Santiago and Mendoza, Argentina are separated by about 120 miles and one huge mountain range. Instead of a 2 hour drive, it’s a 5-6 hour drive through the Andes mountains. You can go by plane in about 40 minutes. Mendoza had been on our list of places to visit and when Mendoza showed up LAN Airlines’ Last Minute specials for about $70, we decided to book a weekend. If you’re traveling in South America, make sure to look at the prices in Spanish, they were 50% cheaper than the ones in English. For more Mendoza tips and tricks, check out my friend Paige’s post on Tripeezy.
Mendoza is a laid back city of Malbec, beef & pasta, olive oil, ice cream and beautiful, wide streets, set at the foot of the Andes mountains. A little over 100k people live in Mendoza proper, but the city sprawls out to include about 850k people in the suburbs and surrounding area. Central Mendoza sort of reminded me of an Argentine Madison in terms of size and pace of life. The city is set out in a grid system emanating from the beautiful, green Plaza de Independencia in the middle. Main streets are wide boulevards with ample pedestrian walkways shaded by large trees. The streets are lined with cafes, restaurants and gelato parlours.
Mendoza is much cheaper than Santiago and clearly less developed. The houses and buildings look a bit older, but it’s still a very well developed city. Argentina has a large Italian influence, so that means pasta and gelato, along with a more sing-songy Spanish. They also pronounce words that have the “LL” as more of a “sh”, although less so than in Buenos Aires. They often say “vos” instead of “tú” and speak slower and more clearly than most Chileans. There also seems to be a higher penetration of English, but that could be because we were in a touristy part of the city and Mendoza is a touristy city.
Nightlife starts even later in Mendoza. We ate dinner at about 10pm and we were pretty much the only people in the restaurant. It filled up by about 1045. We went out to for some drinks about 12/1 and the clubs weren’t even open yet. They start to open at 2am and then close around 6/7am. Mendozans take a siesta, which means just about everything is close for an hour or two in the afternoon. Everything and I mean everything was closed on Sunday.
On Friday, we took the short flight over the Andes and checked into our hostel. It was about $15 per person per night and located close to the city center. We walked around for a few hours, ate some great gelato and then met some friends for lunch on one of Mendoza’s many wide boulevards. We walked to a nice park and then went back to the hostel for a bit of a rest. After awhile, we checked out The Vines of Mendoza, which was started by two guys fro Austin, TX. They had a great selection local wines and you could get a great class for about $2-3. They also had a great cheese and meat plate with some great blue cheese.
Next, we went out for dinner at an Italian restaurant named La Marchigiania that the taxi driver recommended. We shared an amazing caprese salad that included the best balsamic vinegar I’ve ever had. Next, we split two different types of steak and a spinach and pasta dish that were both top notch. Dessert was a chocolate fudge ball, covered in ice cream, then covered in hard chocolate. By about 1230, we had our fill and asked for the bill. For two appetizers, four main courses, three nice bottles of wine and a dessert, our bill came out to about $75 total, or about $19 each, including tip. Needless to say, we were impressed by the quality and price of Argentine food.
The next day, we got up early and went on a wine tour. The four of us booked a driver and three wineries and spent the day in the beautiful wine country at the foot of the Andes. Our first winery was Cavas de Don Arturo, a small family owned winery that only produces a small amount of wine by hand each year. We tried a few different wines and took at tour of the beautiful winery. Next we went to Septima, which is part of a large Spanish company. It was quite the contrast between a small, handmade winery and a large, commercial operation.
We ended our tour at Ruca Mallen, where we booked lunch. For $50, we had a six course tasting menu, with six wine pairings. The Ruca Mallen outdoor dining area is an amazing place to eat and the meal matched the setting. The highlights were the quinoa lemon & olive oil salad, pumpkin milanesa and the fig crusted steak. All of the food was great. The best wine of the day was a 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec blend that was paired with the steak. This $50 meal would have cost $175-200 in the US and the wine alone was probably $75-100 in the US, maybe more. The value for money was top notch.
That night, we slept off our meal and then checked out some of the nightlife. It was nice and relaxing and after the huge meal and wine, we ended up calling it a night fairly early by Mendoza standards. The next day, we woke up and took a minibus about 45 minutes outside of the city into a canyon with a river flowing through it. There was a public pool which reminded me of a smaller Wisconsin Dells and an upscale spa that was really expensive, so we just joined the other locals and walked down into the canyon and hung out by the river. We had lunch at a small asado restaurant and ate costillar (beef ribs) that had been grilled with real wood about thirty yards away. We spent the rest of the day lounging around and then took the minbus back to the hostel.
We decided to have one more top notch meal and ended up at 1884 for another top notch meal. I had another steak and we all shared appetizers and wine. The highlight was a goat cheese and apple salad with an interesting balsamic. The outdoor setting was beautiful, the food was great and the conversation was even better. While good, I thought the other two meals we had were better values. Although we can’t spend any Startup Chile money on our travels, the weekend was an expense I was willing to pay. We all needed a relaxing break away from Santiago and our businesses.