Mendoza was one of the biggest delights of my trips to Argentina. It’s often overlooked as a stop off, or a one night fling on the tourist trail across from Buenos Aires to Santiago. Yet the city is so much more than that. The first thing that struck me about it was how alive it was, over flowing with greenery and full of bustling plazas and nightlife. The vineyards around Mendoza are easy to get to, cheaply, and are a must do for any Malbec drinker – or anyone who wants to pretend to compare them to the Chilean Carmenacs across the border. The area is also a great jumping off point for hiking, rafting, and general access to the Andes.
Your first day in Mendoza should be spent getting to know the city. If you arrive in time to head out in the afternoon or the evening to look around downtown, you’re in luck – it’s time to get a feel of the city. I stayed at Hostal Campobase, an incredibly laid back Hostal run by three friends, with clean rooms, nice breakfast and Buena onda (good vibes). These guys were so nice, made everyone feel at home, and helped to introduce me – a solo traveller – to the other inhabitants, and to the social events of the week. I really could not recommend it more. The Asado on Saturday night was enough to make me want to stay forever. It is easy to stay right downtown, and Campo base was perfect to set off from.
Coming from Santiago, the air in Mendoza is so clean. It’s also one of the greenest cities I’ve ever seen. Light shone dappled green over the town, as every street is lined with huge sprawling avenues, or dotted with Palms. Downtown Mendoza is centered around the Plaza Independencia – a twenty minute walk from the bus terminal, or fifteen minutes in a taxi from either airport.
Independencia is rife with activity from Friday through Sunday, where local stalls pop up, selling artisanal goods, hosting dance parties for the children or staging political protest. Food and knit-ware is in abundance, and at night the square might be lit up with Mendoza’s crest. Be more careful at night, as the square is a hotspot for pickpockets. From the east of the plaza is the Paseo Sarmiento (a pedestrian footpath) lined with bars and intercambios and general tourist fare. For local food you would actually do a lot better strolling a few streets back to more independent or arty establishments.
A few blocks back from the four corners of Plaza Independencia, are four smaller garden plazas, and from there the city stretches back, though blocks and gardens into more suburban landscape. These plazas mark the edges of the true “downtown”. Plaza España is lined with tiles, patterned with Spanish drawings, and a nod to Gaudi in the park benches. Plaza Italia is perhaps the plainest, but cornered with some of Mendoza’s main museums the Museo Pasado Cuyano and the Archivo histórico de Mendoza. Plaza Chile sports a large fountain, flaunting some nice rainbows; in competition with the huge statue in Plaza San Martin. On the calle San Martin is a cathedral that is slightly underwhelming from the outside, and many great places to eat and shop.
I personally stopped at Elkanó café, close to Plaza Chile, for three big beefy empanadas and a glass of wine for the bargain price of $95 Argentinian Pesos (£2.50). There are many cute cafés on these main squares for a coffee and a snack, many of which do great deals for Combos. While you’re walking through the streets take a note from your hostel or hotel of the wine bodegas, where you could pick up a free tasting, and see what you could sample throughout the city.
Take time to enjoy the pace of the city, to explore town, or even get as far out as the huge and beautiful cemetery – a must see in many South American towns. I topped off the night with some Argentinian dinner in the centre of town. Then you can either get some rest, or head out late late late to a local party – our hostel helped us out with wristbands for free entry to the clubs in town.
If you set out early there’s no telling how many vineyards you can hit – we met some wobbly boys that got out to the country at 11am, and got home around 6pm, having been to five tastings. No wonder there are so many Brits in Mendoza. We left the hostel at 1pm and got in lunch and two vineyards in the afternoon. We went to Maipu, which is one of the easiest valleys to get to by bike, though there are plenty of other options by tours from Mendoza.
We got the tram from downtown – loading up one multi-use ticket for the seven of us. We were told if we transferred tram to bus within an hour, we would only be charged once. We hopped on the tram down to the Massa station, from which you turn left over the tracks and then immediate right to catch the 171 (10) or 172 (10) micro bus to the rotunda de Coquimbito – we asked out driver to give us a shout when we got there. It turns out you can catch the (10) variant of the 171, 172 or 173 all the way from town. We thought the tram would be quicker, but actually, after waiting for the bus for so long, they both work out at about an hour. We ended up getting the bus on the way home.
You can rent bikes from Maipu Bikes for the day for $150 Argentinian Peso (£4 GBP or $5 USD), and, if you got them back by 5pm, they give you a “Happy Hour” of free wine. A steal. The guys there gave us maps and a full run down of the vineyard types, sizes and prices, and which ones did food. We chose to start at the cheapest food bearing place: Mevi.
It was a quick fifteen minute cycle to the south, along a bike path that flanks the main road. There were various obstacles, and we were warned to keep our backpacks on our backs and not in the baskets – in order for no one passing to snatch them. We were also, as a group of six women and one man, wolf whistled and harassed a lot. We were even honked by an aggressively close-passing truck. But then you turn left at the gas station and suddenly the not-so-picturesque scene becomes a Cyprus-lined avenue with Vineyards stretching out around you.
Mevi was at the bottom of the hill, and is a little white, modern building in the middle of an expanse of vineyard, the vines just turning gold at the edges. We dumped our bikes alongside the pile already there and we made our way up the stairs. Mevi is clean and sleek, with large tables inside and a glorious balcony with views over the vineyards to snow-capped mountains in the distance. The balcony was pretty full (of Brits), so we apologetically fit around the low coffee table and ordered ham and cheese platters, Milanesas (Argentinian breaded chicken) and chips, and empanadas. We got a bottle of Malbec with the meals.
We then ordered a tasting each, which you do with a cute system of placing wine glasses on the descriptions on the placemats. We got three large glasses as ‘tastings’ for $150ArgPesos. These are not skimpy portions.
The Malbec was wonderful, the Rosé was rich, and the Whites were fresh and zingy. We were all very pleasantly surprised – even those that chose chardonnay were impressed. We toasted ourselves a while, basking in the view and the tastes, before setting off again on our bicycles – having picked up a few more brits on the way.
We did have to fix the chain on one of the bikes before we set off again, but overall, they were holding up pretty well, for cheap one-gears. Next we hit the vineyard next door: Bodega Viña el Cerno. We’d just made their last tour of the day, which was at 4.30, so we pre-ordered our tastings.
Viña el Cerno is a much more traditional setting, with an old wooden structure, and cellars full of barrels of aging wine. It´s a family run business, and our tour was run by the enigmatic and wonderful daughter of the family. In an enthusiastic and rambling style she talked us through the history of the family, the way their wines reflected each ‘stage of man’ (or person in the family). From the easy drinking “teenager” wines, through to the mature Reservas. The tour was short – just the cellars and a chat, but it was only $50 Argentinian pesos, and she charmed our socks off. She told us the secret to long life – four glasses of wine a day (two in Jam form for breakfast and lunch). Apparently, if life was wine and love was life then wine was love. Which I’m not sure If I understand but it sounds true.
Her ageless mother then served us all our tastings out under a pagoda of vines. Some of us didn´t realise that there were whites and sparklings up for grabs, but we were recommended three Malbecs from different vintages and years. The other reds were much less impressive, but the Malbecs were strong and fruity. I’d recommend sticking to them. We lazed as the sun grew lower, appreciating the rustic setting – old farm equipment and presses dotted around. We were a little two relaxed, and had to power-bike back to catch our happy hour. We were late, naturally, but the guys at Maipu bikes kept the gates open, and fed us wine long after they had to, in huge glasses from unmarked bottles.
We got the bus back after dark, all a little more discombobulated. We bought more wine to share over dinner, and joined the Buena Onda for the night. There are so many other vineyards you can visit, to the north of that bike rental, and several olive oil and chocolate factories as well. If you try you could sample many things, but even with a relaxed afternoon, you can still get a real taste of Argentinian wine.
The Thermal baths at Cacheuta are one of the most hyped trips from the city. Many proselytise its wonders as a hangover cure, and some of the nicest views to soak up while you’re having a soak. Buses only leave a few times a day from the bus station – the last leaving around 1. But be sure to check the schedules a day in advance as when we arrived our plans were scuppered by cancelled services.
The baths themselves cost around $200Arg pesos for entry, and about that for the bus. Tour buses and companies would drive you right to the gate, whereas the standard buses drop you in the town of Cacheuta, and allow you to take the short walk up the hill to the baths. They are a collection of natural hotsprings and thermals, with soothing waters, cold pools and various heats to switch between, all while admiring the mountains around you.
With good company you could while away a whole day, but some claimed two or three hours is more than enough. Buses head home from town at 6 and 7.30pm, the baths close at 5pm. You can also stay in the small town of Cacheuta overnight. Don’t plan for too much activity after the baths though, as the heat and water can completely strip the energy out of you. Afterwards, enjoy a well-earned nap after a day of sitting, and hopefully a barbecue (Asado) has been whipped up for you in your absence. At Hostal Campo base, the Asado and almost unlimited wine cost us $200 Pesos a head.
On your final full day in Mendoza, head out to the Parque San Martin, a huge structure to the south west of the city, a nice walk from the Plaza Independencia. You could pick up a coffee or breakfast on the way on the bar strip on calle Arístides Villanueva, or grab a delicious ice cream from Zeze´s (but try to avoid their coffee). They have delicious Malbec and Dulce de Leche flavours if you want to stay strictly Argentinian.
Then head to the park, if you make your way around the ugly green construction wall (May 2018) you can get to the lakeside. The park is full of large swooping paths with roller-bladers doing tricks and little kids on bikes. You can get smoothies and ice creams and cotton candy from passing traders, and lounge on the grass, or go for a walk around the huge grounds. There’s a big cerro (hill) in the middle, with views over the city – which we found slightly harder to find than we thought. What we did find was space after space, like a maze of different gardens and squares. There’s a huge variety of trees and plants: cypresses and pines and plane trees and palms all mixed together. It’s very charming, and full of odd quirks, structures, carousels and children’s play areas. We walked for hours, until the sun came down, and we found ourselves lost by the highway. Try not to get yourselves that lost.
Have a relaxing day, and a long walk, before retiring to Arístides Villanueva for happy hour and some dinner, sample your last vinos before you have to head out!
I cannot recommend Mendoza enough. I met some incredible people and felt more rejuvenated than a week of red wine and long walks should ever make a person. It was so easy to meet a team of other travellers to head out to Vineyards and explore the city – maybe I was just lucky to stumble upon the nicest group in Argentina. Mendoza is more than just a stopover, it’s a place to rest and explore; a city full of delight and empanadas.Tags: Andes, Argentina, City, Cycling, CyclingTours, FemaleTravel, Fourdays, Guide, HostalCampoBase, Maipu, Maipu Bikes, MaipuBikes, Malbec, Mendoza, MeviVineyard, Self tour, SelfTours, SoloTravel, SouthAmerica, ThermalBaths, Travel, Vines, Vineyard, Vino, Visit, Wheretostay, Wine, Winetasting
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