If you’re looking for a weekend away that promises both relaxation and exuberance, head to Mendoza. To get there, most brave a lengthy, yet manageable if done overnight, 14-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires. Mendoza is situated near the border of Argentina and Chile, and is just a few hours from Santiago. With a population of just over 112,000, this city on the edge of the Andes has a lot to offer. Whether you’re up for an adventure in the mountains, or are looking for a weekend of wine sipping and lounging in the park, Mendoza will not disappoint.
The city is situated around five main plazas with the largest, Plaza Independencia, at the center. Of the four smaller surrounding plazas, the most impressive is Plaza España, known for it’s beautiful hand-painted Spanish tiles. Worth a visit, Paseo Sarmiento is a lively pedestrian street, filled with sidewalk cafés, heladerías, and shops—a perfect spot for lunch and people watching.
But we all know the real reason you’re in Mendoza: el vino (the wine). Mendoza is best known as the biggest wine-producing region of Argentina, and the home of the world’s finest Malbecs. Thanks to ideal weather conditions for grape growing, the area produces exceptional red and white wines year after year. There are several companies that offer a variety of winery, or bodega tours, ranging from an all-day drinking event, to a three-hour modest excursion. For AR$50, Mancagua Viajes offers an afternoon tour of excellent value, which includes tastings at two wineries and a visit to an olive-oil factory. You can also hop on a bike or public transportation and be your own tour guide.
Many of the boutique, family-owned wineries sell their wine exclusively at their own vineyards. These are the best places to buy wines if you’re looking to bring some back home, since you won’t find these labels in stores.
If you fancy yourself the outdoorsy type (or even just moderately interested in nature), there’s plenty to keep you going in Mendoza. First-rate white-water rafting, paragliding, biking, horseback riding, and hiking are readily available in Mendoza. Take note: most businesses shut down on Sundays, including many tours operators and other activities. The city also almost universally takes advantage of siesta, with most businesses closing between the hours of 13:00 and 17:00 daily. Though this limits your options of city activities, it makes for a perfect window of time to get outside the city and explore the many opportunities the nearby Andes offer.
Got an extra day to kill? Check out the thermal baths just outside the city, nestled among the mountains. Though on crowded weekends they end up being more like a water park (there’s even a wave pool), the location is nothing short of stunning, with picturesque views in all directions.
Nightlife in Mendoza centers around one main street: Aristides Villanueva. There, bars, clubs, and patio restaurants stretch for several blocks, offering visitors an array of spots to taste the local wines, or down a few bottles of Quilmes with friends.
There are a handful of hostels scattered throughout the city—some quite humdrum, and others late-night party spots. If you’re in the market for a happy medium, Hostel Lao is the best bang for your buck. With reasonable prices, comfy beds, amazing staff, good music, and a funky backyard with hammocks and a pool, you can’t go wrong. They even offer free wine and host weekly backyard asados. I should mention that the owners have two great dogs that like to hang with travelers in the common areas, but are harmless and pretty much always cool as a cucumber.
A recommendation: if your travel plans are flexible, head to Mendoza between February and April. During summer the river is higher (eg. better for rafting), and you can also catch the wineries harvesting their grapes. Though the bodegas offer tours year-round, visiting during the harvest promises picturesque grape-covered vines and the spectacle of wine making, including grape crushing.