If wine is your thing and festivals are your thing, then you’re going to want to put the Vendimia Harvest Festival in Mendoza on your travel wish list! This annual party has been named one of the top harvest festivals in the world by National Geographic, and is ranked alongside festivals like Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival and Venice Carnival as a great celebration of local culture and customs.
Every February and March, over 70,000 people gather in Mendoza to celebrate the harvest season — with the focus falling on the harvesting of grapes, of course. For 2016, the celebrations start on February 28.
The festival, which has been celebrated for over 75 years, is divided into four different “acts”: the Blessing of the Fruit, the Vía Blanca (the White Path or the Queen’s Parade), the Carousel, and the Central Act. This last one is the most representative of the festival, and the most exciting. It’s celebrated in a marvelous Greek-style amphitheatre that’s redesigned every year. It’s during this festival that Mendoza chooses its Vendimia National Queen.
Keep in mind that everything books up quickly during Vendimia, so you’ll need to do your homework before you go — and make sure you make all your travel reservations well ahead of time.
How to enjoy Vendimia like a local
When it comes to this special holiday, locals follow a very specific, traditional schedule. If you want to experience it as a true local, here are the events you’ll want to attend.
Vendimia kicks off with the traditional Blessing of the Fruit, in which a priest blesses the grapes about to be harvested, as a symbolic act of faith in God. This year, the blessing will happen on February 28, in San Carlos (Uco Valley), about 1.5 hours away from Mendoza city, which means you’ll need to hire a driver. Good news, though: it’s free to attend!
The second big act you’ll want to see (and another freebie) is the Queens Parade, which features 18 queens from each of the Mendoza province departments, promenading around the city at night in beautiful carriages. The route finishes along Sarmiento Street, one of the most emblematic streets in the city. Every year, the Vía Blanca takes place on a Friday night; this year, it’s happening on March 4th, around 8pm.
The next morning (March 5th) is time for the Carousel — probably one of the most unique carousels you’ll ever see! Hundreds of colourful carriages (with the queens), horses, gauchos, dancers, cheerleaders, and children wander the streets. Bring your own chair and just sit on the curb, waiting for them to pass by. Their route starts at San Martin National Park, so that’s a good place to set up camp. Everything starts around 10am.
The night of March 5th will be the Central Act, happening in the San Martin Park amphitheatre. This is when Mendoza declares its national queen of the festival, and where more than 1,000 local dancers and artists display their talents. You’ll need to pay for a ticket for this event, and the best way to do so is through a tourist office, in advance. Ticket prices are generally between US 20 and 50, and you can order them online. But the smartest thing to do is get a complete package that includes transportation and ticket.
Can’t make it for the Central Act and pageant? Don’t despair, there’s a second chance for you (even a fourth one). Over the following three days, there are repeat performances (just minus the queen’s crowning), and with an extra musical performance. On March 6th, you’ll be able to watch Mendoza’s Philharmonic, on March 7th, the local band Orozco y Barrientos (folk music), and on the last night, March 8th, Los Enanitos Verdes are closing this show (the biggest local band in Mendoza’s history).
Don’t miss the chance to live Vendimia like a local, witnessing every detail that makes Mendoza’s wines — and its festival! — so renowned around the globe.