After last week’s post on our not-so-pleasant trip crossing the border from Chile to Argentina and our debacle trying to find our Airbnb after dark, we wanted to take this week to shed some light on why that was all TOTALLY worth it. Mendoza is a beautiful little city and one that we didn’t expect to have any time in at all. We went from planning a quick two-day trip with some friends in Santiago, to extending our stay (even opting to cut out a tiny bit of Buenos Aires) for some relaxation in the wine country.
Day One: Mendoza & Superbowl Sunday
Our first full day happened to fall on a Sunday and the small city seemed to wake up just as slowly as we did. We wandered to the center of town and instantly fell in love with the place. It had a homey feeling and compared to Santiago, it seemed much more manageable, clean and friendly. The main square was lined with restaurants that bordered a pretty park with a fountain situated in the center.
After grabbing a bite to eat, we went to try our luck with exchanging money. We walked down San Martin street, where gentlemen would shadily pace around, look up at you and mutter cambio, cambio in a hushed voice slightly above a whisper. Although we were assured by other travelers that “everyone does it” and this kind of sketchy exchange was not only common but recommended to save some money, we still opted to go with the best groomed guy we could find. We followed him inside what looked to be a mall that was currently not open and then further into a pawnshop with bars that he promptly slid up to do business with us. We did our best to keep our cool and as we were digging into our pockets to get the favorable exchange rate, our Aussie pals that we met in Santiago walked in right behind us. Phew!
We grabbed our Argentinian Pesos at a rate of 11.5 (compared to the official rate of 8.6) and headed out to explore the city for the rest of the day. Not realizing that most of the city shuts down on Sundays, we opted to just wander around the streets, Plaza Independencia, and small parks nearby with our friends. It was such a great day to walk around and a much needed slow-paced day after our tiring adventure the day before.
That day also happened to be Superbowl Sunday, and considering most of the places shut down on Sunday, let alone weren’t huge football fans, we could only find one bar that was airing the American championship. Naturally, it was an Irish bar by the name of Believe Irish Pub. It was here that our Australian friends introduced us to an awesome couple traveling from Illinois. We were excited to meet a pair of American’s, and we instantly hit it off.
Day 2: Bike & Wine Tour in Maipú
On day 2, we decided to attempt the self-guided wine and bike tour with our friends (great & easy way to save a lot of money!). The plan did not disappoint. In order to get to the vineyards, we hopped on a local bus outside of our Airbnb, not realizing that you couldn’t use coins or cash but needed to have it all preloaded onto a transit card. Fortunately for us, a couple of locals used their bus cards to pay for our ride in exchange for our Peso’s and Spanglish words of gratitude. These samaritans saved us a lot of trouble and reminded us that there are good, kind people everywhere.
We arrived in Maipú and rented bikes from Mr. Hugo’s. While there were a few companies offering a slightly lower price, his outstanding reviews on TripAdvisor ultimately led us to using his bikes. It was not a disappointment! The shop is right next to the bus stop, and Mr. Hugo himself came out to greet us and show us the wineries and route on the maps he gave us. The day consisted of us pedaling around winery to winery and stopping for a few empanadas along the way. Each winery gave us a tour and some incredible wine tastings. Since this is the capital of the wine world, it was interesting to learn the history behind it all. Most of it has to do with climate but each farmer has their own best kept secret as well. Jordan and I love a good red wine, so we we couldn’t complain that this area is known for its Malbec varieties.
There were a few other places you can visit as well, like olive oil tastings, cheese pairings and a beer garden. Our group was on a mission to pack in as many stops as possible, while still enjoying the scenery and biking (be forewarned – it’s a decent trek on the bike all day!) so by the time we got back we were completely exhausted. If you want to see a couple of wineries, be prepared to bike at least 5 miles in total. We didn’t get back to Mr. Hugo’s until he was closing, and he greeted us with a few homemade bottles of wine. We sipped some refreshing lemonade and then realized we didn’t know how to flag down a bus. The Hugo man himself not only waved one down but also helped us to pay for our journey back because our bus cards had not been replenished. This was one of our favorite days – biking through vineyards with friends on a beautiful day in Mendoza is a hard day to beat.
Originally, we had planned to leave Mendoza the following night. There’s a TON you can do in the area, like horseback riding, adventure tours, and luxury wine tours, but for a budget travel those options are all pretty pricey. We only booked our Airbnb until Tuesday, so we had to make a spur of the minute decision as we packed up our bags. Our Argentinian friends that we hiked the Inca Trail with had told us that our week in Buenos Aires was too much time, and we were really loving the relaxing atmosphere of Mendoza, so we opted to use the last of Jordan’s Starwood points on the Sheraton Mendoza and bum in the city for a little longer. (side note: we could not rave about this hotel enough! The staff was incredible and we were upgraded to a gorgeous suite looking at the Andes. The pool deck was a much needed respite from the sometimes overwhelming heat, and the location is unbeatable.) We were ready to be in one spot for a few days and not do much other than read, plan out the rest of our trip and catch up with friends & family. However, we do have a few recommendations on the best spots in town that you can’t miss out on!
1. Anna Bistro // My mouth is watering at the thought of the lambchops drenched in malbec sauce and the duck & goat cheese starter. Seriously, this place deserves a visit. On top of the quality of the food the price is impossible to beat. We had dinner with Julie and Luke, our friends from Illinois who would be traveling onto Buenos Aires with us, and we had four incredible entrees, two appetizers and two bottles of wine for $100 USD…total.
2. Bike and wine tour at Mr. Hugo’s // As we mentioned above, this was one of our favorite days. There are plenty of backpackers in the city who are looking to experience the wine country on a budget. If you take a bus into the city or stay at one of the hostels, you’ll be sure to meet people to join you for this adventure. Definitely not to be missed!
3. General San Martin Park // This nearly 100 acre park is vast, beautiful and is full of activities. You can bike, swim, practice your tennis skills or simply find a bench like we did and journal. There is a beautiful rose garden and a lake that both provide surreal serenity. There’s a big zoo here as well, but we didn’t have enough time to check it out. We actually almost didn’t make the trek to the park, but wow are we glad we did. We wound up walking around for hours, letting ourselves get lost in the park. If you have the chance, pack a picnic and make an afternoon out of it!
4. Vines of Mendoza: Tasting Room // If you’re looking to do a little wine tasting without leaving the city, this place is for you. Located in the heart of Mendoza, it’s easy to walk to and sample some wine flights before taking on the town. They also offer a happy hour on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 4-6! Just make sure to email ahead for a reservation.
5. Have Argentinian BBQ/Steak // If this is your only stop in Argentina, make sure you try some of their famous barbecue and steak options. It’s some of the best meat you will ever taste. Anna’s Bistro (above) has some delicious options!