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Border Crossing Stories: Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
Amazing Views of the Andes from the Bus Between Mendoza and Santiago

During my week in Mendoza, I’d come to the tough conclusion that this city of wine set among the high Andes would be my last stop in Argentina.  I’d originally hoped to revisit my former home, Buenos Aires, and spend time with my porteño friends, but after hearing horror stories about how dangerous the capital had become, I decided to save both time and money and head back to Chile to get to know Santiago.

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
Blue Rivers and Lakes Leaving Mendoza, Perfect for White Water Rafting

I woke up early to leave for the bus terminal, where I’d bought a ticket for a 10AM departure.  I figured this would allow me to cross the border before it got too busy and arrive in Santiago before dusk.  As I was checking out of the hostel, the receptionist at Hostel Empedrado asked me if I had exchanged contact info with my Canadian friends, who had left earlier that morning.  I hadn’t, but, curious, I asked why.

As it turned out, they had accidentally forgotten their video camera under the bed and she wondered if I could return it to them.  (More proof of this hostel going above and beyond!)  I suggested she send them an email with my contact information, and agreed to take the camera with me to Santiago.  After all, they had lost most of their possessions when they were robbed in Buenos Aires: I wanted to make sure they got reunited with their video camera!

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
Pretty Pink Rocks and Blue Skies on the Way to the Border of Argentina and Chile

I said goodbye to my new favorite Argentine hostel and headed to the bus terminal.  I had a decent amount of Argentine pesos left, and frantically purchased alfajores, chocolate, and other snacks to unload as many pesos as I could.  I couldn’t find a souvenir shop near my bus platform, or else I would have walked away with some cute Argentine flag pins or something.  I hung on to a few Argentine pesos in case I needed them at the border crossing.  In retrospect, I should have spent all my Argentine pesos, as they are virtually worthless outside the country; I changed them for a fourth of their original value back in Peru!

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
View of the Andes on the Way to the Border Between Argentina and Chile

This border crossing journey was much more calm and organized than the trip between San Pedro de Atacama and Salta; this is one of the most popular routes between Argentina and Chile and it works like a well-oiled machine.

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
A Snowy Welcome to Chile

So well, in fact, that I don’t remember much about the journey, except that we sat for quite a while in the line at the border and the bus got nice and toasty.  As you can see from the photos above, the route passes through the super blue rivers and lakes of the high Andes, where there are plenty of options for whitewater rafting and other adventure sports.  On another visit, I’d love to stay outside the city of Mendoza in one of these towns nestled in the Andes.  You can tell that the scenery along this route is seriously gorgeous because I got these awesome photos from inside a moving bus!

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
Amazing Clouds Over the Andes near the Chile/Argentina Border

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores is an easy border crossing, with both of the Argentine and Chilean immigration posts located inside the same building, making it surprisingly efficient.  Unlike Paso Jama, they also have the equipment to clear away the snow that falls consistently at such a high altitude.  Interestingly, six weeks after I crossed the border, it got hit with such a major snowstorm that it, too, closed!

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
Views of the Snow-Covered Andes from the Chilean Side of the Border

While the route to the border from Mendoza is fairly uneventful, the descent to Santiago takes you along a series of impressive switchbacks, leading to constantly changing views of the mountains.  Chile’s ski resorts are nestled somewhere in the Andes near this route.

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
Getting Closer to Santiago and the Chilean Vineyards

As you continue to descend towards Santiago, you enter Chile’s wine producing region, almost equally as famous as Mendoza.  The hills changed to greens and burnished reds and browns, reminders that it was, in fact, winter in the region, even though we’d left the snow-covered high Andes.

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
Speeding Past Chile’s Wine Country En Route to Santiago

I stared out the window at the expanses of vineyards that we continued to pass.  If I hadn’t just done a full tour of the wineries of Mendoza, I would have been tempted to explore the beautiful countryside (and drink more wine).

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
Foothills of the Andes on the Chilean Side

At this point, we were getting closer to Santiago and leaving the Andes.  Once again, I saw those familiar Andean foothills, covered in green brush and vegetation.

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
Sunset En Route to Santiago

We’d lost an hour crossing the border (and time zones), and the sun disappeared from sight while we continued our journey towards the capital city.  With the winter clouds in the sky, it made for a truly impressive sunset.  This is still one of my favorite sunset pictures, captured from the window of a moving bus!

Views from the Ride Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile
Pink Sunset Somewhere in the Suburbs of Santiago, Chile

As we approached Santiago, we entered its suburbs and hit the afterwork traffic you should certainly expect on a Friday evening.  I had already put my D40 away, but looked out the window to see this crazy pink sunset.  If you can believe it, I took the above photo with an iPod touch!  I couldn’t let these pink colors disappear into memory. 🙂  This ended up being the last clear sky I saw for a few days, so it was well worth documenting.

Finally, we arrived to the bus station in Santiago, which is located in the midst of a major transportation hub.  All the Chileans on my bus were complaining about the location of the bus terminal in the center of the city.  We spent an extra hour inching along city blocks during the rush hour commute.  By the time the bus got there, I was antsy to get off the bus and stretch my legs.  I quickly changed some dollars into Chilean pesos and eventually found a taxi to take me to my friend Francisca’s house in Providencia.

Since I’d had no way to call Fran to let her know I was running late, she had generously left the key to her apartment with her doorman and a note for me to make myself at home in her adorable one bedroom apartment until she returned from a yoga class.  I took the opportunity to make some tea, stretch, and recover from yet another bus journey.  When she arrived, we poured ourselves some Chilean wine, fixed some snacks, and excitedly caught up on a couple years of life until 1AM, when I was too tired to keep talking.  This was my first exposure to the famed Chilean hospitality, and I knew I was in for a great week in Santiago.

Recommendations for Border Crossing Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile:

  • Buy your ticket in advance if you’re planning on traveling over the weekend, as I did, to guarantee a seat by the window.  Sit on the right side of the bus if you want to watch the river go by.
  • Leave as early as possible.  I left at 10AM and I probably should have left earlier to avoid rush hour traffic in Santiago.  The border can get really busy with all the buses and cars passing through.
  • Spend all of your Argentine pesos before leaving!  Argentine pesos have very little value outside of the country and you will get more for your money if you spend them on souvenirs and snacks before leaving.  It’s a good idea to bring some snacks with you for the ~eight hour journey, but keep in mind that Chile has strict rules about what kind of food can cross its borders.  Be prepared to eat any fruit, cheese, meats, etc. before you cross the border.  They x-ray all luggage looking for food.
  • If you still have Argentine pesos, change them at the currency exchange station at the immigration post.  Exchange rates are always best at the border.  You can wait until you get to the bus terminal in Santiago, but you won’t get the best rates there.  The border is also a good place to change dollars into Chilean pesos.
[Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile: August 2, 2013]

Mendoza, Argentina: Wine Tasting at Bodega Catena Zapata and Belasco de Baquedano in Luján de Cuyo

View from Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
View from Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza

A few years ago, I picked up a somewhat pricey Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon out of nostalgia for South America.  When we poured the wine at our family holiday party, we were impressed by the quality of the wine and its delicious flavor.  Since then, it has become a family tradition to buy a Catena Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon each year to celebrate being together at the holidays.

This is how Bodega Catena Zapata became my favorite winemaker.  When I decided to return to Argentina, I knew I would visit the winery and taste the wines right where they came from.  At first, it seemed challenging to get out to the winery on my limited budget, as it is located in Luján de Cuyo, but far from the town center.  However, I’d asked one of the guides in Chacras de Coria for advice, and he’d told me that it was totally possible to get out there using a combination of public transportation and taxis.

Wine Tasting in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Views While Driving Down Cobos in Luján de Cuyo, Argentina

On my last day in Mendoza, I woke up early, ready for my solo journey to Luján de Cuyo.  I was planning on catching a bus to Luján de Cuyo’s main plaza, where I had been assured that I could find a taxi to take me out to Bodega Catena Zapata.  I waited at the bus stop for quite a while, looking for the appropriate bus; there are many routes that go around the Luján de Cuyo region, and I needed a specific one to get me to the right place.  I finally spotted what I thought was the right bus and got on, asking the bus driver if the route went to my intended destination.  Instead of being helpful, he laughed at me for being a foreigner, assured me it did, and dismissed my concerns.  (See what I mean about Argentines not being particularly friendly to tourists?)

As you can imagine, I was not, in fact, on the right bus.  However, I was at least heading in the right direction.  As we approached Chacras de Coria, I recognized the town center and asked the bus driver once again if the bus would finish its route at the main terminal of Luján de Cuyo.  A little sheepish, he finally informed me that this bus did not go to the main station.  As it turned out I was not alone; there were two other people who had also taken the wrong bus, and he dropped us off at a bus stop in Chacras with some vague instructions as to what bus to wait for.

At this point, it was getting very close to my scheduled 11AM tour, and I nervous I would miss my chance to visit Bodega Catena Zapata.  I had no way to call the winery to tell them I was running late.  I knew I needed to somehow find a taxi to take me out to Bodega Catena Zapata.  As I was waiting to ask the clerk a corner store for advice, I spotted a taxi passing by and flagged it down.  I told him where I wanted to go, and he agreed to take me out there, warning me that it would be an expensive fare!  At this point, money was no object and I just wanted to get there; we agreed that it was complete luck that he’d been passing through Chacras de Coria, as it is not a place where you usually can easily find a taxi.

Finally, I was on my way again and I was able to relax and enjoy the ride, astounded by the appearance of the snow-capped Andes along the route.  As it turned out, the taxi cost $130 Argentine pesos, or about $23 USD, which was not too bad.  And in another stroke of good luck, even though I arrived about 25 minutes late, so had my tour companions, a couple from Brazil.  They’d gotten a bit lost driving through the back roads of Luján de Cuyo and had only been waiting for five minutes before I got there.  Our guide was a trilingual Argentine who spoke Spanish, English, and Portuguese fluently; you could tell she was very highly educated and well versed in the field of wine.  We were in for an excellent tour, conducted in a combination of Spanish, English, and Portuguese, as each of us had different linguistic strengths.

Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Wine Barrels Inside Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina

Bodega Catena Zapata is a historical winery often credited with putting the Mendoza winemaking region on the map.  While Argentines have always had a strong affinity for wines, local wines used to be imbibed for their intoxicating properties, not for their complexity of flavors.  When Nicolás Catena and his daughter Laura took over the family business, they brought with them experience from the Napa and Sonoma regions of California and a strong desire to produce high quality wines.

Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
American Wine Aging Barrels; A Very Special Wine Vintage; Bodega Catena Zapata’s Wine Vault

As we toured the winery, our guide explained the intricacies of the Catena Zapata method, including using both American and French barrels and producing several different lines for both the Argentine and international markets, tailored to the tastes and preferences of their consumers.  The bottle pictured above is one of the most valued wines in their wine vault, as it is a particularly special vintage from one of their highest quality lines.

Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Views of the Andes from Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina

After touring the winery, we climbed to the top of the building to look out over the vineyards, which stretched out for acres.  Can you imagine how gorgeous this would be during growing season, with green leaves everywhere, protecting the amazing fruit?

Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Views from Inside Bodega Catena Zapata; Enjoying a Tasting of Catena Alta Wines

Afterwards, we sat down in a comfortable lounge area for our premium tasting.  Our talented guide explained the guidelines for appropriate tasting to us in great detail, encouraging us to observe the color of the wine, showing us how to smell it, and helping us distinguish differences between the first and second sip.  Beyond the educational opportunity, I was so excited to try wines I could never afford to purchase back home.

Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
2011 Catena Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, Produced for the International Market

Afterwards, we headed to the gift store, where you could see all the different brands produced by Catena.  The store sells both the wines produced for the Argentine palate and those sold abroad.  I had actually not been able to find Catena Zapata wines in Mendoza because they are sold under a different label.  Above are the entry-level wines which are most commonly available in the United States.

Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
2009 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon, the Next Level of International Wines

This wine, Catena Alta, is the next level of the international wines, a step above the Catena line.  I really enjoyed these wines in the tasting and was so tempted to buy a bottle, but I was worried it wouldn’t survive my bus journey the next day.  Instead, I left with a Catena Zapata bottle opener as a souvenir of the experience.

Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Views of the Vineyards Around Bodega Catena Zapata

My Brazilian companions had kindly offered to drive me to my next stop, Belasco de Baquedano, which was just down the road but not really the walkable distance I’d been told.  While they purchased lots of wine glasses and bottle to take back to Brazil, I wandered around taking pictures of the vineyard.

Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
The Main Building of Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina

Interestingly, Nicolás Catena had decided to construct the main building on the vineyard in a distinctive pyramid shape inspired by Mayan architecture.  I find this choice very interesting, considering the equally rich history of the Andes region where the vineyard is located. 😛

Wine Tasting at Catena Zapata in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Leaving Bodega Catena Zapata with the Andes in the Distance

My new Brazilian friends took me back along Cobos to Belasco de Baquedano, chatting with me all the way in a combination of Portuguese and English.  We talked about having dinner together back in Mendoza, but didn’t manage to touch base again.

Wine Tasting at Belasco de Baquedano in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Views from Belasco de Baquedano Winery in Luján de Cuyo, Argentina

I arrived to Belasco de Baquedano just before my 2PM tour and tasting, and they asked me to wait a few minutes.  I went outside to explore the grounds and take in the vineyards.  This also gave me a chance to have a snack in the sunshine; I’d brought along a picnic lunch.  Belasco de Baquedano actually has a fine dining restaurant on site, but I hadn’t been able to find any information on whether they offer a vegetarian option; as it turns out, they do – I know for next time!

Wine Tasting at Belasco de Baquedano in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Views of the Belasco de Baquedano Vineyards with the Andes in the Distance

Belasco de Baquedano shares the same gorgeous view of this corridor of the Andes.  While there are lots of vineyards around this area, few people actually live here; I learned that most of the winery employees live in Mendoza or in Chacras de Coria, driving or taking the one public bus that passes through here each day.

Wine Tasting at Belasco de Baquedano in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Views from Belasco de Baquedano, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina

I enjoyed exploring the grounds of Belasco de Baquedano on my own, as it was quiet and gave me a moment to process the fact that I was living yet another of my travel dreams.  The winery is a relative newcomer to the scene and has a modern approach to winemaking, using high tech machines and techniques.  However, it too tries to conjure up a sense of history, and its name reflects its Spanish (from Spain) heritage, including the traditional spelling of Belasco, which is usually written as Velasco in Latin America.

Wine Tasting at Belasco de Baquedano in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Views from Belasco de Baquedano, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina

I had scheduled a tour at Belasco de Baquedano based on the recommendation of a guide in Chacras de Coria; he told me that they had an aroma room, which was a great way to learn more about the different notes an experienced taster could distinguish in fine wines.  After having learned so much about tasting at Bodega Catena Zapata, I really appreciated the chance to learn more about the flavors and scents in wine.

Wine Tasting at Belasco de Baquedano in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina Wine Tasting at Belasco de Baquedano in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Swinto, One of the Wines Produced at Belasco de Baquedano; Tasting Their Malbecs

As it turned out, I was the only person on my tour, so I had a private guide through the winery and aroma room.  She seemed a little surprised that I wanted the tour in Spanish, but said that a lot of foreigners find it fun to practice their Spanish.  I just thought I would learn more that way. 😉  Like Bodega Catena Zapata, Belasco de Baquedano offers several different brands of wine at various price points.

After finishing my tour, it was time for the tasting at the attractive wooden bar.  At this moment, a Brazilian woman showed up with her son, insisting that she had scheduled a tour for this late hour.  My guide decided to take her on a whirlwind tour, and left her colleague in charge of my tasting.  This ended up being another blessing, as this woman was very friendly and showed me some aroma cards that I could use to try to pick out the flavors in each of the vintages.  My wine education continued and I feel like my ability to distinguish flavors in wine really improved as a result of this practice.

As I wrapped up my tasting, the original guide returned and I asked her for advice on how to get back to Mendoza.  Originally, I was going to call another taxi to take me back to the city center, but they informed me that a local bus would pass by in the next half hour or so.  If it didn’t, one of them would give me a ride back to Chacras de Coria or Mendoza.

Wine Tasting in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Views of the Andes on the Way Back to Mendoza from Luján de Cuyo

I decided to wander out to the main road, Cobos, to try my luck at the local bus.  As I was walking down the long gravel driveway, the Brazilian woman passed me in her rental car and asked me if I wanted a ride back to Mendoza.  Saved by Brazilians twice in one day!  As it turned out, her English was stronger than her Spanish (and than my Portuguese), so we chatted about her work in Brazil and her visit to Mendoza for her husband’s work.  I tried to speak with her son in Portuguese a little bit, too.  She dropped me off right at Plaza Italia, as they were staying at one of the top hotels in Mendoza.

After such a lovely day, I headed back to the Hostel Empedrado to prepare one more big dinner, chat with my hostel buddies, pack my bags, and finish the last of my wine before leaving for Santiago early the next day.  I had had an amazing week in Mendoza, but visiting my favorite winemaker was definitely an example of saving the best for last. 🙂

Recommendations for Luján de Cuyo, Argentina:

  • You absolutely can visit Luján de Cuyo independently, but you need to ask around until you find someone who can tell you how to get there.  Your best best is to ask the locals who work in the wineries as they know more about getting around the wineries than the average mendocino.  There is a local bus that runs down Cobos, which is the road where many of the top winemakers are located, once in the morning, and once in the afternoon, but I couldn’t find anyone who knew its schedule.
  • There are many local buses that go to the Luján de Cuyo region from the city of Mendoza, but you want the one that stops near the main terminal in the center of Luján de Cuyo, where the buses are serviced.  From there, you should be able to find a taxi to take you out to the Cobos street.  Depending on your budget, you may want to consider negotiating with a taxi driver to take you around for the day, rent a car, or take a personalized tour arranged through a local agency.
  • I highly recommend visiting Bodega Catena Zapata, especially if you’re already a fan of their wines from trying them back home.  The premium tasting was $100 Argentine pesos in August 2013 but was worth every penny.  You can tell that the guides working at this winery are the best of the best.  The scenery is also gorgeous.
  • Belasco de Baquedano is located on the same road as Bodgeta Catena Zapata and has a fine dining restaurant and an aroma room.  While I enjoyed their wines, I think their real draw is the unique experience they offer.  Their tour and tasting was $69 Argentine pesos in August 2013.
  • Personally, I think visiting two high caliber wineries was enough for one day.  I scheduled one for 11AM and another for 2PM and I was able to enjoy both tastings at a very relaxed pace.
  • Here are some very useful maps of the Luján de Cuyo region, including a detailed map and list of all of the winemakers in the region (the map at the top of the page – here’s a link to the PDF download).
[Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina: August 1, 2013]

Mendoza, Argentina: Relaxing in Parque San Martín and at the Termas de Cacheuta

Views from Mendoza, Argentina Views from Mendoza, Argentina
Plaza Italia and Parque San Martín, Mendoza, Argentina

After some busy, active days on horseback and wine tasting on bike, I needed some time to relax and plan the next leg of my journey. Originally, I’d hoped to visit my friends in Buenos Aires, but I continued to hear horror stories about how much the city had changed in the last few years and how dangerous it had become. Two Canadians staying in my hostel in Mendoza had been robbed of all of their things inside their hostel in Buenos Aires, and it was all caught on the hostel’s surveillance videotape!

They had put down their large backpacks while waiting to check in to their hostel. The reception area was busy, hectic, and understaffed, and there were a lot of guests waiting around. Four thieves dressed in normal street clothes had walked in, hoisted on the Canadians’ backpacks, and walked out. Luckily, my friends had still been wearing their small backpacks with all of their most valuable possessions, and they had also bought travel insurance to help them replace what had been stolen. Surprisingly, they even had a sense of humor about the situation, and acknowledged that it had helped them become very minimalist during their long-term backpacking trip!

I spent a relaxing morning in the hostel researching what I still wanted to do while in Mendoza and thinking about my next destination. I had originally wanted to go hiking in the area, but there weren’t enough interested guests to send out an excursion. I’d thought about going rafting or rock climbing, but the cost was more than I really wanted to spend so early on my travels. In the end, I decided to visit the hot springs and thermal baths in Cacheuta, an easy journey from Mendoza. But first, I chose to explore the city on foot, wandering through its streets en route to Parque San Martín, Mendoza’s massive multi-use public park.

Views from Mendoza, Argentina
Parque San Martín, Mendoza, Argentina

One of the reasons I went there was nostalgia; I’d taken photos with my friends under these archways in 2002! But mainly I went because I wanted to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine, perhaps to read my book by the river. As I wandered, I spotted an outdoor dance class and saw a sign for yoga in the park. I saw tons of runners and bikers enjoying the wide roads with no cars on them. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon and experience Mendoza’s version of winter.

Views from Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina
Gorgeous Scenery En Route to Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina

The next day, I got up early, excited to relax in the hot springs of Cacheuta.  I ended up tagging along with two older American friends whom I’d met at the hostel.  However, we left a little later than I would have liked, ended up getting stuck in traffic on our way to the bus terminal, and almost missed the last morning departure time!  Luckily, we ran through the terminal, found the right bus just before it departed, and were able to get our tickets on board.

The 90-minute ride through the landscape of Mendoza province is absolutely gorgeous.  This photo of the hills only hints at the actual beauty of the ride.  It is magical passing though these mountains.  Our bus was nearly empty and I kept jumping around to each side of the bus to look at the scenery.

Views from Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina Views from Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina Views from Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina
Old Cacheuta Train Station; Views from the Termas de Cacheuta (Hot Springs)

Cacheuta is a very small town with lots of restaurants and resorts catering to the tourist that just wants to relax.  They still have the railroad sign marking the town, even though the trains no longer run through here and the depot has been converted into a restaurant.  It is easy to find Termas de Cacheuta; just wander along the main road until you see the biggest spa complex, or ask for directions.

Views from Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina
Hanging Out in the Termas de Cacheuta

Termas de Cacheuta is comprised of about seven different thermal pools, some inside a heated greenhouse-like room, and others outside in the sunshine, as you see in my photos.  You are encouraged to enjoy the baths in order of warmth, working up to the almost painfully hot indoor bath.  I spent most of my time enjoying the outdoor pools on my own and chatting with the other guests; they’re always amused to meet an American who speaks so much Spanish.  Later, I inched my way into the super hot pool, trying to allow the purification to take place.  I don’t understand much about the therapeutic benefits of thermal baths, but I certainly like the idea!

Views from Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina
Hills Surrounding Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina

After a couple of hours of lounging, I was restless and wanted to wander about Cacheuta.  I walked along the railway tracks, taking in the burnished browns of the Andean hills surrounding this valley.  I poked around in some of the stores along the main drag and cobbled together a light, vegetarian-friendly lunch of figs and nuts. 😉

Views from Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina
Footbridge in Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina

I also crossed this suspended footbridge connecting the residential part of Cacheuta with the commerical side.  There’s a paved road nearby that runs parallel, but this footbridge was way more fun!

At this point, I’d exhausted all of the options in Cacheuta and was ready to head back to Mendoza.  Back at the bus terminal, I bought my ticket onwards: I’d finally decided to head to Santiago to explore Chile’s capital and spend some time with former students-turned-friends.  However, I still had one last day planned in Mendoza, and it was an exciting one: I was heading out to Luján de Cuyo to visit my favorite winemaker!

Recommendations for Mendoza and Cacheuta, Argentina:

  • Plaza Italia is the main plaza in Mendoza, and is definitely worth a visit.  It has a gorgeous fountain, lots of trees, and plenty of benches and grass to relax in.  There is often an artisan fair around the edges of the plaza, if you’d like to buy handmade artwork and jewelry from talented Argentines.
  • Parque San Martín is a great place to spend a morning or afternoon.  You could also go running there or take one of the free classes offered in the park.
  • Buses to Cacheuta run from the main bus terminal in Mendoza and leave at 9AM, 10:30AM, and 1:30PM.  They return at 3:45PM, 6:30PM, and 9:20PM.  There may be additional service around the holidays – check the schedules posted inside the bus terminal.  In Cacheuta, the schedule is posted in the office window along the main road.  The buses are located in the central part of the terminal.  You can buy your tickets in advance or on the bus.  The ride is about 90 minutes long.  The road trip bus ticket was $23 Argentine pesos in 2013.  I thought leaving at 10:30 and returning at 3:45 was more than enough time in Cacheuta.
  • Most people who visit Cacheuta go to Termas de Cacheuta, as it is very modern and attractive.  There are lockers and showers inside and various necessary items for sale or rental.  There are also picnic tables for enjoying food with your friends and family, so think about packing a lunch and making a day of it!  As mentioned above, there a number of thermal baths of all temperatures and some reserved for only adults, so you’re likely to find a pool that is less crowded and comfortable for you.  A one-day adult entry cost $55 Argentine pesos in July 2013.
  • You can save a lot of money by bringing your own lunch or snacks and eating at the many picnic tables around the Termas.  There are a number of restaurants lining the main streets but they are definitely priced for tourists.
[Mendoza, Argentina: July 30-31, 2013]

Mendoza, Argentina: Biking Around the Wineries of Chacras de Coria

Wine Tastings in Chacras de Coria Wine Tastings in Chacras de Coria Wine Tastings in Chacras de Coria
Views from Lagarde Winery, Chacras de Coria, Mendoza, Argentina

After my awesomely hectic re-acquaintance with Mendoza, I needed a day to recover, do some laundry, find a bank, drink mate, and hang out with other guests.  My hostel hosted a weekly pizza party, where they brought in a chef to make a variety of pizzas and kept them coming until we were seriously full.  Naturally, this attracted a lots of guests and led to a festive, social atmosphere.  I ended up talking to two British girls who planned on touring one of the wine regions of Mendoza on bike.  While there are many different tour agencies that offer to guide you, they planned on going independently: taking a local bus out to the suburbs and renting bikes directly from the bike outfitter.  I quickly decided to join them.

We left Mendoza early the next morning and boarded a local bus that goes to Chacras de Coria, a small village located in one of the main wine regions in Mendoza.  The girls had heard about Baccus Bikes, so we headed there to rent bikes.  The woman staffing the agency turned out to be the owner’s wife, and she was incredibly helpful and patient in mapping out her suggestions and providing alternatives.  She emphasized safety and suggested roads that were less likely to lead to a flat tire or into a more isolated neighborhood.  After discussing our game plan, we headed to our first stop, Bodega Lagarde.

Wine Tastings in Chacras de Coria
Just a Sample of Lagarde’s Various Brands and Vintages, Mendoza, Argentina

Most of the wineries have deals with the various bike rental agencies and give you a discounted tasting, which usually includes a tour.  Baccus also tries to call ahead and make reservations for lunch in case they are necessary, which is really helpful.  As we were waiting for our tour at Lagarde to begin, I spotted an American whom I’d met at the Salta bus station while waiting for our bus to Cafayate, which is one of those random travel experiences I always find amusing and fun.  This was fortuitous for me:  I ended up tagging along with her and her friend, as the girls I’d come with wanted to visit far-off wineries on more dangerous roads, and I wanted to take it easy and enjoy my day. 😉

After a tour of Lagarde’s winery, an explanation of their approach to wine production, and peeking at their vineyards, brown and dormant in winter, it was time for our first tasting.  We all opted for the deluxe tasting to try some of the high-end wines.  When in Mendoza, you have to take advantage of these opportunities!  I liked their wines and ended up buying a bottle to enjoy back at the hostel; I later bought another bottle in Lima. 🙂

Wine Tastings in Chacras de Coria
The Andes as Seen from Chacras de Coria, Mendoza, Argentina

After saying goodbye to the British girls, we headed back along the main road to Clos de Chakra, which gave me a chance to appreciate how gorgeous the Andes were in this region.  It doesn’t get much better than snow-capped peaks in the distance.

Wine Tastings in Chacras de Coria
Red Wine Flight at Clos de Chacras, Mendoza, Argentina

Clos de Chacras is often recommended because it is one of the most historical winemakers in the area, and because they have a lovely restaurant.  You are encouraged to order a flight of wine to accompany your meal.  We ended up having a snack instead of a meal, which meant that these very generous pours of wine hit us hard!

Wine Tastings in Chacras de Coria
Views from Clos de Chacras, Mendoza, Argentina

Luckily, we still had a tour ahead of us.  Our tour guide was my favorite of the three wineries we visited that day; he had studied winemaking in northern California and spoke English and Spanish fluently.  He was also down-to-earth and friendly, happy to show us around the winery and tell us interesting stories.

Wine Tastings in Chacras de Coria Wine Tastings in Chacras de CoriaWhile the exact details of the winemaking process have escaped me in the year that has passed since this tour, I really appreciated learning more about the history of this particular vineyard.

After leaving Clos de Chacras, we stopped in at a small store along the way, where I was able to get a vegetarian quiche from a local pasta maker. I was super hungry and needed some food to balance out all the Argentine reds!

Wine Tastings in Chacras de Coria
Wine-Inspired Art at Bodega Pulmary, Mendoza, Argentina

From there, we moved on to Bodega Pulmary, one of the newest arrivals to Clos de Chakras, known for its organic wines.  Our host was actually part of the family that owns the vineyard and told us how he had left his work as a lawyer to join his family in this endeavor.  The tasting was different here; he actually poured wine from the massive vats directly into our glasses to so we could sample the differences as the wines aged and matured.  The art pictured above was made by a well-known Argentine cartoonist and is one of the showpieces of their winery.

A La Antigua, Chacras de Coria, Mendoza, Argentina A La Antigua, Chacras de Coria, Mendoza, Argentina
Various Tastings at A La Antigua, Chacras de Coria, Mendoza, Argentina

Finally, I said goodbye to my American friends, as I wanted to check out the homemade jams and jellies and infused oils, vinegars, and liqueurs at A La Antigua, and they’d already visited first thing in the morning.  I timed it right and arrived about 20 minutes before a large tour group, which meant I could sample to my heart’s content.  I particularly enjoyed the homemade chocolate.

As the sun began to set, I biked back to the main plaza to return my bike and get directions on how to get back to Mendoza.  I managed to find the right bus and even to get off at the right stop, which made me feel very proud in my wine-influenced state.

All things considered, the self-guided wine tour on bike was a very budget-friendly choice, and I had a great time with my new American friends.  That said, I am not sure I would recommend biking as the best way to do a wine tour in this region.  As I am not a particularly heavy drinker, I was very cognizant of how much I was drinking and its effect on me, even pouring out wines I did not particularly care for.  While drivers are used to seeing tourists on bikes on the main roads, these roads are still highly transited by cars, which can be unnerving if you’re not a confident biker.  I might have a better time today after spending the summer biking around Boston. 🙂

Recommendations for Chacras de Coria, Mendoza, Argentina:

  • I would absolutely suggest that you rent bikes from Baccus as they were extremely helpful and personable.  I felt like they took care of their bikes and were concerned about our safety.
  • Make sure you have goals for your trip, such as how many wineries you’re going to visit.  I went on this trip without knowing anything about it, which was fine because I did not have high expectations and was happy to enjoy the experience.  If you are a wine lover, you may want to visit only the highest quality or most established wineries.
  • Of these three wineries, I thought Bodega Lagarde had the best wines, but Clos de Chacras had the most gorgeous location, including an outdoor patio, a fine dining restaurant, and a fascinating winery.
  • There are other parts of Mendoza besides Chacras de Coria that offer wine tours on bike, including Maipu.  This is a wonderful description of how to stay safe and maximize your time while biking around Maipu.  You may also arrange a bike tour with an official guide.
  • This a good description of the various types of wine-tasting experiences you can have around Mendoza.  I’ll talk about my experience wine-tasting in Luján de Cuyo in a future post.
[Mendoza, Argentina: July 28-29, 2013]

Mendoza, Argentina: Horseback Riding and Enjoying Life Gaucho-Style (with Wine and Music)

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Views from Horseback Riding near Mendoza, Argentina

In March 2002, I discovered something about myself that I had not suspected: I love solo travel.  I found this out because I booked an independent trip to Mendoza, Argentina, stayed in my first ever hostel, and met three awesome porteños (Argentines from Buenos Aires) who are still my friends over a decade later.  Visiting Mendoza in 2002 changed my life, sparked my wanderlust, and opened my mind to the relationships you can make through travel.

For these reasons, I was both excited and nervous to head back to Mendoza.  After a lackluster experience in Salta, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this lovely city.  At the same time, I knew Mendoza attracts many more travelers than La Rioja and Tucumán, and I was ready for some socializing and more adventurous tourism, like horseback riding, rafting, and biking.  I was also excited to do some serious wine-tasting; in 2002, I didn’t drink, so I’d skipped the wineries, if you can believe it!

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Horseback Riding near Mendoza, Argentina

Immediately upon arrival in Mendoza, I was reassured; the city was just as lovely as I remembered it.  As always, I grilled my taxi driver for information on how the economic crisis had affected Mendoza, and learned that both the wine industry and regional tourism were booming, which had ensured Mendoza’s continued loveliness.

Upon arrival to Hostel Empedrado, I learned that they organized many tours, excursions, and in-hostel activities.  I was excited to finally have people to do things with, and booked a horseback riding tour the next day.

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Relaxing in the Andes near Mendoza, Argentina

As it turned out, there were just three of us that day, Monika from Germany, Jacob from the UK, and me, along with our lovely guide, Juan, and our driver.   Monika and Jacob both spoke Spanish pretty well, which was a relief for Juan and me, as he didn’t speak much English and I was tired of translating for free. 😉

We left Mendoza bright and early, heading for the foothills of the Andes.  The hostel has an agreement with one of the gauchos there and rents horses that are treated with respect.  We got settled on our horses and began our climb through the greenery of the hills of the Cuyo region.  The path was easy and scenic and we were able to appreciate our surroundings.  We paused near a stream to give our horses a break and relaxed in the branches of a massive tree.  This was Juan’s favorite spot, but he’d neglected to bring the traditional mate, opting for over-sweetened English tea which none of us drank. 😛

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Horseback Riding Near Mendoza, Argentina

After resting, we continued along our route, chatting, enjoying the rhythm of riding horses, and observing the changes in the vegetation as we ascended and descended in elevation.

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Horseback Riding Near Mendoza, Argentina

On our way back to the ranch, where lunch was awaiting us, we galloped with our horses, always a thrilling experience for someone like me who only rides horses when traveling. I was especially glad I’d had some recent practice back in Salta!

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Horseback Riding Near Mendoza, Argentina

As it turned out, I ended up getting injured on the ride, as my horse took off on a gallop as we passed some spiny branches on a low bush, gashing my shin. Juan felt terrible as he’d forgotten the first aid kit, but I took it all in stride, as I’m pretty injury-prone. 🙂

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina

Back on at the ranch, we sat down for our lunch, a typical Argentine parrilla (barbecue) with roasted vegetables and salad for me. 🙂  We played with the adorable dogs who vied for our attention and drank the red wine that Juan had brought to accompany our lunch.

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Adorable Dogs Near Mendoza, Argentina

It was turning out to be a relaxing afternoon of good conversation, cheap wine, and lots of laughter, and then Juan brought out the guitar for a sing-along.  I tried to accompany him, but our tastes in music are very different and I didn’t know too many of the songs he played.

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Enjoying an Afternoon of Wine and Music Near Mendoza, Argentina

Before long, it became clear that we were in for a treat.  We were soon joined by our driver, who had grown up in the Cuyo region.  While we were on our horses, he’d talked to our host and both men quickly realized that they had gone to school together!  They decided to serenade us with traditional songs from the Cuyo region.

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Gaucho Songs and Wine Near Mendoza, Argentina

Juan kept the wine flowing and informed us that the songs we were hearing were rare gaucho songs that few people know today.  We sat transfixed by the music, the intimacy of our gathering, and a relaxing wine haze.

You can hear one of the old gaucho songs in my video; I went crazy photographing and filming this magical experience.

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Juan Performing Magic Tricks Near Mendoza, Argentina

Speaking of magic, Juan is a street performer with an arsenal of tricks, which he demonstrated for us.  He even taught Monika one of his tricks on the way back to Mendoza. 🙂

Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina Horseback Riding, Relaxing, Wine, and Music Gaucho-Style in Mendoza, Argentina
Music and Laughter Near Mendoza, Argentina

After we polished off the rest of the wine, we said goodbye to our gaucho friends and headed back to Mendoza.  I was adamant that we drink mate together at the hostel, and in my chatty state I invited a number of other guests to partake in this traditional Argentine experience.

Making Empanadas in Mendoza, Argentina
Making Empanadas at Hostel Empedrado, Mendoza, Argentina

Afterwards, I convinced Juan and Monika to make empanadas with me.  We taught Monika to fill and fold the empanadas, and she took some with her on her overnight bus ride to Buenos Aires.

But this lovely day was not over yet!  It was Saturday night and I was ready to embrace the Mendoza nightlife, so I rallied up a group from the hostel, including a group of awesome Irish travelers who became my buddies over the next few days.  We headed to Por Acá for a night of dancing until nearly dawn; it was the perfect start to my week in Mendoza.

Recommendations for Mendoza, Argentina:

Stay at Hostel Empedrado or its sister hostel, Hostel Mora.  I thought Hostel Empedrado was the best hostel I stayed at in Argentina because of all the bonuses it offers for a very reasonable price (if you don’t believe me, believe these reviews).  There are two kitchens, a free laundry machine, plenty of space to hang your clothes to dry on the roof, a wine happy hour with free wine, wine tastings, comfortable common areas, good rooms, clean bathrooms with plenty of hot water, and awesome staff.  When I stayed there, they offered their own excursions, including the horseback riding one profiled above, so you could just arrange your trips with them.

[Mendoza, Argentina: July 26-27, 2013]

Six Weeks on the Road in Chile and Argentina!

How time flies when you’re on the road!

I’m currently revisiting Arica, Chile, after a 32-hour bus ride from Santiago. In a few hours, I’ll leave for the Peruvian border once again, crossing over to Tacna to begin another 21-hour ride back to Lima. From Lima, I’ll leave for the part of my journey I’m most excited about: exploring central and northern Peru, regions I have yet to visit!

I thought I’d be able to keep up with my blog and upload photos on a much more regular basis, but the truth is, when you’re traveling, you’re focused on the moment. Access to the internet is plentiful, but a lot of hostels I’ve stayed in only have a good signal in open courtyards, and since it’s winter, I usually don’t have the stamina to sit outside for a long time. Even when I’ve had good access to the internet, I’ve spent my time looking for hostels and deciding on my next destination; it feels like a waste to spend too much time on the internet! On top of that, I take so many pictures that I’m still behind in selecting the best, though I’ve been using these long bus rides to catch up as best I can!

In the last six weeks, I’ve covered a lot of ground! I started with a few days in Arica to get to know the area and visit Parque Nacional Lauca. From there, I headed to San Pedro de Atacama, a place I’ve wanted to visit for over 10 years. And it is still the highlight of my trip; there are so many gorgeous things to see in the Atacama. After San Pedro, I crossed the border to Argentina, heading directly to Salta, Argentina, historically my favorite city in the world. I spent a few days in Salta enjoying the ambiance and people, and then I headed to Cafayate, known for its wineries and amazing scenery. Most people spend a day or two there, so it was nice to take a couple more days to get to know it better. It’s changed a lot since I visited in 2002.

From Cafayate, I headed south again to Tucumán, a city I’d never visited, and the birthplace of Argentine independence. Tucumán is known for its nightlife, and I took advantage of this, heading out to a super-club almost as soon as I arrived with the awesome people at my hostel. I saw some of the sights and then headed on to La Rioja, another small city I’d never visited. I lucked out and managed to join a group to visit Parque Nacional Talampaya in La Rioja province and Parque Nacional Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) in neighboring San Juan, two interesting and scenic parks which are not frequently visited by foreign tourists. Then I headed to Mendoza, where I spent a lovely week recovering from so much travel, tasting all kinds of wine, riding horses, relaxing in thermal baths, and meeting wonderful travelers.

After much internal debate, I decided to skip Buenos Aires on this trip, since it is just too far away from Peru, therefore too expensive to fly from. Instead, I headed back to Chile to spend nearly a week in Santiago visiting former students turned friends! Santiago was fascinating to me, as it has a lot in common with both New York and various Californian cities, especially when you take into consideration the neighboring cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso! I loved my time in Valparaíso, especially, and have to spend more time there at another moment. I still love capital cities, though most travelers prefer to skip them, so I am a fan of Santiago.

And today I’m en route back to Peru. I definitely feel like six weeks won’t be enough to see everything I want to see in this amazing country, but I’m going to do the best I can! 🙂

Below are quite a few selected pictures from my trip so far, with more details and more information to come, all in due time, of course. 😉

Sunset in Arica, Chile
Sunset in Arica, Chile

Laguna Chungará and Volcán Parinacota, Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile
Laguna Chungará, Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile

Valle de la Muerte, San Pedro de Atacama
Valle de la Muerte, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Sunset from Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama
Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Chaxa/Salar de Atacama
Salar de Atacama/Laguna Chaxa, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Salar de Tara/Aguas Calientes, San Pedro de Atacama
Posing at Aguas Calientes, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Miscanti, San Pedro de Atacama
Laguna Miscanti, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama
Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Ojos de Salar, San Pedro de Atacama
Ojos del Salar, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama
Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Merienda on the Plaza, Salta
Merienda on the Plaza, Salta, Argentina

Horseback Riding in Chicoana, Salta
Horseback Riding in Chicoana, Salta, Argentina

Near the Rio Colorado, Cafayate
Hiking near Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina

Neblina (Cloud Cover) on the Road to Tafí del Valle
Sea of Clouds, near Tafí del Valle, Tucumán, Argentina

Sunset in Tucumán, Argentina
Sunset near Tucumán, Argentina

El Hongo, Valle de la Luna, San Juan
Valle de la Luna, San Juan, Argentina

Wine Tasting at Clos de Chakras
Wine Tasting, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

Posing at Termas de Cacheuta, Mendoza
Termas de Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina

View from Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

Flowers Near Santiago, Chile
Flowers near Santiago, Chile

Posing at Viña del Mar
Viña del Mar, Chile

Posing on top of Cerro Santa Lucia
Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile