Mendoza’s Harvest Festival

Days and nights of wine and beauty queens.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
In early March, Mendoza in central western Argentina celebrates its grape harvest with two big parades and three evening shows in which the election of the beauty queen who will represent the province and its most important crop during the next 12 months takes priority. The National Harvest Festival, Mendoza’s biggest annual event, is a great party for locals and tourists alike. This year the festival will officially get under way on February 28 with the Blessing of the Fruit ceremony conducted by a priest in the department of Maipú. (Every year this ceremony is held in a different department so as to not center everything in the capital).
However, the events of most interest to tourists are the two parades that take place in the city of Mendoza. Each is seen by around 300,000 people, and admission is free. The Via Blanca of the beauty queens of the province’s 18 departments will take place in the streets of the capital the night of Friday March 5. The parade starts at Colón and San Martín, continues along the latter, heads down Las Heras and Chile, and ends at Paseo Sarmiento and Av. Belgrano.
… foto Vendimia Via Blanca BLOG.jpg
On the morning of Saturday March 6, the Carrusel – featuring the royalty of the night before as well as various dance groups and other performers – leaves from in front of the entrance to the General San Martín Park (Boulogne sur Mer and Emilio Civit), and proceeds along Civit, Chile, Las Heras and San Martín to Colón.
If you want to watch these parades, get the route maps from and stake out a place in the front row well in advance. Call (0261) 413-2103 or 449-5800 for the start times.
The parades are a lot of fun. During both, the pretty girls atop the floats toss bunches of grapes, sachets of olives, apples and even melons to the adoring crowds packed behind the barriers. The crews of some of the floats hand out bottles of fine wine as well.
… foto Vendimia Carrusel BLOG.jpg The fruit throwing is a symbolic act of sharing the bounty of the harvest after a year of hard work. But not to worry: the fruit isn’t thrown at you; it is tossed only if you look receptive.
… FOTO NUEVA Carrusel gaucho BLOG.jpg Horsemen from gaucho tradition clubs and performers such as caporales dancers provide added color to the Carrusel parade.
... FOTO NUEVA Carrusel caporales BLOG.jpg
(Energetic male caporales dancers with sleigh bells on their boots represent the hated mulatto work gang foremen who mistreated black slaves on the tropical plantations of colonial Bolivia. Many of these dancers are transient Bolivian farm workers who harvest grapes and other crops in Mendoza.)
That same night, the province’s Harvest Festival Beauty Queen is elected during the Acto Central (Main Show) of the festival, which takes place in the Frank Romero Day Greek Theater in the General San Martín Park. This theater, built in a natural hollow behind the Cerro de la Gloria hill, seats more than 19,000 spectators. During the Harvest Festival main show, the additional thousands of people who sit on the hillsides around the theater may bring the total spectator count to 40,000. The light-and-sound performances feature hundreds of dancers and actors on the stage at a time.
… foto Vendimia Acto Central BLOG.jpg The entire Acto Central show lasts three and a half hours on average and ends with a big firework display. Repetitions of the main show will take place the nights of March 7 and 8, and cost a lot less. Admission to the different sectors varies from 120 to 20 pesos for the Acto Central, and 30 to 10 pesos on the repetition nights.
If you are going to Mendoza to see one of the night shows, let a travel agency arrange transport to and from the Greek theater. The park is huge, it is difficult to find parking space amid the overwhelming congestion of vehicles, and it is impossible to walk out before it closes.
The park’s normal open hours are 8am to 5pm in winter and 8am to 6pm in summer. However, the free recreational activities that are offered there on weekends don’t begin before 9am or 10 am.

A few hours in the city
If you have made the mistake of giving yourself only a few hours in which to see Mendoza City, I humbly suggest that you dedicate at least part of the morning after the show to sipping a coffee at one of the sidewalk cafés on the Paseo Sarmiento pedestrian mall that stretches three blocks from the Plaza Independencia main square to Avenida General José de San Martín, and to having a look at Plaza España a couple of blocks from there.
…. Foto Peatonal BLOG.jpg All the tall shade trees with their roots in the acequias (irrigation canals) that line every street, and the city’s five downtown squares themselves, speak eloquently of the spirit and character of the mendocinos. In the summer, the downtown area is clean, neat, pretty and protected from the sun’s rays by the foliage of hundreds of trees. It was built with those characteristics in mind after the big earthquake of 1861 destroyed the first city, the one that was founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro del Castillo in 1561. The trees are the result of 150 years of hard work by several generations who wanted to live in an oasis in the face of the desert around them. And the squares have two functions: they were built to serve as pleasant, shady outdoor living rooms for reading and chatting in the summertime, and as open areas in which to take refuge from aftershocks in the event of another quake like the one in the 19th century.
… Foto Plaza Independencia BLOG.jpg Plaza Independencia, which occupies four city blocks, houses a modern art museum, a theater, and a large crafts fair. It is surrounded by four smaller squares, each of which is located one block diagonally from each of its corners. Plaza Italia and Plaza España bear the names of the major immigrant communities that have made Mendoza an important agriculture-centered province. Plaza Chile and Plaza San Martín are dedicated to the Argentine-born general whose army freed Argentina and Chile from the Spanish yoke with the help of forces from the neighboring country in the second decade of the 19th century.
Foto Plaza España BLOG.jpg Of the four squares, the most beautiful is Plaza España with its blue and white Sevillian tile benches and fountain, and its impressive central monument to Spanish-Argentine fraternity. Inaugurated in 1949 with funds provided by Spanish residents in Mendoza, this square looks and feels like a spacious Andalusian patio, and houses some quality crafts stalls.
For more information on what to see and do in the city, visit
The schedule of free weekend activities in the General San Martín Park is at

PHOTO CREDITS: The Via Blanca and Carrusel parades, Bonnie Tucker. Members of a gaucho tradition club and Bolivian caporales dancers in the Carrusel parade, Bonnie Tucker. The Acto Central show, Mendoza Provincial Tourism Secretariat. The Paseo Sarmiento pedestrian mall, Plaza Independencia and Plaza España, Bonnie Tucker.