You can’t leave Argentina without a jaunt in the country’s wine region Mendoza, where the Malbec magic happens. Not only is it home to around 1,500 bodegas (wineries) producing some very fine Argentine vino but it’s also a beautiful part of the country, flanked by the snow-capped Andes Mountains and offering lots to see and do. Here’s our guide to a weekend in Mendoza.
By plane: The quickest way to get to Mendoza from Buenos Aires is by airplane. You can fly with Argentina’s low budget airline Flybondi for around USD 120 to 180 return (at the time of writing) from Buenos Aires’ domestic airport Aeroparque Jorge Newbery. You can also check out flights with Aerolineas Argentinas, LATAM and Andes airlines. The flight time is just under two hours.
By bus: Argentina’s long-distance buses are the most luxurious in South America - the seats actually recline and you get glass of espumante when you board to send you off to sleep - so a 16-hour bus journey to Mendoza, as awful as it may sound, is actually doable, and will save you a night’s accommodation. Just bring some earplugs in case they play movies on repeat all night. Buses depart from Retiro Bus Station in Buenos Aires and you can either purchase the bus ticket directly from the station or online (we’d recommend doing it in advance to get the best deals). It’s worth spending a few extra pesos for the cama seat (that reclines to almost horizontal) over a semi cama.
Where to stay
While the wine regions are just outside Mendoza, the city is a good base. There are plenty of low-budget hostels and hotels such as Break Independencia Hostel that has a great outdoor patio and offers free-flow wine every night in true Mendocino spirit. It’s also worth checking out the options on Airbnb.
Start the day off right with some coffee and facturas (sweet pastries) from the city’s favorite bakery BRÖD Panadería. You’ll need to line your stomach for a full day of drinking vino.
For us, the best way to explore Mendoza’s wine region is by bicycle. We normally wouldn’t condone drinking and cycling but it’s a really fun way to cover Mendoza’s wine region in a short space of time, plus you're canceling out the alcohol consumption with exercise (or so you can tell yourself). Just drink in moderation and wear a helmet. You can take a public bus out to the Luján de Cuyo area and rent bikes from there. There are various half day and full day winery tour packages to choose from, taking you to different regions and wineries (bus transfers are included for regions further afield). Check out Martin’s Bikes or Baccus Biking. If you'd rather ride solo, Baccus Biking also offers the option of self guided tours, providing you with bikes, helmets and a suggested route and map according to your vineyard preferences.
Wineries not to miss...
Photo credits: David, Flickr
Bodega Salentein, in the heart of the Uco Valley, is one of Mendoza’s most famous wineries. From the outside, it looks more like a grandiose museum than a winery. Various guided tours are available that include wine tastings at the end. If you like what you tasted and want another glass before you hit the road, you can stop at the winery’s bar on your way out and take some snaps of the beautiful views.
Bodega La Azul is a top spot for lunch and does a delicious Argentine-themed tasting menu with wine pairings, followed by a tour of the winery. The setting is equally agreeable, situated on a beautiful family-run farm dotted with fruit trees and surrounded by a sea of vines.
Photo credits: Jorge Gobby, Flickr
Bodega Ruca Malen does one of the best picadas in the region and you can’t get much better than a giant platter of cured meats and cheese to go with your wine. Here you can also do tours of the bodega and tastings.
Bodega Catena Zapata, situated in the Agrelo region, is another architectural masterpiece in the form of a pyramid inspired by the Mayans. Driving (or cycling) up the road through the vineyards towards the building is quite a spectacle. If you’re not going with an organized tour group, book your visit here in advance.
After a fun-filled day of wining in the sunshine, head back to Mendoza and take a leisurely stroll through the pretty Parque General San Martin. And, if you have the energy, head up to the Cerro de la Gloria for a picture perfect sunset over the city.
Alternatively, if you want to top up the day's wine buzz take advantage of the free-flow wine in your hostel then hit up some of the city’s bars in the evening. There is a cluster of places to check out around Avenida Arístides Villanueva, including Hangar 52 that's always pumping with a DJ, great bar food and an impressive selection of craft beers.
Cacheuta Hot Springs
After a day of gorging yourself silly on wine, cheese and meat, a visit to the Termas Cachueta hot springs is a great way to work off the hangover. Around 90 minutes from Mendoza city, these natural hot springs are situated up in the mountains and boast amazing views. Pay the 230 ARG$ entry fee (200 ARG$ during the week) and spend the day floating around in the outdoor pools of varying temperatures, ranging from 28°C to 43°C for the hot pools and 18°C for the cool pools. There’s also an onsite craft beer bar and restaurant to keep you fed and well oiled. They have their own fleet of buses that pick guests up from various points in Mendoza or you can make your own way there via one of the local buses (ask in your hostel for help).
White water rafting
If you're looking for more adventure, Mendoza is also a prime location for extreme sports such as white water rafting. There are various tour operators offering thrilling rafting tours down the rapids of the Mendoza River. Check out Argentina Rafting.
Return to Mendoza for one final glass of vino before you board the bus or plane back to Buenos Aires, laden down with bottles of your new favorite wine.
Got any other recommendations for things to see and do in Mendoza? Share them with our readers in the comments section below.