Kimberly Collins | Dec 21, 2020
Lush vineyards ambling through the countryside, tucked in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. World-famous Malbec. Abundant natural landscapes, impeccable dining, even better wine-ing. Beauty. Bounty. Bliss.
But alas, such luxury comes at a steep price, right?
Not so fast. Of course, you can tour Mendoza lavishly. Swanky hotels, renowned restaurants, taxis to and fro, a slew of private tours. But happily, you can also tour Mendoza — and tour well — without breaking the bank.
I recently traveled there with a friend, and here’s how it racked up:
Not too shabby, right? Here’s the scoop.
First, the necessities:
Now for the adventuring: We arrived in Mendoza following some hectic travel spurts in other places, and thus spent our first day with three primary objectives: 1) mosey the city of Mendoza itself, with its lovely plazas, broad streets, and massive municipal park; 2) drink wine; and 3) figure out what else we were going to do.
Because here’s the thing: Mendoza has a lot to offer. In addition to the wineries, you can soak in natural hot springs, ride horses, hike mountains, whitewater raft, go zip lining — all within a day trip of the city. If we had more time (weeks are recommended) and wealth (dreams), we surely would have gone for the gold and explored the lot. But given our budgets and our limited time, we narrowed it down to two pursuits: hike in the Andes and bike through vineyards.
Hike in the Andes
I don’t know about you, but mountains make us weak at the knees. My friend had been city slicking long hours in a strenuous job, and I had been living in phenomenally flat Uruguay, whose highest peak boasts just 1,685 feet — for reference, picture a grassy knoll. So to the Andes it was! Aconcagua, to be exact, the highest peak outside of Asia, soaring at 22,838 feet. Since reaching the summit takes almost two weeks and a wee bit more expertise than either of us had, we opted to day trek up to the base camp of Confluencia, nestled at a much more manageable 11,000 feet.
To get there, we looked into a couple of tour companies, but they ranged upwards of $100 for the day. So instead, we decided to just go ourselves. We bought round trip tickets on the public bus for $10. We packed some sandwiches for lunch and snacks and water for the way. We carried our passports and $20 for the national park entrance ticket. And at 6am the next morning we were off! Since it’s a several hour drive each way (almost to the Chilean border), we chose an early bus to ensure we’d have enough time to reach the base camp. The bus dropped us off right at the park entrance, we filled out our entry form at the ranger station, and then hiked away.
Word to the wise: Aconcagua is a tall mountain. Even though it may be sweltering in Mendoza, Aconcagua is cold and windy. We wore fleece jackets and quality windbreakers and were oh so thankful to have them.
As for the hike itself — staggering. There were daisy dotted slopes in all hues of green, hugging a tumbling river, all slanting up to the snow-capped peak itself. Unlike many hikes, this one lends you a generous view of the summit throughout. Overall it was about five hours roundtrip, gorgeous, cleansing, and happily savored.
Bike through vineyards
After our swoony and spent day in the mountains, we went for a soothing treat-ourselves day of biking and wine-ing. Of Mendoza’s several wine regions, we chose Chacras de Coria, near Luján de Cuyo. To maximize the day, it’s best to start early, around 10am. From the city, public bus grupo 1 número 16 will take you directly to the Chacras de Coria (about 30 minutes).
Once there, we rented from Baccus Biking — about $10 for the day. With the bikes, they gave us a detailed map and a thorough explanation of the various wineries, schedules, and prices to help us plan our route. Since vineyards are so spacious, they are mostly all outside of town — and therefore hard to reach. By renting bikes, you can pick which places to visit and get there easily. Some offer free tours and tastings, others charge a few dollars, but all the wines are exquisite. The wineries are used to frequent visitors and let you stash your bike while you stop for tours, wine tastings (and possibly lunch), and splendid views. Best of all? You are free to move at your own pace or linger as long as you like.
And with mountain-sore legs, a happy bank account, and generous glass of Malbec in hand, it’s awful hard not to lay back, relax, and enjoy the view.
Raised in Indianapolis, Kimberly now writes and travels from Montevideo, Uruguay. After studying global politics, she worked for a small tech company until a 2016 Fulbright grant plopped her in Uruguay. She’s since finished the grant but opted to stay abroad, continuing to advance her Spanish, bop around South America, and soak up all the learning and dancing she can.Read more of Kimberly’s blogs