Everyone wants to leave with a local’s perspective, but sometimes it’s good to just admit you’re a newcomer and enjoy the experience of visiting a city for the first time. Here's how I learned to love Mendoza.
Walking tours are a (frequently free) way to get familiar with the streets and learn a little about the history and culture of the city I’m visiting – and sometimes they’re a great way to meet other travelers, too. I joined the Tours for Tips walking tour of Mendoza’s five plazas, each designed to reflect the culture or characteristics of its namesake – Plaza España was my favorite. At each stop, our guide Marcelo would share bits of history and culture, from an explanation of Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis, to how to say “I was drunk in the street” in lunfardo, or Pig Latin-esque Argentine slang. (“Era cho-borra en la lle-ca,” if you’re curious.) The walks in between left plenty of room for socializing, extending well into the evening.
Mendoza presented plenty of opportunity for one of my favorite things to do in any city – eat! Upscale pastas and regional wine with a college friend at Marie Antonieta’s, rustic tavern fare and pingüinos with fellow backpackers at El Palenque, and a solo date night with a book and some fantastic Argentine beef at Anna Bistro topped my list of experiences.
The leafy sycamores and poplars that line Maipú’s streets shade grapes in transit from the heat of the desert sun, but they also provide stunning scenery for a DIY bike tour of the region’s wineries. I grabbed a buddy and a bike ($6 US or $150 AR for the afternoon from Mr. Hugo’s Bikes, with good conversation and fresh glass of pomelo juice included upon return) and set to vineyard-hopping in the beautiful autumn weather. The high density of both well-established and boutique wineries make this a popular route for wine lovers.
The figurative shadow cast by Mendoza’s wine culture makes it easy to forget the city lies in the literal shadow of another of Argentina’s biggest claims to fame: the Andes Mountains. Having admired them from a distance, it was refreshing to actually be out in them, for the change of pace as well as the bracingly cold water of the Mendoza River (just 48-50°F / 9-10°C in mid-May). Our guide, Gustavo, deftly directed our team of intrepid rafters through 7.5mi (12km) of Class II-III rapids (with only one man overboard). Racing our companion rafters was a fun and exciting way to experience the mountains’ natural beauty.
I’m usually a budget backpacker, so semi-private and tourist-centric activities are rarely on my itineraries, but this one was a highlight. Mendoza slowly lit up beneath us as we wound our way through the hilly chaparral of Lujan de Cuyo (my trusty steed, Fernando, was slow and steady, but his meditative gait let my imagination run wild, picturing the two of us protecting the rest of our contingent from lurking banditos!). The eternal bond of Malbec and chorizo broke down language barriers and presented an opportunity to really get to know the other travelers at the post-ride asado. We’d been silent and solitary on horseback, but we were laughing like old friends as our guide drove us home.
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