12 April – 16 April, 2018
After six weeks, and with Malbec on our minds, we were ready to trade the wild Patagonia winds for a warmer climate. To make this change all the more enticing, a mixture of rain and snow was falling as we said adios to Bariloche. We loved our time there, but we were ready to soak up some rays in Mendoza. Perhaps the only thing I wasn’t looking forward to was another long bus ride, this time leaving at 1:00 pm and arriving the next morning at 9:00 am. The scenery of snow-capped mountains and the ever-changing hues of the Limay River made the trip palatable.
The hotel we booked, Hotel Raices Aconcagua, is a lovely hotel in the heart of Mendoza. Plaza Independencia, which the city is centered around, is nearby, with four small plazas located two blocks off each of its corners. Something unique to Mendoza is the exposed stone trenches that run alongside many streets, irrigating the graceful trees lining the sidewalks. I can only imagine there have been a few injuries from people tumbling into those trenches in the darkness of night.
Walking around Mendoza, feeling the glorious warmth, we were reminded of a European city, particularly the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome, with paved pedestrian walkways and beautiful boutique storefronts, although Mendoza is a much younger city than Rome. Having suffered a devastating earthquake in 1861 that claimed over 5,000 lives, it hasn’t been that long ago that Mendoza was rebuilt, this time with wider streets and sidewalks, large green spaces, and urban designs that better tolerate seismic activity.
Although we knew that there was much more to be seen in Mendoza than through the bottom of a wineglass, we decided that our first tour would be a winery/biking adventure. As Mendoza is considered one of the “Great Wine Capitals” in the world, we were anxious to taste some of the wines for which she is famous.
There were many options to consider when biking out to the wineries, but in the end we opted for a self-guided bike tour, wanting the flexibility. We took the local bus out to the small town of Maipu, then went to Maipu Bike Company, recommended to us. They provided a map of the wineries, recommendations and cost of tastings, and booked a guided tour/tasting at one of the more popular wineries. We were also invited back later in the day for happy hour. Not sure this lightweight would need more wine but we kept that open as an option.
The bikes, although a bit dated, were functional, and we were given helmets. The only challenging section of road was after we left the safety of the designated bike path, which dwindled to a narrow road that had to be traversed with the motorized traffic. We made the decision to vacate the pavement when traffic started to crowd the roadway, as I had read a tripadvisor review the night before that was a bit scary. When traffic subsided, we pedaled to our next stop and arrived at each of our destinations safely.
Our first stop was Tempus Alba Winery, where we did a self-guided tour and finished with a relaxing wine tasting. We were pleased to have the patio to ourselves, overlooking the vineyard, a wonderful way to start our day. And we walked out with a bottle of their Malbec for another day.
Mevi Winery was our second stop, a boutique winery, where we did a tasting and enjoyed lunch on their patio.
Entre Olivos was our stop for olive oil tastings, condiments, and liquors. We brought home a jar of stone-ground mustard with Chardonnay…very tasty.
Trapiche, one of the largest and most popular wineries, was our final stop of the day. We did a guided tour, accompanied by several tastings, all very good. We took an alternate route back to Maipu Bikes, with much less traffic, and found that yes, we did want to participate in a quick happy hour next door.
This was a great way to see some of the wineries at our own pace.
I had read about an Andes Photo Safari tour that would get us into the mountains, give us some history of Mendoza, and almost guarantee us some wildlife viewing. It seemed like a wonderful way to get away from the city and give us a healthy dose of nature. Timothée, our tour guide, picked us up at our hotel, where we learned that we would have a private tour…yes!
Our day started in the protected Reserva Natural Villavicencio, where I was assured that I would see guanacos, a member of the camelid family, native to South America. To date I had only seen them from afar, so I was counting on Timothée, and he delivered guanacos, as well as rhea, a distant relative to the ostrich, seen from a distance, while condors circled far overhead.
A South American gray fox graced us with his presence, walking up to the truck. Timothée wouldn’t allow us to get out as this little guy had most likely been habituated to humans and was looking for food. I had to practically get in Timothée’s lap to get the shot, as the fox was on his side of the truck.
Views of the Andes and Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of Asia, could be seen throughout the day. Standing at ~7000 meters (22,837 feet), it is the tallest peak in the Southern Hemisphere and sits completely within Argentina, 70 miles from Mendoza.
We continued climbing to Paramillos, up to 10,300 feet on the 365 Curves, also called Route of the Year, or Caracoles De Villavicencio. At Paramillos we stopped to visit the old Jesuit mining settlement and the ancient colonial road, built in the 16th-century, which led through the mountains to Chile. It was the only road available at the time for José de San Martín, one of Argentina and Peru’s primary liberators from the Spanish Empire.
After a brief history lesson we headed to Cerro 7 Colores and hiked around the colorful hills, whose colors were enhanced by various minerals in the soil.
Lunch was an authentic kid goat barbecue at Parrillada El Rancho Restaurant in Uspallata. We had not seen so much meat, and so many varieties in one sitting, brought to our table on a cast-iron grill, kept warm throughout the meal. A nice bottle of Malbec appeared, compliments of our tour guide, whose wife works at one of the Uco Valley wineries. Without the meat we would have had a full meal, with empanadas, salad and appetizers. I wonder if the locals eat this much at every meal.
This is a great tour for anyone wanting to experience the beautiful mountains surrounding Mendoza.
General San Martín Park was on our agenda for the following day, to work off some of the calories we had consumed. It is a 970-acre park within the city, giving us plenty of space to stretch our legs.
Terraza Jardin Mirador, a rooftop garden at the Mendoza City Hall, was to be our last activity in Mendoza. Not expecting too much but hoping for some exercise and a few city views, we were both pleasantly surprised.
With one last overnight bus trip to look forward to (ugh), we turned our sights to Salta. Although the bus system throughout Argentina and Chile has been top-notch, I may not want to get on another bus for a long time after this adventure!