Flip to the section marked “Mendoza” in any Argentina guidebook and you’ll find it: poetics that gush like a generously-handled bottle and read more like a prayer to Dionysus than travel advice.
Granted, Mendoza is one of the top wine capitals of the world, especially famous for its Malbec reds. The area’s stretching fields and more than 1,200 wine bodegas charm amateurs and impress connoisseurs. But then where to turn when you’ve drunk your fill of tastings, and exhausted the available tours, classes, picnics, and bike rides?
We polled natives as well as ex-pats, asking after both classic tourist attractions and undiscovered local treasures. Here is where to head for the multifaceted Mendoza beyond the wineries.
Tour the Andes
If you arrive by bus, you’ll catch the jagged snow-laced summits a couple of hours before you spot Mendoza itself. The city sprawls in the shadow of the great mountain range, close enough that climbers consider it their last taste of civilization before launching their expeditions for Aconcagua. Rent a car for the day and hit these high-altitude sights, but remember that the views of desolate slopes and formidable peaks on the way are the real attraction.
Ruta 7 winds out of town and eventually crosses the Chilean border, where it continues on to Santiago. Along the way lies Potrerillos, an artificial lake to which locals flock for a weekend of hiking, paragliding, rafting, and kitesurfing. Further up is the turn-off for a small stone and mortar bridge over the thin Picheuta River. José de San Martín used this National Historic Monument in 1817 during his legendary march over the Andes to vanquish the Spanish and liberate southern South America.
Meanwhile, at 6,959m above sea level, the mountain king of the continent, Aconcagua, makes for a handsome photo opportunity. Just beyond, Puente del Inca, a spectacularly coloured natural bridge over the Cuevas River, dazzles visitors with the gold streaks smeared across its natural arch-like watercolours. Scientifically-inclined tourists must satisfy themselves with speculation; its formation remains a mystery even for geologists. For a slightly different mountain experience, head along Ruta 82 for the Cacheuta Thermal Baths, a natural hot springs waterpark in the middle of the mountains.
Be aware that during the winter, road conditions can become dangerous or closed to traffic due to snowstorms or ice. If you’d rather be guided, a number of tour companies offer similar day-trip excursions. The rest of Ruta 7, which leads across the border and into Chile, is equally as scenic and a pleasant way to get to the Santiago area. However, if you plan to take a mere daytrip, it is best to turn around before the border, as clearing customs can take hours. As it is, plan to wake up early for unhurried sightseeing during your 400km round-trip outing.
– Potrerillos: 63 km from the city, just after crossing the Blanco River on Ruta 7.
– Bridge over the Picheuta River: 21km past the town of Uspallata along Ruta 7.
– Aconcagua Provincial Park entrance: 14km before the Chilean border, 52km after the Picheuta River. To enter the park for either hiking or trekking, permits are required and issued in advance in Mendoza.
– Puente del Inca: On Ruta 7, 9km after Aconcagua Provincial Park and only 4km from the Chilean border. Artisan crafts and bathrooms available.
– Cacheuta Thermal Baths: Along Ruta 82, which runs parallel to Ruta 7 on its away out of Mendoza, but unfortunately doesn’t connect. About 30km from the centre of the city. Open year-round, 10am-6pm. Best not to go during the summer, when it tends to crowd. Entrance fees run about $50/person.
Explore the City
Mendoza is a pretty city, especially downtown. Start at its very heart with a lazy stroll through the Plaza de Independencia. Buy yourself some hot caramelised peanuts and cross your fingers that you catch the towering spouts from the beautiful but intermittently functioning fountains. Either way, street musicians, vendors, and performers will entertain you. Each of the four surrounding secondary plazas, built after Mendoza’s 1861 earthquake as space to take refuge in the event of another seismic shift, has its own charm and is worth a tour.
A bright orange open-top bus marked “El Oro Negro” awaits tourists on the corner of Sarmiento and Chile, on the western edge of the Plaza de Independencia, for rides up to the Cerro de Gloria, a hilltop monument that commemorates San Martín. The ride offers rare sweeping views of the city, which are worth the trip even if you do not catch all the historical information explained in the Spanish-only tour.
On the way down, you will pass through the Parque San Martín, the large municipal park that merits at least an afternoon of meandering. There, teenage couples roller-skate around the lake and friends share picnics in the rose garden. Its many tree-lined paths attract joggers from throughout the area.
El Oro Negro: Tours offered everyday at 11am, 4pm, 6pm, and 7.30pm during the summer. Please call (0261) 498-0510, (0261) 657-6270, or (0261) 539-1614 for more information.
Calle Arístides Villanueva
On any warm night, ‘Arístides’’ parties spill out onto the ample sycamore-sheltered sidewalks, where mendocinos and tourists alike lounge on booths over ‘fernet cocas’, Campari with orange juice, and beer. Aside from the nightclub clusters in far-flung Chacras de Coria and El Challao, this is unequivocally Mendoza’s primary party drag. Although the many hostels in the area like Damajuana, Ítaka, and Break Point deliver tonnes of tourists, Aristides is also regularly frequented by mendocinos. Be prepared to start your night out around midnight and end it in the wee hours.
Flip through the 24-page drink menu during happy hour at rock concert-themed Johnny B. Good, a temple to the likes of AC/DC and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. With its especially large selection of imported beer and whiskey, Irish pub William Brown is a favourite among expats. If you want beer on tap but would rather go local, Jerome’s artisan varieties are brewed in nearby Potrerillos using snowmelt from the Andes. For dancing, try Parapithecus (Latin pop and electronic) or Por Acá (rock and indie rock). For a round of pool, Basilika is where to go.
– Johnny B. Good: Arístides Villanueva 373. Happy hour Mon-Fri 7pm-9pm. (0261) 423-3676.
– William Brown Bar: Arístides Villanueva 301, on the corner of Olascoaga. (0261) 420-0693.
– Jerome’s Pub: Arístides Villanueva 347. (0261) 420-4091.
Parapithecus Evolution Bar: Arístides Villanueva 264. (0261) 234-4893 (after 5pm).
Por Acá: Arístides Villanueva 557. (0261) 420-0364. 7pm-5am.
Basilika: Arístides Villanueva 332. (0261) 154548158.
The much overshadowed other pride of Mendoza is its olive products. For those who enjoy wine tourism, a parallel but far less commercialised industry lies in the olive groves. Like their fellows at the bodegas, tour guides explain how the fruit is harvested, pressed, separated from residue, processed, and bottled as olive oil. Tastings still involve a swill, sniff, and sip. Here too you can find excellent souvenirs, from olives themselves to oil to cosmetic products. But look out upon the orchards and instead of strict rows of staked grapevines, knuckly olive trees reach upwards, their leaves catching the sunlight. Mendoza’s olivícolas lend the education and gastronomic pleasure of its bodegas, but these silver-shaded farms possess a distinct beauty.
The department of Maipú is especially prolific; olive producers Simone, Maguay, Pasrai, Bodega CarinaE, and Laur form a tight cluster perfect for olivícola-hopping. At Familia Zuccardi, one of Mendoza’s best-known bodegas, guests can spend a day picking their own olives, with tasting at the end, or feast at the Pan y Oliva restaurant, which features an olive-based menu. For a relaxing getaway, settle in at luxury inn Posada Verde Oliva for “olive oil therapy” spa treatments. A three-hour drive south will take you to beautiful San Rafael, where Yancanelo offers the most comprehensive option with an olive oil museum, tours, and tasting platters.
– Olivícola Simone: Ozamis Sur 1553, Russell, Maipú. (0261) 481-1151.
– Maguay: Tastings and tours. Ozamis Sur 1491, Russell, Maipú. (0261) 497-2632.
– Pasrai: Ozamis Sur 2731, Maipú. (0261) 499-0472 or (0261) 499-0734.
– Bodega Carinae: Videla Aranda 2899, Cruz de Piedra, Maipú. 10am-6pm. Tours in English, Spanish, and French upon request. (0261) 499-0470, (0261) 524-1629, or (0261) 524-1630.
– Laur Olivícola: Includes olive oil museum. Videla Aranda 2850, Cruz de Piedra, Maipú. (0261) 499-0716.
– Familia Zuccardi: Ruta Provincial 33, Km 7.5, Maipú. (0261) 441-0000.
– Posada Verde Oliva: Montecaseros 2223, Coquimbito, Maipú. (0261) 481-3889.
– Yancanelo: Store open everyday 10am-8pm. Av. Hipólito Yrigoyen 4030, San Rafael. (0260) 442-3879, extension 209.
Chacras de Coria
Once upon a time, the village of ‘Coria Farms’ matched its name. In the past couple of decades, this sleepy corner of Mendoza has developed rapidly, rendering ‘Chacras’ both chic and quaint. For the rest of Mendoza, downtown Chacras is a gastronomic attraction, its outskirts are a nightlife destination, and the entire valley is a haven of slightly cooler temperatures during the summer. Yet this is still a town of sidewalk run-ins and neighbourly intimacy, albeit with more novelty shops and scarcer parking.
The best day to visit is Sunday, when children storm the plaza with skateboards and soccer balls and families chat over a quiet mate. Hunt for unique souvenirs amidst the jewellery, knitware, wooden carving, antique, and handmade children’s toy stalls, which ring the plaza for the weekly fair. In bright Spanish stucco, the church stands watch from across the street. With plenty of clothing boutiques, delicacy food shops, cafes, and gourmet restaurants, Chacras is a town for meandering on a lazy day, accompanied by your wallet, book, appetite, and travel buddy. Be aware that much of the town observes the siesta hour roughly between the hours of 1pm and 4pm.
From downtown Mendoza, take the 15 or 16 municipal bus line from stops on 25 de Mayo and Necochea or 25 de Mayo and San Lorenzo (the bus is green and marked by a large red “1”, bus line displayed in the window). Fare is $2.70 and must be paid with coins only. Bus ride takes about 40 minutes. Disembark three stops after turning from Besares onto Italia; best to ask the driver to let you know upon arrival in Chacras.
For more tips, recommendations, and events listings (both wine-related and not), check out the Wine Republic, an English-language publication based in Mendoza