“What the hell is Mendoza doing on a blog like this?” You are entitled to ask. Mendoza is Argentina’s wine country, and by consequence it doesn’t come cheap. However, it is pretty damn amazing. Surrounded in pretty much all directions by mountains and vineyards, it is a gastronomic heaven nestled in some of the most beautiful scenery in South America, nay, the world. And although it isn’t cheap, it still represents good value compared to what you would pay in for the equivalent experiences in Europe or the United States. Here’s some tips:
For once in Argentina, flying is actually an option… but only from Chile. Flights from Santiago are frequent and reasonable with LATAM, especially if you get a return ticket. Failing this, you’re back on the buses again – Mendoza is connected to Buenos Aires, Santiago, Bariloche… pretty much anywhere by long distance coach. Don’t forget to get Cama Ejecuutivo or Salon Cama seats if you plan on sleeping! Internal flights in Argentina are prohibitively expensive, unless you happen to be Argentine and then you pay half of what us extranjeros do.
Getting around Mendoza itself isn’t very tricky, as the city centre is reatively compact, so you can walk most places. There are also cheap buses and a tramway which runs to Maipu – you need to buy a travel card for these, but it only costs around AR$20. If you’re lazy, or in a group (or both, like us) taxis are a reasonable option. To Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo a taxi costs around AR$200 and takes about 15-20 minutes, which is a fracition of the time it takes by public transport. Taxis (or remises, the grey taxis you see driving around) to/from the airport are around AR$150. It’s worth noting that, unusually for a city its siza, Mendoza doesn’t have Uber.
Of course, many of Mendoza’s attractions lie outside the city limits, including some of its best wineries and natural beauty. For this, you will need to hire a car. If you plan on doing this, DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE! The prices soar if you leave it within a week or so to book your car, you get the best value a month or more in advance. If you have the flexibility, try to avoid weekend days as they are often twice as expensive. Once you have your car, driving within the city limits can be a little trying, but once you are on the open road it is easy as pie. Download the area on Google Maps or use Maps.me on your phone to avoid the criminal rates the car hire companies charge for GPS hire.
Unfortunately, wine country will attract posh wankers and rich Americans. It’s just one of life’s inevitabilities, like taxes, or an elderly relative saying something racist at Christmas time. Because of these two core demographics, accommodation in Mendoza is not cheap. The best deal we found was on Airbnb, as ever. We shared a two bedroom apartment with my parents and ended up paying 50 quid a night between all four of us, so actually we got a steal. If you go, I’d heartily recommend the apartment we stayed in, and if you sign up to Airbnb here you get some cash of your first booking.
Activities, Eating and Drinking
I would normally separate these two sections but in Mendoza the two are so neatly intertwined it seemed somewhat superfluous. The wineries are Mendoza’s most famous attraction, and with good reason. The ones we went to are:
- Bodega Lopez, Maipu. A large winery in quite an industrial area, it is one of the oldest in Mendoza. If you go for lunch there (and you should, it is incredible), you get a tour and a small tasting included. An added bonus is that it is easily accessible by public transport so you don’t need a designated driver.
- Carmelo Patti, Lujan de Cuyo. A small-scale winery that everyone in Mendoza knows, due to Carmelo’s legendary passion for his wine. You get shown round the winery by Carmelo himself or one of his children, in a combination of English and Spanish, and you get to try some of the special reserves with no pressure to buy any. We did, because it was bloody delicious. While you are in the area, be sure to go to the Cava de Cano restaurant about half a kilometer down the road (make sure you pre-book) and prepare yourself for a colossal, traditional Argentine picada
- Bodega Domaine Bousquet, Valle de Uco. I’ll start with the downside, because there is only one – it’s a bit of a trek, about an hour and a half’s drive, and of course that means a designated driver. Everything else, however, is a fantastic. The tour was informative without being boring, and it is included in the price of your lunch. Lunch here is an indulgence, that is for sure. 6 courses, matching wine, and each of them as delicious as the last. It comes to AR$580 a head, which sounds a lot but it’s actually less than 30 quid, which is an utter bargain for what you get.
Aside from the wineries, you have to get out into the Andes. We drove to Aconcagua National Park, where you can find the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas. The drive was nearly three hours but the scenery on the way was nothing shy of stunning. Be sure to stop at the Punta del Inca nearby to see the multicoloured sandstone caused by the mineral-rich hot springs.