A park larger than its own town
Occupying 307 hectares, and offering 17 kilometers of paths, the San Martin Park in Mendoza is larger than the adjacent downtown area and probably is the town’s main attraction. The park can be easily reached by foot from the downtown area; it is delimited by the avenues Emilio Civit to the north, Boulogne Sur Mer to the east and San Francisco De Asis to the south. To the west are hills on which a future expansion is planned, and beyond them the mighty Andes mountains. A view of the city is available from the top of the hill Cerro de la Gloria, within the park.
The Western Park
In 1861, an earthquake destroyed much of Mendoza; many diseases were brought by the massive destruction. One of the steps adopted to put an end to the health crisis was the forestation of the area west of downtown and the creation of new neighborhoods in this area. Until then, this was an altitude desert, as much of the Andes Mountains are. Later, in 1896, the forest was transformed into the "Parque del Oeste," the Western Park. The French architect Carlos Thays was hired to design the new park; he had designed several other parks in Argentina before that. The result was a huge park with a distinctive European touch which is several sizes bigger on its hosting town. In the best South American fashion, its name was later changed to the one of a general.
The park has thirty-four sculptures; among them are the impressive "La Fontaine de L'Observatoire" located in front of the rose garden and the monument to the Andean Army. Among them are a science park belonging to a local university, a soccer stadium in which games of the World Cup 1978 took place, a botanic garden, a Greek amphitheater, a zoo, the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, a tennis, horse races, fencing, golf and other clubs. Ending the list is an artificial lake where water sports are played and the Regatas Club is placed. The main entrance gates were placed in 1909 and feature an impressive condor, a theme that appears in other sculptures within the park. Within the park are more than 300 species of trees brought from all around the world.
The park offers special activities during the weekends; these begin at the roundabout next to the Rosedal (the "Roses Walk"). On Saturdays those include walks (10 AM), Aerobics (4 PM), Salsa (5:30 PM) and others. On Sundays the menu includes yoga (9 AM), Aerobics (11:30 AM), walks (10 and 11:30 AM) and others.
At the southern tip of the lake is the Natural Sciences and Anthropology Museum. This is one of the oldest museums in Argentina and displays more than forty thousand items related to the country, including rocks, fossils, animal species as well as collections related to the Inca and Huarpe cultures.
The park is huge; hoping to see its attractions in a single visit is hopeless. Probably the best way to enjoy just a visit, is beginning with a walk from downtown Mendoza to the main entrance, passing through the elegant condor sitting upon the gate and then wandering around. The lake, the main fountain, the many trees surrounding the paths, the gardens and the other visitors assure a pleasant visit even if not all the clubs and museums and whatever would be seen. At first sight the park seemed idyllic, being so oversized in comparison to its city meant it looked empty. I visited it during the afternoon and as in the town, the police presence was massive and on the verge of scary.
The lowest point in the park was the artificial lake. It looked… well, artificial. Out of place in a high desert, its perfectly defined shores created a strident touch in the otherwise enjoyable park.
Beyond the lake, the place seemed to have been designed for lovers. Soft pastel colors, too many flowers and endless secret spots created a paradise for first kisses. Accordingly, most visitors at the time of my visit were couples; joggers diversified the human presence.
One of the most impressive points – especially since it seemed unplanned – was the main avenue splitting the park in two. Completely straight, it run westwards and was flanked by tall trees. As expected, the road and two lines of trees met at the horizon, but there, instead of seeing the blue sky, was an impressively tall, brown wall belonging to the lower parts of the Andes.