Mendoza On a Budget
An earthquake in 1851 which killed more than 5,000 people prompted a rebuild of the city incorporating larger squares, wider streets and sidewalks in hopes to provide safe spaces in case of future disasters of similar magnitudes. This, in turn, has contributed to Mendoza's unique wide boulevards and the spacious ambiance of the city. Adventure travelers will likewise find plenty to enjoy as Mendoza is also known for mountain-climbing, horseback riding, rafting and hiking activities.
The months of October through April are considered the best times to visit the city, as it covers the planting and harvesting seasons, the weather is pleasant and is optimal time for winery activities. If you're looking to avoid crowds, autumn (April and May) would be an ideal time to visit.
SightsPlaza Independencia is the largest green space and plaza in the city center of Mendoza and forms the best starting point to explore downtown Mendoza. You will find some nice buildings, restaurants and street shows around the square. Spend some time relaxing, people-watching, watch the fountain's dancing waters show, buy some sweet caramelized peanuts from the vendors, and check out the street performers and musicians in this popular socializing area. It's also home to the theater and modern art museum if you care to have a look. There are four other secondary plazas all within two blocks of Plaza Independencia which you should explore as well. Just next to the Plaza Independencia, you will also find the lively pedestrian street Sarmiento, filled with shops, cafes, and restaurants, many of them with outdoor seating. If you are looking for a bank, pharmacy or salons, you will definitely find what you are looking for on this street. However, many of the restaurants here cater to tourists, meaning that you will find higher prices often for lower quality, so you may want to venture down a side street before having an elaborate meal. Plaza Espana is possibly the most beautiful square in the city. It is an artistic expression of the special relationship that this city and all others in Latin America has with Spain. It is decorated in a splendid way with typical Andalusian and Spanish motifs all around the place. The central wall depicts some images and texts of the Spanish colonization and it is crowned by a gorgeous statue. Head to the Parque San Martin, a huge park perfect for walking or biking around, or walk up to the Cerro de Gloria, where you will find a monument commemorating General San Martin and the Army of the Andes. When you make it to the top of the hill, you'll be rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the city and the mountains beyond. You can also get to the Cerro de Gloria by taking the orange tourist bus labeled "El Oro Negro" that leaves from the corner of Sarmiento and Chile.
Most travelers visit Mendoza for its famous wine tour. You could arrange to visit a few wineries and vineyards by bus, but biking between them is a much better way to see the countryside and the most popular activity for tourists in Mendoza. Arrange for a tour that includes lunch, or do it yourself by simply hopping on a bicycle, grabbing a map, and asking for a bit of advice about the best places to stop. Take the public bus to Maipu and from there you can rent a bike to cycle to the many nearby bodegas and vineyards for tastings. A good period to visit Mendoza is during harvesting in March and April. Be aware that some wineries require reservations booked in advance, and many are closed during weekends. Other major wineries have regular walk-in tours. If you can't get enough of the incredible vineyard scenery, stay outside the city in one of the many wineries that offer guests a room for the night. You can spend the evening in family-run farms or larger vineyards that provide all of your meals and a few tastings of wine. You also add a stop to the Museo Nacional del Vino during your tour to get a little background on the history of the wines you are sipping. Another museum worth visiting is the Museo del Area Fundacional. This small museum located just outside the city center towards the airport, which offers great explanations on why and how the city was founded. Visitors can see the excavated ruins of the former town council of Mendoza which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1861. The museum also shows the progressions of Mendoza from settlement onwards through a series of murals.
Located in the heart of the city, Parque Generale San Martin has more than 11 miles of pathways to take a stroll, bike or even visit the zoo. Be sure to visit the Hill of Glory monument to learn the history of San Martin, view historical scenes, and take in the panorama of mountains and city.
Half a day is plenty of time to explore the Potrerillos Dam, an artificial lake created by a metallurgic company, 18 miles away from Mendoza and 4200 feet above sea level. Visitors are welcome to go swimming, fishing, horseback riding or just come to appreciate the beautiful scenery.
Those seeking a less-touristy natural scenery can take a day trip to visit Laguna de la Nina Encantada, which is about four and a half hours by car from Mendoza. Created by volcanic lava, it is a mystical break away from the city to walk, bike and picnic while taking in views of the crystal clear lagoon.
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There are plenty of activities available around Mendoza. Trekking, horseback riding, fly-fishing and whitewater rafting in the desert and the mountains around Mendoza are popular activities. You can take a casual afternoon horseback ride through the vineyards or the mountains around Mendoza or you can spend a full 10 days exploring and crossings the Andes. Your guide will often tell you more about the history of the area, and you will often get snacks like mate and biscuits during your breaks. Skiing is also possible in the winter. Paragliding can be done in Mendoza every day of the year. Tours include a tandem flight of about 20 minutes with an experienced pilot and costs about USD$40. Visit the Termas de Cacheuta, for a fully relaxing experience or a fun family day about an hour outside of Mendoza. This spa, hotel, and waterpark situated among the mountains has a very large network of natural hot-tubs. On the hotel and spa side, there are saunas, mud baths, hot springs, massages, buffet lunch and thermal pools of varying temperatures available to guests. On the waterpark side, check out the lazy river and wave pool, or go ziplining.
South America's tallest mountain, Aconcagua, which is also the highest peak in the world outside the Himalayas provides trekking and climbing possibilities. If you're in good shape and the weather is favorable, you can head into the Andes to hike part of Aconcagua. Even on a day hike to the first base camp, Confluencia, you will have great views of it. If you don't want to trek that far, you can do plenty of hiking in the surrounding Parque Provincial. This national park is about 2h30 from Mendoza, and it covers 75,000 hectares of land and amazing mountains. On your way to Aconcagua, check out the Puente del Inca, a beautiful, gold-streaked span of rock that crosses the Vacas River at 2,720 meters (8,924 feet) above sea level. Charles Darwin stopped here and sketched the curious arch that was supposedly used by the Incas to reach the healing hot springs nearby. Geologists aren't sure about its formation, but it's believed that the interaction of extreme elements like ice and those hot springs had something to do with it.
You should also check out the Reserva Natural Villavicencio, natural springs where a lot of the bottled mineral water in Argentina originates. The nearby mountain scenery is just fabulous and the Gran Hotel de Villavicencio, a hotel and spa that used to be popular with Argentina's elite before it was looted by the military junta and closed in 1978 is surrounded by walking trails, gardens, and parks that you can explore. Unfortunately, there is no public transportation to this area northwest of Mendoza, so you will have to rent a car or go with a tour. You can also spend the night at the Hosteria Villavicencio or in its camping site, where you can also enjoy a gourmet meal. Another great activity around Mendoza is to visit the Little Town of Chacras de Coria. This chic little village with great restaurants, shopping, and nightlife was formerly a sleepy small town in a valley on the outskirts of Mendoza. The city has kept its charm with a weekly market on Sunday, great for wandering around and finding everything from antiques and jewelry to wood carvings and handmade toys. The town is filled with clothing boutiques, high-end food shops, gourmet restaurants, and cafes. Chacras de Coria is also another great gateway for exploring more bodegas and vineyards.
Another great outdoor activity is to head to the Lake Potrerillos. The locals love to spend their summer weekends at this lake just west of Mendoza. Great for a day trip or a short getaway from the city, the area around this artificial lake has been developed and features a few hotels, resorts, and sports clubs. There are facilities where you can book outdoor adventure activities like mountain biking, guided treks, horseback riding, and rafting. It's surrounded by snow-capped mountains and cypress forests, and the lake provides a great place for a picnic, a drink, or some kayaking around. Finally, for museum-lovers, check out the Museo de Bellas Artes, Casa De Fader. Located outside the city in Lujan de Cuyo, the fine arts museum opened in 1951 and contains several gorgeous collections of artwork by several Argentine and European artists.
ActivitiesResponsible biking under the influence is welcome with Mendoza Wine Bike Tours, which offers both half day and full day well-organized scenic bike tours through Uco Valley and Lujan de Cuyo, including five-course meals, depending on the package you purchase.
Those on a budget will be happy to find that many wineries offer free wine tastings, including Bodega Carmelo Patti and Pulenta Estate Winery.
Los Pingos Horse Riding takes beginner and advanced riders alike on safe rides with well-trained horses through wineries in the hills to see sunsets over the Andes.
Parque Provincial Aconcagua is Mendoza's most popular park and features Cerro Aconagua, the highest peak in the world, outside of Asia. Adventurous climbers should expect to take between 13 to 15 days to climb to the summit, while non-climbers can take photos of amazing vistas and stay at the base camps.
Popularized in the movie, "7 Years in Tibet," the Puente del Inca is a natural bridge formation which passes just over the Las Cuevas River in the Andes and is a sight to see inside the Pargue Provincial Aconagua.
Thrill seekers can go tubing and rafting with Potrerillos Mendoza Rafting in the Mendoza River for half-day, full-day or two-day excursions or paragliding with Mendoza Parapente, for an unforgettable 30-minute flight over the Cerro Arco at 5250 feet above sea level.
For relaxation away from the city, visit Parque de Aguas Termas Cacheuta for its natural hot springs and spas.
For nightlife, walk down Aristides Villanueva Street, where you'll find plenty of pubs, bars and restaurants to begin your evening before heading to the discos or to Plaza Independencia for spontaneous live outdoor music. Just a note: Mendoza accepts casual dress in discos.
The biggest festival of the year is the Grape Harvest Festival, a 10-day festival which takes place every year starting on the first Friday in March and is celebrated in the streets of Mendoza with parades, theatrical performances, music and dancing, and of course, food and wine pairings.
Food and DiningThe dry and sunny Mendoza region is ideal for cultivating grapes and producing delicious wine. It has now come to be known as the wine capital of Argentina due to the fact that many world famous wineries are located in and around the city. Check out this guide to the wine regions of Mendoza.
While you might have come for the wine, Mendoza is proud of its other big agricultural product too, olives and olive oil! Though it's been overshadowed by all the wine tourism, there are lots of olive groves in the area too. You can tour many of these olivicolas where you will learn how the olives are harvested, pressed, and bottled. And they have tastings of olive oil too. Mendoza, as everywhere in Argentina, has a rich and varied culinary tradition. A few of the local specialties include asado de tira, barbecue spare ribs, bife de chorizo, the prime steak cut, meatiest slice with the lowest fat proportion, bife de lomo, tenderloin or filet steak, cantimpalo, a peppery sausage used in pizzas, empanadas, soups and stews, chimichurri, a most delicious Argentine sauce, usually blending together olive oil, wine vinegar, garlic, parsley, roasted capsicum forming an ideal complement to succulent Argentine meat.
Don't be surprised if you find restaurants empty in the evening, as locals typically eat dinner after 10 p.m. Keep in mind that many wineries have special tasting menus with 5 to 8 courses paired with wines at a set price, so be sure to arrive very hungry!
If you're willing to splurge, Bodega Lagarde combines a beautiful setting in a rustic garden with an exquisite tasting menu and never-empty glasses of wine. Cava de Cano begins with a table full of starters with plenty of vegetarian options and offers five courses, finishing with celebratory champagne and cigars.
Casa de Campo is a popular spot for lunch and its regional specialties of roasted rabbit and suckling pig. For an eclectic menu of European fare and reasonable prices, Anna Bistro features delicious ribeye, fish and lamb dishes, as well as vegetarian options, of which the gazpacho is a huge hit.
Night owls will appreciate El Mercadito's late hours and clean eating menu, featuring plenty of fresh greens as well as hearty dishes like lasagna and bife chorizo in a warm and inviting atmosphere on the terrace.
The budget-conscious will appreciate El Palenque, a casual restaurant famous for its empanadas and house wine by the glass, also open late. For an authentic and humble Argentine experience, Don Claudio serves mouthwatering lomo sandwiches and house wines at a reasonable price.
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Mendoza also has a small international airport, El Plumerillo (MDZ), with flights to Buenos Aires with Latam and Aerolineas Argentinas and to Santiago de Chile also with Latam, but also to Salta, Iguazu, Bariloche amongst many other destinations. However tickets are very expensive as compared to bus fares. From the airport, you can take a taxi for a fixed posted prices. There is also a city bus (colectivo) that will take you downtown, but it comes only every 40 minutes and takes an hour to make it's way downtown.
Central Mendoza is relatively compact and walkable. A 20-30 minute walk will bring you from Plaza Independencia to Parque San Martin. However you will need to rent a car, or take the bus to get to the bodegas (vineyards), located 10 km away to the south. Taxis are plentiful, metered and fairly cheap, costing about the same as in Buenos Aires. A trip across town from the bus station to Parque San Martin will cost around USD$2. You can hire bicycles in town and especially to visit the vineyards. Most hostels can put you in touch with a bicycle rental shop. A bike should cost you about USD$5 for one day. You will need some form of ID to leave as deposit. Ask to see and test the bike before handing over your money.
The safest way to get the center from Governor Francisco Gabrielli International Airport, which is 5 miles from the center of the city, is to take a taxi or remis (private car), especially at night.
The center of the city is compact and easy to walk, but to get to the vineyards, buses and trolleys are the cheapest ways to go, not to mention that they rid you of the burden of appointing a designated driver.
Renting a bike will also allow you to get around the center more quickly; don't forget to haggle and check the bike before you take it.
Car rental is also an option, though it will be more expensive to hire in Argentina than in other countries. Car rental agencies can be found at the airport.
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