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Mendoza – Argentina Wine Country & Gateway to the Andes

View of the Andes © Anna Snyder

If you only have time for one activity while you’re in Mendoza, make it a tour of the various bodegas (wineries) in the surrounding countryside. Everyone from the fervent connoisseur of fine wines to the casual imbiber will find this a charming and informative experience, and most hotels offer winetasting trips that last anywhere from three hours to all day. Various tour agencies in town such as Ampora Wine Tours located on Calle Sarmiento offer public and private tours to suit your preferences. Truly independent travelers can always rent a bike for a day and customize your own tour—a few respected bodegas roughly 15 kilometers from the city include Bodega Cecchin Vinos Orgánicos (website), a family-run winery and orchard specializing in traditional, organic wines, ReNacer (website), modern, innovative, and with a passion for ecofriendly wines, and Bodega Septima (website), a large vineyard that offers high quality and elegant labels.

Mendoza Winery

Mendoza Vineyard © Anna Snyder

The next most popular activity in the Mendoza region is an excursion to the High Andes, most commonly organized as a day trip through stunning mountain scenery featuring Uspallata Valley, the natural bridge Puente del Inca, the monument to Christ the Redeemer, and finally Aconcagua Park, home to the tallest mountain in the Americas at 22,800 feet. Every tourist agency provides High Andes tours, but Kahuak Aventura (website) is especially good, offering English-speaking guides and an asado, a traditional Argentine barbecue, afterwards. Other adventure activities offered in the Mendoza wilderness include horseback riding, rafting, mountain biking, kayaking and parapenting. Check out Argentina Rafting (website), which offers professional guides and accepts credit cards.

If you’re keener to stay within the city limits, Mendoza has a wealth of parks, museums and galleries to explore. Be sure to take a stroll to Plaza Independencia, the central park filled with aesthetically placed fountains and an open-air artisan market, as well as the Mendoza Museum of Modern Art, a ticket to which will also cover your entrance to the aquarium on Calle Ituzaingó and the anthropological museum at Plaza Pedro del Castillo. For a smaller, more artistic park, head to Plaza España, filled with colorful mosaics and locals sitting around with guitars.

Mendoza Sqaure

© Anna Snyder

The city’s largest plaza, Parque San Martin, is about a thirty minute walk from the main street Calle San Martin. Enter through the wrought iron main gates, and you’ll find a park so huge it actually has major roads running through it. An excellent place to take children for the day, Parque San Martin has meandering hikes, playgrounds, flower gardens, fountains, monuments and a large, man-made lake, all set against the stunning backdrop of the Andes Mountains. If you’re looking for a good workout, you can climb Cerro de la Gloria, which offers a great view of the entire city from the top. If you’re interested in art and culture, Parque San Martin is also home to El Pulgarcito Theater, a botanical garden, the Mendoza Zoological Park, and the Moyano Museum of Natural Science and Anthropology.

For the shopaholic, Mendoza is the ideal place to indulge—Argentina is renowned for its European style and chic fashion sense, and Mendoza is chock-full of trendy boutiques and artisan shops. Be sure to stock up on quality leather products, which are Argentina’s glory; any store you enter will have a variety of leather jackets, hats, purses and boots. Las Heras Avenida has plenty of leather shops, or, for a more unique touch, head to an artisan market for handcrafted leather accessories.

If you’re interested in sampling the nightlife of Mendoza, it’s neither as hectic nor as expensive as it is in Buenos Aires, and chances are wherever you end up going will only be a short taxi ride away. The most active bars and restaurants can be found on Avenida Colón, but be warned: Argentina functions on the same schedule as Spain, Italy and other countries with hot temperatures that effectively close down for siesta in the afternoons. Restaurants don’t open for dinner until 8 or 9pm, and people don’t go out to clubs until midnight or even later—if you want to party with the locals, you may have to drastically change your sleeping schedule, or else risk falling asleep just as the festivities are getting started.

If you’re interested in exploring the heartland of the Mendoza region, travel south to San Rafael, a small town famous for being one of Argentina’s great adventure capitals. Go whitewater rafting in Valle Grande. Get the real Gaucho experience horseback-riding through the desert wilderness in the traditional South American cowboy style. Sign up for a 4×4 expedition through the towering sand dunes, Dunas de El Nihuil. But for an unbeatable trekking experience, you have to visit the Cañón del Atuel, a breathtaking natural canyon carved out by the Atuel River, filled with surreal rock formations and vegetation unique to the area. And for any astronomers, the desert in San Rafael, far from any city lights, is ideal for stargazing and constellation hunting.

Mendoza AsadoEating and Drinking

Anybody visiting Argentina must attend an asado at least once, as any local you meet will tell you. If you’re a vegetarian, allow yourself to cheat just this once, because you will never taste a more tender and succulent steak than you will in Argentina. Many hotels and tours will organize asados where you will feast on chargrilled steak, savory chorizo, and, if you’re brave, the mollejas, which include kidneys, intestines, and other body organs, and morcilla or black pudding. Most asados will also offer a traditional tomato and onion salad with a vinegar dressing, plus a mountain of fresh bread.

While beef products are Argentina’s pride and joy, other traditional foods you’ll want to try include the empanadas, which are small, handheld pastries filled with meat, cheese or vegetables. Different regions have different types, but they’re all delicious and make for a good afternoon snack. Given Argentina’s Italian heritage, you’ll see lots of pizzerias and pasta restaurants, and their cafes serve the best coffee you’ll find on the entire continent, proper espresso rather than the Nescafe which is popular in other countries.

If you’re looking for a set menu for lunch, head to Peatonal Saramiento, a pleasant, tree-lined boulevard off of Avenida San Martin. Plenty of restaurants along that way offer a Menu del Día for 40-60 pesos, or roughly $5-8, which include a starter, entrée, dessert and coffee or glass of wine. For merienda, or a light afternoon snack, order a plate of medialunas, a sweet, croissant-like pastry, with a café cortado (espresso cut with a bit of milk). And don’t leave Mendoza without trying the alfajores, a shortbread cookie sandwich filled with dulce de leche and often dusted with powdered sugar or shredded coconut.

When it comes to traditional Argentine drinks, the wine, of course, is their claim to fame. Mendoza is famous for producing Malbec and Syrah, but any type of wine you find in Mendoza is bound to be good. If you’re looking to take a bottle or two home with you as a gift, you’ll find plenty of stores dedicated to wine and wine paraphernalia on Peatonal Saramiento. However, the truly discerning traveler can get the best wine for the best value by going straight to the source—visit one of the bodegas around the city and a bottle of good wine will cost you roughly $7.

Another traditional Argentine drink to try, currently trendy among health-food crowds in English-speaking countries, is yerba maté. Maté is an herbal tea with a strong, earthy taste, traditionally drunk from a hollowed out gourd through a straw with a sieve on the end, called a bombilla. While the infusion has less caffeine than coffee or black tea, it contains various minerals and polyphenols, producing a strong, sustained energy kick plus a long list of health benefits. Maté is available at any grocery store in Mendoza, and a handcrafted maté gourd, available at any souvenir shop, makes a quirky and inexpensive gift for anyone back home.

 

Where To Eat in Mendoza

Siete Cocinas
Avenida Bartolomé Mitre 794, Website

Traditional food, “a gastronomic tour of Argentinian cuisine from Buenos Aires to Patagonia,” Entrees $12 – $20

De La Osta
Rufino Ortega 500

Fine dining, gourmet pizzas and pasta, Wi-Fi

Café Davvero
Calle San Lorenzo 230

Traditional Argentinian meals from $4 – $5 , Lomo Cordero $7.50 – $9

Onda Libre
Avenida Las Heras 450

Buffet of grilled meats, salads, and stir-fry, $4.50 – $7.50

 

Where To Stay

Sol de Vistalba
Roque Sáenez Peña, Website

Guesthouse 15 minutes outside the city in Luján de Cuyo with BBQ and swimming pool

 San Suites Apartments

Avenida Mitre 753, Website

Centrally located suites and apartments, Classic Suite $117 per night, Executive Suite $156 per night

Hotel NH Cordillera
Avenida Espana 1324, Website

Modern upscale hotel with rooms from $98, continental breakfast included, free Wi-Fi

 

Practicalities

Getting There: The easiest way to arrive is to fly into Mendoza’s international airport (MDZ) or catch a domestic flight from Buenos Aires – if you book ahead of time, you can get cheap round-trip tickets from Aerolineas from $170 and LAN Argentina from $190. If you want to see the landscape more closely, take a 17-hour bus from Bus Terminal Retiro in Buenos Aires for $70 – $123. The price depends on what degree of luxury you want, but for the most comfortable trip, opt for the “full cama” on overnight buses, where seats recline to almost 180 degrees and you get a decent amount of personal space. Good bus companies to travel with are CATA Internacional, Andesmar and Chevallier. You can also travel from Santiago, Chile for seven hours of impressive, mountainous landscapes. However, you will have to stop for at least an hour at the Chilean border, and they are very meticulous with their customs control.

Visas: The bad news: if you’re a citizen of the United States, Canada, or Australia and this is your first time traveling to Argentina, you will have to pay a reciprocity fee in advance – $160 for Americans, $100 for Australians, and $75 single-entry or $150 multiple-entry for Canadians. The good news: if you’re American, your $160 lasts for 10 years, although you can only stay in the country for 90 days at a time. The Canadian multi-entry fee lasts for five years, but the Australian fee only lasts for one. Furthermore, the fee can only be paid by credit card via the Argentinian Department of Immigration website – you will have to register online and then print out your receipt, which you will hand along with your passport at customs. Be sure to do this ahead of time, as they won’t let you pay the fee at the border and you won’t be able to enter the country without your receipt.

Getting Around: Mendoza is a very compact city, and you can walk from one end to the other in less than an hour. It has an extensive bus system, roughly 2.5 pesos (31 cents) for one trip, but you can only pay in coins. The routes can also be somewhat convoluted, with different buses traveling the same way. Alternately, you can take the tram, which offers a fast and easy route from the center of town to Parque San Martin. There is also a metrotranvia which runs along Calle Belgrano, but they accept only a prepaid bus card, which can be used for the bus and trams as well. If you’re only planning to stay for a few days in Mendoza, it will probably be less hassle to just take taxis, which are ubiquitous and only cost a few dollars if you stay within the city limits.

Safety: As Argentina, along with Chile, is South America’s wealthiest and most developed country and Mendoza is pretty small, it’s perfectly safe to walk around by yourself, even at night. Take the obvious precautions against making yourself a target to pickpockets – don’t flash around large amounts of money or expensive gadgets on the street or around the bus terminal – and be wary of scams. The only danger of bodily injury you’ll have to watch out for is the traffic; speed limits are rarely enforced in Mendoza, and, like the rest of Argentina, drivers can be aggressive and usually don’t stop for pedestrians. Cross the street with extreme care!

Health: There are no particular health precautions you need to worry about if you’re only visiting Mendoza, though if you plan to travel to other areas, particularly in the north, you may wish to get a yellow fever vaccine. If taking part in outdoor activities in the wilderness, be sure that you go with a dependable company that keeps all safety equipment in good repair. Also, keep an eye out for tarantulas when hiking in the desert.

Currency: Argentina’s currency is the peso, and the official exchange rate is about 8 pesos to the US dollar. Keep in mind that, because of the instability of the Argentinian economy, no bank in the world will exchange your leftover pesos – so if your trip is coming to an end and you still have money, make sure you spend it all on expensive steak and wine. When using ATMs, if you are a Bank of America customer, seek out an HSBC branch and you won’t be charged the usual fee.

Language: Argentinians speak “Castellano,” which differs from Latin American Spanish slightly and can be confusing to those not used to hearing it. Most notable differences are their pronunciation of the “ll” or “y” sound as “zh,” as well as their use of “vos” instead of “” for the informal “you.” Residents also tend to speak very quickly, so if you find yourself getting lost, ask them to slow down with a simple, “Más despacio, por favor.

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