If you’re a fan of red wine, chances are you’ve sampled or at least heard of the Argentinian reds. Argentina prides itself on its red wine, in particular malbec and syrah. (They also have a white wine called Torrontés, but I found it fairly unimpressive.) The lifeblood of wine country is the province of Mendoza whose capital bears the same name.
This is a very important distinction. While backpacking, you will likely hear other travelers refer to Mendoza in very general terms. They may tell you how much they loved Mendoza, how it is a must-see, how delicious all the wine is there. Be warned: the province of Mendoza is beautiful, the city of Mendoza is not. It feels very much like a pit stop on the way to somewhere better (which is really exactly what it is).
There’s a huge park at one end and a large square in the middle called Plaza Independencia. From there you can walk down Sarmiento street which, around lunch or dinnertime, is bustling with life – sidewalk cafés, live music, maybe even a dance performance. There are a couple other small squares scattered throughout the city and one main street called Aristides Villanueva where most of the bars are found. (Also, a fantastic burger place called Burgery. Worth making note of. Did you write it down? Okay, moving on.)
Annd that’s it. I mean, really. Unless I missed something, there is no interesting architecture, no museums and very little culture in the city of Mendoza. Pedestrians are scattered and exhaust fumes are everywhere. If you decide to go out, make sure you bring friends. Most people seem to grab small tables outside; you’ll be hard pressed to find a lively bar to sit at. The club scene is even more difficult. Due to noise complaints, all of the clubs were relocated about a half hour drive from the city centre. I’m sure it would be fine enough it you lived there and had a car, but as a backpacker the city is very limiting. As a backpacker on a budget, it’s almost depressing. Most hostels will offer day trips in the province to go rafting, hiking, biking, horseback riding or mountain climbing, but most are pretty pricey.
That being said, if all you’re interested in is wine, you can try it fairly cheaply. About a 40 minute bus ride from Mendoza is a tiny town called Maipú (yes, it’s pronounced my-poo. Get your giggles out now). If you’re imagining a romantic bike ride to vineyards and sipping wine on a terrace, Maipú is where you want to be. A local bus out there at the time of this blog costs less than $1 USD. You can rent a bike from Mr. Hugo for 1000 pesos (less than $10 USD) and keep it until 6pm. The price of wine at each bodega varies on the brand, how many glasses you want to sample, the age of the wine and whether or not you choose to do a tour of the vineyard.
I think wine tasting is best in small groups so you can get more variety and split the cost between you. The first day I was in Maipú I visited a couple wineries with an American girl I met who was finishing up a WorkAway program at a hostel. The next day, I woke up early, rented a bike and visited a number of wineries and olive oil plantations in the area. I am in no way a sommelier but I found the white wines and rosés to be fairly mild, while the reds were much more robust and flavourful. My personal favourite was the Harmonie malbec at the Carinae winery. Trapiche is huge, modern and delightfully air conditioned while the Gomez beer garden is cute and has a pool in the back that is open to patrons. Plus, don’t miss Entre Olivos. They have olive oil, jam, chocolate and delicious flavoured liqueurs.
My recommendation? Spend a night in Mendoza city so you can say you’ve been there. Have a burger, visit the Plaza, maybe go for a stroll through the park. If you’re traveling with friends, consider renting a car to see some of the surrounding landscape. Otherwise, get out of the city and spend a night in Maipú. That way, you can see as many wineries as you like and you don’t have to worry about catching a bus back if you’ve had a few too many (plus, who doesn’t want to see the sun set over a vineyard?) When you do decide to move on, the bus from Maipú drops you off right at the central station so you can easily catch another to whichever city you want to visit next. ¡Salud!