A November 2004 trip
to Mendoza by Robert Raymond Ingledew
Quote: This tour is a thrilling experience. There are vineyards, you border the Mendoza river for many miles, the Uspallata valley, visit historical places, the thermal waters al puente del Inca, the penitentes ski center and chair lift and finally the Aconcagua, that is 23,500 feet high.
Since I have many photos, I will leave Penitentes, Las Cuevas, and the Aconcagua for the next part of this travel report.
Don't miss Mendoza. You will enjoy it thoroughly. And the climate is one of the best in Argentina.
I lived three years and a half in Mendoza, and since then have visited the city frequently. I have stayed at 4, 2 and 1-star hotels; however, I am not completely acquainted with the overall picture. The first time I went during the past years I stayed at a one-star hotel that I do not recommend, the hotel Mallorca. It is near the San Martín park, in a beautiful area, but it is one of the poorest hotels at which I have every stayed. I had no problems, but the room was at the back of a gallery, with a tiny bathroom, old fashioned, and cold. Their address is Julio A. Roca 719, Phone (54-261) 423-3079 but I was not satisfied with this hotel. To make things worse, there was no restaurant nearby, and Mendoza is not a completely safe city. The second time I stayed at the Castelar hotel (2 stars) and it was OK, I was nearer to everything and was even able to buy my tours at the hotel. The cost per night was about 20 dollars for a single room. Years ago, when I was working for an employer and had my hotel expenses paid, I stayed at the Äconcagua (4 stars). It is a very nice hotel, with a beautiful view towards the mountains, and a very nice swimming pool, but obviously their rates are not low. A room there just now (double occupancy) is costing between 78 and 102 Dollars per night. Higher rates apply during the high season (starting on December 1). If you can afford it, you will enjoy it. The only five-star hotel in Mendoza is a Hyatt and I imagine that is must have higher rates than the Aconcagua.
Mendoza receives many tourists from Chile and as an average is at least fifty per cent more expensive than other tourist destinations. Neither the Castelar hotel nor the Mallorca have a swimming pool, not even a park. I know another very nice alternative: The hotel San Francisco at Chacras de Coria, 10 miles away from the downtown. I am well familiar with this hotel, because an oil company I worked in during three years had rented the whole hotel for their offices and I was working inside the building. It has a nice swimming pool and is in a very nice and quiet area. I have no idea of their rates, but you might want to check it out. Their address is Pueyrredón 2665, Chacras de Coria, phone (54-261) 496-0110 . Chacras de Coria is a nice residential area that has a very nice shopping center (Palmares, see photo below)
WHERE TO GO: SAN MARTÍN PARK (beautiful): mountain view, lake, rowing club, rose garden, historical monuments (Cerro de la Gloria), a very good zoo. It is large, and there are buses inside the park that take you up and down. CHACRAS DE CORIA: A very nice residential area, with fashionable nightclubs (I have not visited any, so I cannot give any recommendations). RUTA DEL VINO TOUR: Visit to different wineries and vineyards. CITY TOUR: RECOMMENDED, but you can also get around on a taxi or on the bus cities. ALTA MONTAÑA (Aconcagua and Las Cuevas) The most typical tour. If you do not take it, you have not really seen Mendoza. CAÑÓN DEL ATUEL: A beautiful tour, that lasts at least 12 hours, visiting the Nihuil Dam, the Atuel Canyon, the Valle Grande dam, and the Valle Grande rafting area, plus a vineyard. You will have the chance to go rafting 45 minutes down the river for some 7 dollars. I really enjoyed this tour, but Alta Montaña (the Andes) would be my first priority. They stop for lunch at the Valle Grande Hotel and Resort, a very nice 3-star hotel. These tours are normally done in Traffic Vans and cost about 25 dollars per person for a full-day tour, and the city tour should be costing about half that price. If you bargain the rate, they might include lunch in the price of the full-day tours. The wineries tour includes tasting wine until you fall asleep... The Vallecitos ski center is about 50 miles away from the city, and a taxi will take you there and back for some 35 dollars. You can also go by bus to Uspallata, that is an enjoyable village half way to the Aconcagua.
FISHING: I have gone fishing many times to: 1) RÍO GRANDE (MENDOZA), a couple of hours passing Malargue, some 8 or 9 hours by bus from Mendoza. This river became famous when a 19 pound trout was caught it in, was overfished, and I never caught trout weighing more than two pounds. 2) RÍO ATUEL (EL SOSNEADO): Some 7 hours by bus from Mendoza,3 hours from San Rafael and 1 hour before arriving to Malargue. It is not famous, and fishing is far better. There are nice 5 pound trout there, but you have to go as soon as the season opens. If the water is moderately clear and there is no wind, you stand a good chance of catching nice trout. If the water is not clear, you are wasting your time... Fishing area: Immediately upstream from Highway 40 bridge over the river, on the right hand side, going upstream, towards the mountains. 3) ARROYO GRANDE (MANZANO HISTÓRICO, TUNUYAN) You will catch nice two-pound rainbow trout here, but do not go much upstream, because the trout you will catch will be far smaller. 4)POTRERILLOS LAKE. This dam is recent, and I have never gone fishing there (this lake will take years before it reaches its maximum level) but I have been told that nice rainbow trout are being caught there. Since the water settles in the dam, you can fish inside the lake, or downstream in the river. 5) PICHEUTA RIVER: Only if it brings a lot of water (not probable). I trust you will find this information useful.
Of course, you probably know that San Martin had received military training in France... You will notice that the colours of the mountainside change constantly due to their mineral composition: red means a high iron content, green means copper, white means limestone... A geologist could give you a better explanation, but you will notice the contrast in many places. Some of the streams in the area have clear waters with small pools, where you can fish rainbow trout. The construction of the Potrerillos dam now allows trout to grow in the lake, and I imagine that towards Easter large trout should come up the small streams in the mountain. I have fished in the Picheuta river and in the Río Blanco. You will only be able to fish in the Mendoza river with bait, unless if you go downstream from the Potrerillos dam, where water is clear, since this river hardly ever has clear water, but the streams that run into it are pretty clear.
You will pass through many tunnels carved in the mountainside, bordering the Mendoza river, until you will arrive at Puente del Inca. There are thermal baths there, that were used a century ago by the engineers of the Transandean British Railway, that went over to Chile (it no longer operates, but there is a project for putting it again in service) and where even an hotel existed for taking advantage of the thermal baths. This hotel was destroyed in 1965 by an avalanche, and never was reconstructed. But there is another hotel in the area, near a beginners ski center and 4 miles away from the Penitentes Ski center. Before we get there, we will visit a very interesting miniature museum, owned by a hippie or God know what, but that is worthwhile visiting. Before leaving Puente del Inca we go downstairs to the thermal baths, and under the natural bridge that crosses the river, and observe the stratified minerals in the underside of the bridge. Actually, all those minerals seeping through the clay give the whole place a real symphony of colours. The color of the water that runs beneath us is always dark, because it comes directly from the highest peaks of the Andes, with no dams or lagoons in between, except the Horcones lagoon that is very near to the Aconcagua and that is very small. We also visit the artisan's fare at Puente del Inca, where there is a good variety of articles. Our next stop will be Punta de Vacas, where we will walk over the tracks of the Trans Andean railway that presently does not operate, but that soon may be running again, according to Government statements. Here there is a very interesting museum (not all tours stop here, -the time I visited it I went with Huentata turismo). The admission fee is minimal and we have some interesting things to see, like a map on the tectonic origin of the American Continent and the Andes, explained by the owner (maybe a hippie, maybe a hermit, maybe a disciple of Silo, that every year gathers hundreds of his followers in this area). Whatever he may be, he seems to be well informed. Then he explains on another map the tactics that General San Martín used for crossing into Chile and taking the Spaniards by surprise, there is a representation of a Huarpes Indian with some reminiscences of their empire, and after that he tries to prove how energy is generated... I really enjoyed the show.
We pass by the Penitentes ski center but do not stop because the chair lift today is not operating, because wind is very strong. We see very little snow here, but will see a lot further on. Since I have done this tour three times, I will give you the complete picture, but remember that EITHER you go to the Cristo Redentor OR you go to the Aconcagua. Since we will have lunch on the way back at Penitentes, there is not too much time for additional stops. Since I want to post more photos, I am going to talk about the Aconcagua Provincial Park and Las Cuevas / Cristo Redentor, on the next entry. This tour is really fascinating.
We cross the rails of the Trans Andean railway, and trust that in a near future it will be running again. In any case, there are over half a dozen of excellent bus services that cross from Mendoza to Chile, and many of them come all the way from Buenos Aires. (Andesmar, Crucero del Norte, CATA, and others). Our next stop is at Las Cuevas, a phantom village that practically no longer exists since the Customs moved further down the road towards Punta de Vacas. It is November, and the road to the international border is icy, so they take us instead to the Aconcagua Provincial Park. There we have to walk a mile to get the best views at an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet. I only went half way and relaxed as soon as I got a very nice view of the Aconcagua. The Tolosa mount is also visible from here. Of course you know that the higher you are above sea level, the easier you get tired... And really got tired here... Now I continue with the December 2005 trip.
We go up the winding road from Las Cuevas to the Cristo Redentor, at an altitude of 16,000 feet. Although we are in Summer, I can hardly stand the strong freezing wind that really chills us. I take a couple of photos and run back to the bus. Remark: DON'T FORGET YOUR SWEATER, DON'T FORGET YOUR SWEATER, don't forget your sweater... It may be very warm in the downtown, fine for the swimming pool, but here it is always chilly... After taking some photos, we come back to the Penitentes ski center. It is not as important as Las Leñas, and it does not have snow all the year round, but it still is a very nice complex. Of course, there are no trees in the mountainside, this is not Bariloche, it is more like Denver, Colorado... We come back relaxing and sleeping on the bus, after having enjoyed a very interesting tour. Don't miss it. It should be your first priority when you visit Mendoza.
Apart from the city tour and the High Mountain tour (Aconcagua and/or Cristo Redentor), the Atuel Canyon is another very nice tour, although it takes 12 to 14 hours (depending on the driver) and means travelling some 300 miles, or more. It visits the Nihuil Dam, and from there comes downstream along a beautiful canyon, that is some 1,000 feet deep (this is not Colca, Copper Canyon nor the Great Canyon, but it is still very nice).
The Atuel river has crystal clear waters there, because they have settled down at the El Nihuil Lake. Then you visit the very nice Valle Grande Rafting area, where you can go down the river for 45 minutes at a cost of some 6 to 8 dollars, it is really enjoyable and it is Class II rafting that is no dangerous. After that you will visit a vineyard and winery, and then return to the city of Mendoza. It would rate it as a highly recommended tour. There are no organized tours to the Vallecitos Ski center as far as a know, but it is a beautiful place to visit. A trip on a taxi will cost you some 30 to 35 dollars, including a one-hour stay over there and the trip back. Another very nice tour is the half day tour to Villavicencio, where you will climb the mountain along a winding road (Caracoles de Villavicencio). That would be my fourth priority) The Ruta del Vino tour goes to different wineries where you can taste the wines they produce. Walk along the San Martín park, you will really enjoy it. Do not go during the night, because it could be unsafe.
If you want to visit shopping centers, go to Palmares in Chacras de Coria. It is very nice. And, of course, you should not miss a visit to Las Leñas. Andesmar Turismo has a tour that leaves Mendoza on Friday night about 11pm, arrives at 7 in the morning, comes back at 5pm and arrives at midnight on Saturday. This tour costs some 27 dollars. Last year the ski season in Las Leñas continued well into the summer, because there was a lot of snow. It is likely that this year the ski season will also continue, but check that out with your travel agency. From San Rafael you have local tours to Las Leñas, to the Atuel Canyon, to the Manzano Histórico (Tunuyán, another very nice area). The Galileo Vitale dam is nearby, and as a matter of fact there are a number of dams in this area (including Los Reyunos), where there are good fishing possibilities. You can also go by bus from Mendoza to Uspallata and to Tunuyán or Tupungato, three very nice areas, walk along the villages, and in the case of Tunuyan, even take a taxi to the Manzano Histórico (the historical apple tree) where it is said that General San Martin rested on his way over to Chile, and where there is good trout fishing. I should add that there is a bus service from Uspallata to Barreal (San Juan), near where there are two modern astronomic observatories. But you need to check out visiting timetables at the Barreal tourist board offices. That is also the area where Marlboro runs its wind-driven vehicle races. There is a natural clay racing track about 30 miles long, that seems to be in better shape than many paved highways.
Robert Raymond Ingledew
Villa Carlos Paz (Cordoba), Argentina