If you’re on a 90-day tourist visa and your days are numbered, it’s time to go and visit the beautiful people. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that crossing the border into Argentina every 3 months is some kind of chore. Mendoza is a beautiful, walkable city, swimming in fabulous wine where the steaks are the size of aircraft hangers.
Photo by Elaine Madrigal (click here for more photos)
Here’s our top 10 of what to do while you’re there:
1. Gawk at the scenery
Sometimes it’s as much about the journey as the destination. Don’t even think about flying to Mendoza and avoid the night bus on
at least one leg of the journey. Instead, take the bus during the day and grab a window seat. The road that snakes its way out of Chile provides stunning views of rugged mountains and tiny villages. Keep your camera handy before and after you pass through customs at the top of the Andes and watch the fertile green hues of Chile become the arid, rocky landscapes of Argentina.
2. Meet folk
If you’re traveling on your own, be sure to stay at Hostel Lao. A few blocks’ walk from the bus station; this friendly hostel boasts a pretty garden, a small pool surrounded by hammocks to lounge in and two playful dogs. Best of all, the free wine on offer in the evenings gets people chatting and you can find yourself instant drinking and dining companions.
3. Bike to the wineries
There are endless wine tours on offer in Mendoza and most hostels and hotels can arrange them for you. However, if you’re on a budget, the cheapest way to do it is by pedal power. Take a bus to Calle Urquiza, rent a bike, check it’s in working order, ask for a map and then head south. Recommended wineries include Rutini, Di Tommasso and Carinae. It goes without saying to go steady on the vino. The road home can be scary and dangerous if you’ve had one too many.
Note that most wineries are closed on Sundays.
4. Go shopping
Can’t find clothes you like in Santiago? Take a look at the shops in style-obsessed Argentina and you might find you have to give your credit card a work out,
especially if you go to the mall. Books and CDs are much, much cheaper here too so hold off buying anything until you make this trip. For wine, head to Marcelino on the corner of Martin Zapata and Tiburcio Benegas.
5. Spend the day at the spa
When you just want to take it easy, head outside the city to Termas Cachueta for a day of me-time pampering. Sheltered by the majestic Andes, the complex has thermal pools, mud baths, cold plunge pools, hydro massage, solariums and much more. A full day at the complex with lunch thrown in, costs 160 ARS/180 ARS at weekends (CP$20.750/CP$23.330) and for an extra 40 ARS (CP$5.185) they’ll pick you up from Mendoza.
If you can live without all the grown-up stuff and just want to whoop and skid down the toboggan run at their water park, the price drops to a pleasing 20 ARS from Monday to Friday and 25 ARS at weekends. (CP$2.592, CP$3.240)
6. Take a course
Know nothing about wine but want to learn? Vines of Mendoza have knowledgeable, English-speaking staff who’ll be happy to fill you in. In their shady courtyard close to Plaza Independencia you can shove your nose in a big glass of red and sniff out chocolate,
earth and flowers during a Guided Sensory Wine Tasting course (120 ARS/CP$15.555). It’s also a fine place to come for tastings if you don’t have time to make it to the wineries.
7. Eat Steak, Drink Wine
It would be downright rude to come to Argentina and not eat half a cow washed down with a bottle or two of Malbec. Señor Buque and Estancia La Florencia are just two of many restaurants in town that will keep carnivores happy, while La Sal is the place for wine connoisseurs. Many of the wineries do fabulous food (ask at your hostel for recommendations) but if you’re counting the pesos, fill up at lunch at the food stalls in the central market. Veggies needn’t be afraid as they are surprisingly well- catered for in Mendoza. Naturata and Govindas both do wholesome vegetarian buffets for around 28 ARS (CP$3.629).
Wines to look out for while you’re here include: Achaval Ferrer, Prodigo Malbec Reserva 2004, Bressia 2004 Profundo, La Celia Malbec, Tapiz Sauvignon Blanc and Fosters Pink.
8. Watch all the pretty people
God bless the gene pool on this side of the Andes. Here even the male street cleaners will leave ladies needing a hose down and boys will lose count of the number of waitresses that look like supermodels. If you do nothing else in this fine city, grab a seat on one of the many café terraces and enjoy the view.
9. Get some park life
When the wineries and shops are closed on Sunday, follow the locals and head to the park. The sprawling Parque San Martin is a green oasis and the city has plenty of pretty squares to hang out in too.
10. Be a culture vulture
If you’ve really not had enough of wine yet, you can take a tour at the Museo del Vino del Bodega La Rural out in Maipú to learn about pressing the grapes back in the day. If you never want to see another glass of vino tinto for the rest of your life, the Espacio Contemporáneo de Arte hosts local, regional and international works and is worth a look.
And what not to do:
1. Fruit is no laughing matter
Chilean customs officials take fruit seriously. Forget you have a banana in your bag and you’re likely to get wrestled to the ground by an over-eager sniffer dog and then get slapped with a hefty fine. You have been warned. Make sure to read the instructions at the back of the immigration form.
2. Don’t be in a rush
Getting through customs at the border can take anything from 20 minutes to several hours. Bring a good book and have an ‘I’ll get there when I get there’ attitude. Both sides of the border have a same cafeteria in case you get hungry, however, it is recommended that you carry your own grub but do remember to trash uneaten food before you go through the customs’ check.
3. Don’t leave valuables in your rucksack
We’ve heard of things going missing at the border from bags left in the bus bays. Keep your valuables with you at all times.
Hostel Lao, Rioja 771. Tel: 0261 438 0454
Bikes & Wines, Urquiza 1601, Maipu. Tel: 0261 410 6686
Mendoza Plaza Mall, Av Acceso Este 3280, Guaymallén
Marcelino, Corner of Martin Zapata & Tiburcio Benegas
Termas Cacheuta, Ruta Prov 82 Km 38, Cacheuta, Luján de Cuya. Tel: 02624 490152/3
Vines of Mendoza, Espejo 567. Tel: 0261 438 1031
Señor Buque, Sarmiento 777. Tel: 0261 425 3667
Estancia La Florencia, Sarmiento 698. Tel: 0261 429 3008
La Sal, Belgrano 1069. Tel: 0261 420 4322
Naturata, Don Bosco 73. Tel: 0261 420 3087
Govindas, San Martín 453. Tel: 0261 424 3799
Museo del Vino, Montecaseros 2625, Coquimbito, Maipú. Tel: 0261 497 2013
Espacio Contemporáneo de Arte, 9 de Julio with Gutiérrez. Tel: 0261 429 0117
Several bus companies leave Santiago’s Terminal Sur (Metro: Universidad de Santiago) for Mendoza including Pullman, Tur Bus, Cata International and El Rápido. Buses leave in the morning and at night. Expect to pay around CP$26.000 round-trip though it varies depending on the season.