Renting a Car and Driving in Argentina

On our recent trip to Argentina, we rented a car to help us get around Mendoza and the Uco Valley, which is about an hour and a half from the city. Our goal was to visit a bunch of wineries and while we would rather have had a driver, we wanted the independence of a car.

The downside of course, is that someone needed to be the designated driver. However, with some careful planning, we totally made it work. I don’t ever recommend drinking and driving!

There was a dearth of info about this topic online so if you’re thinking of renting a car and driving in Argentina, here are some tips that I cobbled together from the web and from my own experience.

Driving in Argentina

The Good News

Argentinians drive on the right side of the road, the same as in the USA. So, this is possibly bad news, depending on where you’re from.

Again, if you’re American (and probably for other countries but I can only vouch for the US) you don’t need an international driver’s license. You can use your normal license, provided it has a photo of you on it.

The roads are nicely paved and at least around the Mendoza area, traffic is pretty light, and the speed limit is low. The highway between Mendoza and the Uco Valley was two lanes each way and the speed limit hovered around 80 km/hour (50 miles/hour).

driving in Argentina on a two lane highway

HOWEVER: if you are driving in the Uco Valley, expect to encounter plenty of gravel/rock roads on your way to the wineries. They’re almost all down private, unpaved roads. We were in a tiny compact Toyota Etios and managed the roads just fine. Slowly, but fine.

Driving in Argentina on a rocky road to a winery.
Rocky roads force you to drive slowly in the Uco Valley, but with that view, who is rushing?

Driving in Argentina

The Bad News

Stop signs and stop lights are few and far between. When approaching an intersection, you have two choices: slow down, look both ways and risk being honked at (or passed) by the car behind you, or close your eyes, cross your fingers, and gun it. We never figured out a rhyme or reason to who had the right of way but we never saw a wreck either so somehow, they make it work.

It seems like traffic lanes are suggestions only. If you find yourself on a multi-lane street, don’t be surprised to see cars drifting left and right almost as much as they are moving forward. It’s not ideal but definitely not as nerve-wracking as the intersection roulette.

Driving in Argentina in downtown Mendoza.
Main roads get stoplights, but none are exempt from zig-zagging drivers.

There are a million roundabouts and signage is there, but never when you need it. We would still be driving in circles in Mendoza right now if we didn’t have google maps on our phone. I don’t recommend using general directions or a paper map. It’s too easy to get off track and not realize it until you’re far, far, away from where you wanted to be.

Driving in Argentina

Good to Know

It’s required by law to keep daytime running lights on and cars don’t generally have these built in. You’ll have to be old school about it and turn them on when you get in, and remember to turn them off when you get out so that your battery doesn’t die. I actually awoke in a cold sweat one night, thinking that we’d forgotten to turn the lights off and the battery was slowly dying as we lay in bed. Luckily, that wasn’t the case.

If you don’t have your lights on, people will tell you. Oncoming drivers will give you a little horn beep, or pedestrians will open and close their fist at you (mimicking blinking).

Most cars are standard/stick shift in Argentina. If you’re renting a car and don’t happen to know how to drive a standard, be sure you are specifically renting one with an automatic transmission.

  • Standard transmission: $
  • Automatic transmission: $$$
  • Being able to operate the car you rented: Priceless

Driving in Argentina

Last, but not least

It took a really long time to get our rental car! If you’re trying to time things out after you land at the airport, plan for at least an hour to do paperwork, get to the car, inspect it, and drive away. At least that’s how it was for us, but our Spanish is also terrible. Your mileage may vary. 🙂

Driving in Argentina towards the Andes mountains.
Andes mountains ahead and vineyards on either side made the 1.5 hour drive fly by.

We were quite hungry by the time we reached the Uco Valley. Luckily, one of the best lunches of our lives was in store for us at Bodega Domaine Bousquet.

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One Reply to “Renting a Car and Driving in Argentina”

  1. […] Thank goodness we didn’t have to drive in Buenos Aires – traffic looked pretty tricky to navigate; much worse than our traffic adventures driving in Mendoza. […]

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