My current business trip to Santiago is for 2 weeks so I had a weekend in between to either: walk around Santiago and re-discover parts of it, opt to go and visit southern Chile (Puerto Montt or Pucón, for example; both of which I had visited in 1991), or go to nearby Mendoza, Argentina (capital of Argentine wine country). Because it is peak season in the south (high airfares, no rental cars available, and only 2 days) and due to a colleague strongly recommending Mendoza, I chose the quick trip over the mountains to Mendoza, Argentina, a place I have been wanting to visit because of its wines.
Mendoza, as the eagle flies, is pretty darn close to Santiago. However, the magnificent Andes sit in between. So the drive takes 6-7 hours over spectacular landscape from what I hear. However, I also hear customs on either side of the border can be quite bad so for a 2-day weekend visit, I had to fly. Luckily, LAN had an $82 fare (taxes included) and a 30-40 min flight time so it all became a no-brainer for me. My colleague suggested a moderately priced hotel ($60/night) in a great location so that eliminated guesswork and research time which I didn’t have. She also got me some recommendations for restaurants which was great. Flying over the Andes brings with it incredible winds and both flights gave me a run for my money in terms of scary moments!
Exploring the town of Mendoza proper
I arrived in Mendoza around 5 PM and had no problem getting a taxi at the airport at the rate I had been told ($23A or $8US). The Hotel Internacional where I stayed was OK. The room was not as nice as the pics on the website but the hotel was quite decent for the price. For the $60/night, it included a good breakfast and wi-fi. The location was great, surrounded by good eateries and close to the center of town.
I walked the town Friday after I arrived and on Sunday morning. The contrast couldn’t have been any bigger: the pedestrian part of Sarmiento (the main street) was a beehive of activity Friday but almost deserted Sunday morning. It sports cafes and shops and you can see the locals coming out from their homes to enjoy fresh air – and likely “cooler” temperatures than their own homes.
Mendoza is very, very hot this time of the year (90s – but dry) and I doubt everyone has AC at home. So it is nicer to sit in a plaza and enjoy some breezes under the shade of the many trees that line the streets of Mendoza (an odd thing considering it rarely ever rains here and that it is very arid land; the answer is that snow melt is captured and then released to the city and farms via an ingenious curbside open flow system).
Sunday morning, I got to walk almost in total solitude around town, covering all major squares and parks in the center. Mendoza struck me as a town that would be probably a great place to live as it is pleasant, clean, and not chaotic as Buenos Aires. At the same time, the time I spent walking around was probably all that a tourist needs to do in the town itself while visiting (surely, I am omitting some museums or theaters) outside of just chilling (in which case a tourist can do a LOT of that perhaps while enjoying wine, beer or ice cream at a café…).
Now, while the city is not a grand collection of sites for tourist interest, there are 2 things that make it quite a good choice destination to see: 1. the food. 2. wine country. Food, I will share here. Wine
I ate at Mi Tierra on Friday night where I enjoyed empanadas to start and deer raviolis for dinner. The food was definitely good but I wouldn’t call it spectacular. The ambience of the restaurant is outstanding. (Watch out: the menu offer is only valid if you pay cash!)
Saturday night, I ate at La Florencia on the corner of Sarmiento and Peru, a few steps away from my hotel. This is not the same type of fancy restaurant than Mi Tierra (or a couple of the other restaurants recommended by my colleague, like Azafrán). It feels very local (in fact, most of the customers seemed either local or, at least, Argentinian) and was highly recommended by my wine tour guide. She was right! I was wanting just a normal Argentine piece of steak and fries and this place was PERFECT! The menu was quite broad and everything I saw served looked fantastic. We sat there for 3 hours and we felt we were at home. THAT’S the experience I was wanting and I got it!
I definitely think I chose wisely how to spend a weekend. While another day would have allowed me to go to the base of Aconcagua (I really wanted to do that), I cannot complain because I did get to sample great food and a taste of life in this western town!