Mendoza is the most famous wine growing region in Argentina and probably all of South America, with Malbec its shining star. There are several vineyard studded regions around Mendoza city including Luján de Cuyo and Valle de Uco in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, these require a car or a tour to visit. The small dusty village of Maipu is an easy 15km by public bus from Mendoza. In Maipu, bike hire has become a thriving enterprise, whereby budget travellers can take a self-tour of the surrounding Bodegas (wineries).
Wine tours can be expensive, ranging from $30USD for a half day tour of Maipu to over $200USD for the upmarket Bodegas in the Valle de Uco. Most Maipu Bodegas charge a tasting/tour fee ranging between AR$70 – AR$100. Bike hire costs between AR$80 – AR$130 per day. I would recommend a half-day tour of Maipu if you’re on a budget but not keen on cycling. You’ll visit three wineries and once you add tasting fees, the price is quite similar to the DIY option.
Still there’s nothing like the wind in your hair as you cycle easy flat roads, alongside endless vineyards, a shady copse of trees lining the roadside in places and the stunning backdrop of the snow-covered Andes on the horizon. I must stress responsible alcohol consumption. Given I managed to fall off my bike while stationary after only 1 and half standard drinks speaks for how an already clumsy individual plus alcohol is a potentially lethal combination! We hired our wheels from Maipubikes, in exchange for AR$100 we had all day bike hire, plus free wine and empanadas to enjoy at the end of the day once our bikes were safely parked. After this we needed only stagger to the bus stop directly out the front.
The only criticism I have of Maipu Bikes is that their map is terrible! It has south pointing upwards and all the streets are marked differently to google maps so we went the wrong way right at the beginning (I feel like this is a reoccurring theme!). Quite by accident we stopped in at Bodega Domiciano, The tasting tour is AR$100. We opted to purchase a bottle of chardonnay for AR$130 to share between four of us, relaxing in the shade of olive trees. It was still a little early in the day to start sampling Maipu’s famous reds and is sharing a bottle is much cheaper than a tour. Then it was a long ride to Carinae, the place we planned to visit first before our accidental detour. It was a good way to burn off the chardonnay before delving into a tour and tasting (AR$70 each). The tastings are quite generous (50ml) for each glass. Carinae produces only reds. Their Malbec was delicious and their Cabinet Sauvignon surprisingly soft and fruity. We had a personal in-depth tour with the owner Felipe and spent about and hour and a half here.
We then rode back in the direction of Maipu, stopping at Familia Di Tommaso, a very old and beautiful family winery. Their tour was brimming with people. We were famished so we decided to sit back at one of the outdoor tables in the garden and try some empanada’s with a bottle of lovely Cabernet Sauvignon. This set us back AR$250 for the four of us.
Mendoza itself is a lovely city just to spend time in with it’s leafy streets and beautiful parks. Parque General San Martin stretches many kilometres and you can easily spend a day wandering or cycling it’s many paths. I’d advise renting a bike in town and then cycling to the park. No one we asked could offer information about bike hire in the park. The alternative was to wander around the lake and relax in the sun with cheap, delicious and huge servings of ice cream. There are plenty of vendors in the park serving food and you can easily lose a day here!
Mendoza also has a very lively bar and restaurant scene. Avenue Aristides is the main strip where you’ll find most of the decent places to eat and drink. If you like a good craft beer, Jerome Brewpub serves its in-house locally brewed beer.
In addition to the bodegas, there are plenty of day trips to the nearby Andes mountains. Activities range from horse-riding to hiking in the hills and kayaking, or spending a night in the tiny village of Punta del Inca to visit the ancient natural bridge. It is also a base for a day hike to view the mighty Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America. It’s possible to stop in Punta del Inca on the way to or from Santiago by bus or take a tour from Mendoza.
Mendoza to Santiago
If like us, you don’t have time to stop in Punta del Inca, you can still see similar scenery on the main route to Santiago, as it takes the same road. Much of visiting this area is for the stunning views of the mountains and this journey as been the most breathtaking on our trip so far .You can catch a glimpse of the bridge on your left at the western edge of Punta Del Inca as you pass through (be quick though, blink and you’ll miss it!). We continued winding up the mountains to the Los Libertadores frontier. Not even a 4 hour wait at the border or the bus breaking down in Los Andes could dull our experience. It was freezing, it even started snowing (in November). We departed Mendoza at 8am and finally arrived in Santiago at 9pm (actual driving time is about 5 hours).