Mendoza is in some ways more strongly connected to Chile than it is to Argentina. This is the first main city you encounter in Argentina after you have been across the border crossing high up in the Andes mountains. This well beaten track between Mendoza in Argentina and Santiago in Chile is a very common trip made every 90 days by many foreigners staying in Chile without the appropriate visa (either for work or study).
The city itself is nice and a nice change from the hectic madness of Santiago. The streets are all generally lined with trees giving it a sweet comfortable feeling as you walk around, but you should be careful to look down every now and again and watch your step. There is an extensive irrigation system throughout the town, or rather a series of small ditches and broken pavement everywhere you walk.
What To Do in Mendoza
The city itself is lacking in any real entertainment. Most travelers go there to shop, although as Argentina's economy continues to build itself back up it is becoming less likely that you will find too many great deals while there. Another common tourist pastime while in Mendoza is to pig out at a "Tenedor Libre" (literally meaning Free Fork, which is an all-you-can-eat restaurant). If you do plan on going to one such restaurant we recommend that you eat as much meat as possible since it is truly superb in Argentina (though save room for three helpings of dessert and skip the bread). While indulging ourselves in one of the restaurants, the crowd was rather excited and for some reason a group starting chanting "Chi-chi-chi-le-le-le" and this whole time I thought Mendoza was in Argentina.
The Artesian Market: It is worth a small bit of time to look around and see what different items are made here. There are a few different stalls with some incredible knives that come with their own handmade leather cases. The stalls open generally during the early afternoon or late morning and stay open at night.
Most tourists however spend more time buying cheap books, shoes, and chocolate. All of which can be found in abundance throughout the city. You'll need half a day of window-shopping before you can even begin the process of trying anything on. It seems like no matter when you go, the shops in Mendoza are always full of people!
Avda. San Martin is the most important road in the city, but just off it, connecting the road to Plaza Independencia, is a pedestrian walkway called Sarmiento. It is filled with cafes and is always full of people. Sometimes there are small concerts in the afternoon and you can always count on an artist or two to be selling his work on the street.
There are four small plazas located around the grand Plaza Independencia. Plaza San Martin boasts a statue of an Argentinean hero. Plaza España is, in my opinion, the most beautiful of the four with its blue and yellow tiles decorating the entire area. However, I'm sorry to say, that Plaza Chile is nothing to look at what so ever.
San Martin Park: This is the most beautiful place in the city, and it is well worth going there to enjoy the beautiful gardens and lake. Most of the city's inhabitants can be found here on the weekends playing golf, tennis, football, and other sports. Horseback riding and yoga classes also take place throughout the park. There is one part that is a Japanese garden and is really beautiful. While there, you might want to climb Cerro de la Gloria, or Glory Hill which is adorned with statues, including an important monument to liberty. Also from the top you have a good view of the city to one side and the mountains to the other end. The zoo is also located here.
The Zoo: Going to the zoo in Mendoza is an incredibly depressing experience. Standards for animal care must not be regulated as they are in other countries. People are free to feed the animals whatever they would like; so most monkeys survive off a diet of pure popcorn that is continually thrown at them. The cages are also appallingly small, especially for some of the panthers, tigers and other big cats. No one else seemed to be concerned however, so I imagine this isn't too uncommon of a situation.
What To Do Around Mendoza
The best reason to go to Mendoza however isn't for the cheap shopping and all you can eat food, but for the adventure tourism and vineyards that lie around the city.
Young tourists favor mountain biking, white water rafting, kayaking, hydrospeed, paragliding and other big thrill excursions.
The region is responsible for about 70% of the grape production of wine in all of Argentina, so there is an extensive number of vineyards that are easily accessible to visit.
Viña Achaval Ferrer: This vineyard can easily be visited from the city of Mendoza. It is very close to the city and its vines lay just along the banks of the Mendoza River. They are a young vineyards, with a small production of wine, making a visit to the bodega a homey sort of treat.
When To Go
The biggest festival of the year is the Vendemia festival, when the entire region participates in a variety of activities in honor of the wonderful drink called wine. This festival is held over the last week in February and the celebration officially dates back to 1935. It is mostly a folklore event with traditional music, men dressed up as gauchos and parades. Ladies might want to join the contest to become the queen of the Vendemia. It is also a religious festival including a blessing of the wine and giving thanks to the Virgen de la Carrodilla for her protection of the harvest.
Another great time to be in Mendoza is for Holy Week before Easter. The city hosts a festival with several different types of concerts and performances throughout the area all throughout the week. Some of the performances are incredibly impressive and done up nicely with picnics at some of the nearby vineyards with a small orchestra playing alongside the vines.
Autumn in general is a good time to visit when the vineyards are beginning the harvest.
Winter is a lot more difficult, especially if you are crossing from Chile. The road is often closed due to snowfall in the Andes mountains.
Where To Stay
Hostel Lao: The owners are incredibly friendly and make sure that everyone who stays here feels at home. They offer free wine and a barbecue weekly. There are many common areas with comfy sofas to relax and watch a move or outside you can take a nap in a hammock. There is even a small pool you can use in the summer. The rooms are all different; depending on how much you want to pay and how many people you are with. You might want to book early as they fill up fast. (Rioja 771)
Casa Pueblo: There is nothing sweeter than this hostel, which is family run. The family all speak different levels of broken English and are very welcoming. The mother offers cooking classes on how to make traditional Argentinean dishes... a real treat you won't find anywhere else! They are located near the bus terminal at Pelegrinini 377 Guyamallen Phone: 432-4976
Lagares Hostel: They are really great at providing information for you about the area and setting you up with different adventure tours. They offer free breakfast and WiFi internet. The bedrooms are always clean but lack that general cozy feeling. It is a little out of the way, but Mendoza is so small that it isn't a real problem. (Corrientes 213)
Campo Base: If you're looking for a party hostel in Mendoza that is also great at coordinating adventures outside of the city (they even have some of their own tours) then this is the place for you. It is a common meeting place for hikers and mountain climbers. It's hard to miss this bright yellow building located at Av. Mitre 946. Phone: 0261-429 0707
Carahue Hostel: This cute little place offers basic rooms with bunk beds and brightly colored warm comforters. There is a pool table, tiny swimming pool, and table tennis to keep you entertained if you aren't in the mood for DVD watching in the lounge. Breakfast is included. (José Federico Moreno 1442 phone: 54 261 425 4772)
Where To Eat
It shouldn't be difficult to find a good restaurant in Mendoza. Everywhere you go there are great Italian options and large portions.
The pedestrian street Sarmiento is always a good place to grab a bite to eat, and Av. Las Heras is also generally full of different eateries.
If you're really tight on money you can always wander over to the Mercado Central. There are several small stalls there selling your basic empanadas, hotdogs and the like. It is on the corner of Patricias Mendocinas and Av. Las Heras.
Ironically just across the street from there is one of the nicest restaurants in Mendoza, La Marchigiana. They serve beautiful and delicious Italian dishes. (Patricias Mendocinas 1550)
Onda Libre: Of all the "all you can eat" restaurants we tried this was probably the best. The endless steak is really great and you can choose from any of the cuts you'd like. The place is huge as are the options. (Av. Las Heras 446)
Naturata: The vegetarian version of the Tendor Libre, it is only open for lunch. It is located on Plaza Peligrini, not a bad place to stop off if you are on your way to the bus stop and need a healthy fill up before the long journey on.
Where To Drink
Abbey Road: This fantastic bar is decked out just enough in the theme to bring back fond memories of great songs from the past without overdoing it and making you cringe. They have their own style, naming mixed drinks and coffees after famous musicians or Beatles' songs. They also offer beer from local micro breweries as well as a good international selection. If you are hungry try for either your own personal pizza or fondue to share. Closed on Mondays. (Darragueira 558)
Pop Bar: Located right next to the train tracks on Av. Colon this trendy place is filled with pop art and a fun crowd. Frequented by tourists and locals alike chances are you'll find someone to talk to.
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