Mendoza, Argentina: 5 Reasons to Go

Argentina, Cultural Travel, Food & Wine — By on April 8, 2011 at 9:00 am

By Taylor Dolven
LG Travel Correspondent

Located on the other side of Argentina across from Buenos Aires, Mendoza is  the capital of the Mendoza Province and home to about 112,000 people. In March, LG Travel Correspondent Taylor Dolven, a junior at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and currently studying abroad in Buenos Aires, had the chance to not only sample some of the wines that Mendoza is famous for, but also realized there’s so much more to the city as well!

1. The Wine

To drink red wine or white, that is the question. Visitors and locals alike look forward every year to the first weekend in March for Vendimia, a celebration of Mendoza’s grape harvest. While travelers often use Mendoza’s northwest location as a pathway to Chile, those who know better stop to taste the wine. The Malbec grape is most notable.  It was first grown in France, but Mendoza’s location next to the Andes Mountains and perfect combination of seasons has made for a profitable harvest and tasty wine!  Malbec is a vino tinto (red wine) and is known for its fruit-like taste.

Mendoza Vendimia FestivalThe major event for Vendimia is on Saturday night in the Parque de San Martín. Those lucky enough to have a ticket can enjoy the ceremony in the amphitheater.  However, it is just as enjoyable to view the spectacle from the surrounding hillsides next to the locals. On any other evening, it is unsafe to walk through this enormous park after dusk.  However, on this holiday, there is a sea of hundreds of Argentine families walking with fold-up chairs, picnic dinners and plastic cups of vino.  The sight is very similar to any American park on the 4th of July.  Also, there is no need to splurge on an expensive asado dinner outside the park.  There are plenty of vendors selling grilled sandwiches and empanadas on the hilltops.

The entire ceremony lasts several hours.  Each region in Mendoza province selects a princess to compete for the title of La Reina de Vendimia (the harvest queen). The majority of the ceremony centers around the judging and voting process and the winner makes front page news on Sunday morning!

2. The Culture

Aside from Vendimia, Mendoza has a lot to offer.  The city is a much smaller and calmer version of Buenos Aires, outfitted with an easily manageable bus system and the locals are very approachable. The laid back nature of the city makes it a perfect get away from the hustle and bustle of BA.  Famous Argentine author Carols Fuentes once said, “The streets of Mendoza are protected by a roof of leaves woven together like the fingers of a huge circle of inseparable lovers.”  Most every street is covered by a beautiful canopy of green, which makes both sides of the street cool with shade on even the hottest of days.

Like Buenos Aires, Mendoza is a melting pot of ethnic culture. The city’s plazas create a perfect showcase of the food, dancing, music and craft of each ethnic group.  Plaza Independencia is home to a giant crafts fair on weekends. Vendors from all over the world sell handmade goods and food of their homeland.

3. The Cycling

Vineyard in Mendoza

A visit to Mendoza is not complete without a visit to the vineyards.  Bike rentals in Maipú are the best way to go.  Maipú bikes, Mr. Hugo and Bikes and Wines are just a few companies that offer bike rentals and maps of the local vineyards.  The most important stop you can make in Maipú is to the Museo del Vino.  Here, you can tour the vineyard, taste the local wines and even buy your own.  Make sure to ask about the guided tours of the facility, but beware, they are in Spanish!

If you are looking to splurge on a beautiful bodega lunch, head to Almacen del Sur on Zanichelli.  Don’t let the dirt road fool you, this place is well worth the bumpy ride. Almacen del Sur is a bodega is off the beaten path and has a certain secret garden feeling to it.  Eat lunch on the patio for a flat, yet expensive, rate that includes a main course, wine and dessert.

4. The Food

Most of the main restaurants (and heladerias – ice cream shops) are located on Avenida Villanueva.  The best meal for the best price is definitely La Carmela.  Everything from traditional Argentine carne to Italian pizza is delicious and reasonably priced (no more than 50 pesos or about $12USD/meal). Beware, the people of Mendoza take their siesta very seriously, and you will likely find restaurants and stores deserted during the afternoons.

5. The Football

One of the best ways to enjoy Mendoza’s laid-back atmosphere is to go with the flow.  While sitting at an outdoor café during my stay, I spotted buses driving by packed full of cheering fútbol fans in matching jerseys.  I asked my waitress what all the fuss was about, and she told me that the Mendoza Godoy Cruz fútbol team had a match in the Parque de San Martín stadium.  Two friends and I decided to take a detour from our original plans that day, leave our valuables at home and head to the park!

It was one of the best decisions we made the entire trip.  Since we didn’t know if we were ready for the entire experience (and the entrance fee), we waited with some locals outside the stadium gates to be let in for free in the second half. I will always regret not being brave enough to pull out my camera and document the crazy moment!  But I will always remember Mendoza for two reasons: my first South American fútbol experience, and the first time I truly appreciated red wine.

How to get there:

Getting to Mendoza from Buenos Aires is easiest by bus (OmniBus).  The Buenos Aires station is located in Retiro. Don’t be intimidated by the loud crowds and street vendors outside.  Make sure to wear your backpack on your front side while making your way to your bus terminal and also remember to print your ticket beforehand.  The Mendoza station is about a 15 peso taxi ride from the main stretch of the city.  This is one part of the trip that I would recommend splurging on.  The difference between a semi-cama and a cama on a 14 hour bus ride is incredible.

Where to stay:

If you are careful and conscious, Mendoza is easy to do on a budget.  Don’t bother spending too much money on hotel accommodations; you won’t be spending much time there anyway.  If you are willing to slum with the backpacker crowd, hostels are a great way to go, and Mendoza has plenty to choose from.  Avenida Villanueva is home to about as many hostels as bars.  If you are looking for a quieter stay, try the Hostel Independencia closer to the Plaza.

Thumbnails courtesy of Cadena Mariano Moreno and the author

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  • Thomas says:

    This sounds so much fun! Is Verdimia a weekly event?

  • Taylor says:

    The Vendimia ceremony and festivities happen during the first week in March! But the wine in Mendoza is always spectacular.

  • carol says:

    This is a wonderful write up. Taylor, you did a terrific job. It makes me want to go!

  • Lilian Ko says:

    Terrific report.
    We’ll be in Mendoza for the Vendimia.2012. arriving March 1-5, bus from BA.
    Had accomodations booked. Trying to get tickets for Saturday big show or even the Sunday show.
    Can you please tell me where to buy them? I’m sure when we arrived Mendoza, it’ll be sold out. Most online sites are selling them as a package w/hotel & tours.
    thank you.