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Argentina: Road Trip Buenos Aires to Mendoza

Top 10 Driving Tips for Argentina:

  1. You must ensure there is an issue with your license so that your spouse must drive all 2,300 km.
  2. Ensure you pass as many vehicles as possible.
  3. Ensure oncoming cars are within site and close enough to cause a collision before you overtake.
  4. Ignore stop signs.
  5. Assume you have the right of way at ALL junctions.
  6. Increase speed when dogs and small children are visible.
  7. Honk aggressively for all occasions.
  8. Drive as close to the car in front as possible.
  9. At night time, increase to maximum speed and maintain.
  10. DO NOT SLOW DOWN.

On a serious note:

  1. Avoid driving at night in the countryside. The roads are dominated by aggressive truck drivers.
  2. BE CAREFUL – it is not always clear who has the right of way.
  3. Stay off the dirt roads. We tried a short cut to avoid a detour and (wisely) abandoned the idea.
  4. Tolls are common. Have cash at the ready before setting out. Generally between 40 and 90 pesos for a car but I lost count of the amount we passed through on the way from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. At least 8 each way.
  5. Police presence is strong. We had no issues and they were all friendly but our documents were checked at least three times.
  6. Go with the flow. Drivers are impatient and erratic.

Monday

We picked up our rental car and hit the road. I recommend Baires Rental in Palermo. They speak English and are friendly and helpful.

If you are a good husband and like to share the driving, make sure you have a current license. If you are a bad husband and want your wife to drive all the way, then renew your license before the trip and present the temporary paper copy at the car rental agency. They won’t accept it and you can get away without driving for the entire trip. No problem. 🙂

The drive brought us through flat farm land, which could have been the Canadian prairies or even the Irish countryside in parts. Wealthy farm land, as far as I could tell, with ship shape new machinery everywhere. It was a far cry from the cow drawn ploughs of Cuba. The country side has cows everywhere. I suppose the country is known for its beef. Anyway, as a vegetarian, beef was definitely not on the menu for us.

We gave ourselves three days to reach Mendoza and picked Rufino as an ideal stopping point (450km from Buenos Aires).

Driving Route Buenos Aires to Rufino

It was late when we arrived. A crazy detour added about three hours to our journey, forcing us to drive at night. As mentioned in the above tips, I don’t recommend this. Truck drivers are aggressive and dangerous and there are a lot more on the road at night time.

We tried to avoid the detour by taking a dirt road, but it got too soggy and we were lucky we didn’t get stuck. An old saying says that “only a foolish man tries to take a two wheel drive Chevrelot off roading.”

Rufino is a Small town. As far as I could see there wasn’t a whole lot to do there but our Airbnb was cheap and extremely comfortable.

Our Air Bnb in Rufino

Our Air Bnb in Rufino

The countryside in Argentina is a tough one for vegetarians. Maybe a total non-runner for the vegan friends out there unless you are very well prepared. We could get food and didn’t starve but we were tired of bread and cheese by the time we reached Mendoza.

Tuesday

The next day was a 380km drive to Los Arroyitos guest house in Portrero De Los Funes.

Rufino to Portrero De Los Funes

The guest house was in the middle of the country side in the mountains, walking distance from the town. We were greeted warmly by Victor and breakfast was included the next day.

Los Arroyitos grounds

Our cabin at Los Arroyitos

Our room was comfortable and spacious

We were surprised at the high fences surrounding the road in the town at first. It was only when we saw the spectator stands that we realized we were driving on a racing circuit which gets used twice a year.

Some surprise racing on a circuit is essential

Dependable co-driver required

After a bit of yoga we headed to the town (small town) in search of food. Not an easy task for a pair of vegetarians. After wandering around for a bit we got some advice from a friendly local named Julio. Eventually we found somewhere and as if by magic Julio appeared again to make sure everything was OK and that we could get vegetarian food.

On our return trip we ended up eating at the hotel here which is a great option.

Friday

Yoga at 07.30 followed by breakfast. The terrain flattened out again until eventually we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Andes on the horizon. We had a 340km journey to our destination outside Mendoza which would be our home for the next few days.

Portrero De Los Funes to Portrerillos (outside Mendoza)

Wi-fi is scarce in the country side so decent hotels are always a good stop off point, in this case, the Intercontinental, where we got a good meal and could download our maps and contact our host at our next Airbnb which was about an hour from Mendoza.

Once we entered the Province of Mendoza, the climate was much dryer. We could feel it on our skin and our nostrils were dry. Moisturizer and lip balm are essential in desert areas. You will also immediately see the wineries once you enter the province.

Border to Mendoza – check points are common and your documents will be checked

We were greeted at the Airbnb by three happy dogs and Eduardo, the owner, who built all of the cabins on the property. It is situated in the countryside near a small town (if you could call it that). There is a shop 10 min walk away with some supplies and that’s about it. The isolation is perfect. Just us, the dogs and the mountains. And Eduardo pottering about here and there. There are also some restaurants and a brewery within a short drive if you get tired of the isolation.

We made friends

Our cabin consisted of a kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom. No TV, which I love. We had wood stove as it gets cold in the winter and all the cooking essentials. Getting back2basics with the forty-three-year-old fridge also.

The view from our bedroom of the snow capped Andes (and our feet)

The dining area in our cabin with the 43 year old fridge on the left

Our bedroom

In the evening we had a snack of cheese and jam by the light of a candle and slept like the dead in the black of the desert (there was power we just like candle light).

Saturday

We woke in the morning to clear skies over the snow-capped Andes in front of us. When I stood to look out the dogs were sleeping outside waiting for us to emerge.

Every morning they waited outside our cabin

Outside view of our cabin – Our host lived in the red cabin on the right and was always available if needed

There are some other rental cabins on the property also

The plan for the day was to explore the wineries of Mendoza. It’s not like what I experienced in Kelowna, British Columbia, where you drop in and out of wineries having a taster here and there. It seems like you need a reservation in all the places we tried.

Mendoza is a big Province so maybe that is not the case in other areas. The wineries we visited were visited closer to the city and are smaller, so maybe that’s why.

Eventually after the fourth attempt we found a winery that would take us without a reservation and we got a 45 minute tour of Clos de Chacras winery (located here). The grounds were beautiful and it felt like we were in another world as we went from a built up area to this quiet winery. I would recommend you do your research before visiting any of the wineries (unlike me).

I found it interesting that in Argentina they actually openly (it’s a conspiracy theory in North America) release chemicals into the sky to change the weather. This is in an effort to reduce the size of hail which can be similar in size to golf balls.

Our tour was followed by a tasting of four wines. These tasters were full glasses and considering Theresa doesn’t drink I was obliged to help her out. Dinner also included two glasses of wine each, so I think even though we only hit one winery we had a decent wine experience.

It was good value, we got 50% off the tasting because we took the tour. So, 12 glasses of wine, dinner for two and the tour cost around 2,000 Pesos ($70 CAD / $53 USD / 47 EUR).

When we returned to our mountain getaway we walked to the shop. We asked Eduardo to keep the dogs in because they would follow us and chase cars. Funny enough on the way back up, there they were waiting for us on the road, so happy to see us.

Sunday

After breakfast we set out for an unused Ski hill. Our cabin is at 1,600m elevation and we probably climbed another 1,500m or so on the spectacular drive up. There are cabins all along the way for rent and quiet hotels high up in the mountains. That doesn’t take away from the isolated feel to the place.

Journey up the mountain to the ski hill

There were lots of horses and cows as we made our way up the unpaved switch backs. Our two-wheel drive car was fine for the climb but I’m sure that’s a different story in winter and I wouldn’t like driving up here in the snow.

Some of the sights along the road

Switch backs on the road up as we climbed around 1,500m

Once we arrived at the end of the road it seemed like there lots of trails. If you had the gear you could probably spend a few days hiking and camping around here. We met many hikers along the way and some of them were decked out for the long haul (others were applying make up for photos).

We hiked about an hour to a camp ground at 3,200m elevation

There air was clear, and the sky was blue. We were surrounded by mountains on all sides. My personal belief is that nowhere is closer to God (whatever God is for you) than the top of a mountain so I found it interesting to see a crucifix nestled between the rocks.

After this we headed for the Hot springs (Located here).

The roads were busy and thousands of people had come out to the countryside to stay by the lake or even dried up river beds). We paid a bit extra  (900 Pesos / $32 CAD / 21 EUR / $24 USD) to go to the hotel hot springs rather than the public ones as they were too busy.

On the return journey we stopped off at El Salto for a meal. It is a tiny town but there are a few restaurants. Google maps told me there was a  brew pub in the area. I was skeptical but there it was (Jerome brewpub) in the most unlikely place.

Jerome brewpub

It was the first night I took the time to look at the stars of the southern hemisphere and see patterns I did not recognize and could not put a name to.

Monday

It was as if the dogs sensed we were leaving. They did not wag their tails or say goodbye to us. They were sad and so were we. We said goodbye to Eduardo and hit the road, taking the same route back. In hindsight if you were to make this trip it would be a good idea to fly back from Santiago rather than making the return drive.

We made our stop off in at Los Arroyitos guest house in Portrero De Los Funes to be greeted by Victor again. This time we had no issues with the food as we went to the Hotel in town.

Along the way there are so many little shrines with empty water bottles outside. These are an homage to a Catholic saint (not recognized by the church) who died in the desert with her child (who survived). People (mainly truck drivers) leave bottles of water to quench her unending thirst.

The next day, Tuesday, we headed off through the countryside under a blanket of strange clouds to arrive at our Airbnb in Lincoln. This place was excellent and our host Patricia cooked the most fantastic dinner for us before bed and our final leg of the drive the next morning back to Buenos Aires, where we stayed in Palermo again.

I can’t wait to return to Argentina sometime and next time take in some of Chile and head further south to see Patagonia or north towards Bolivia. It is cheap but seems to be a wealthy country for the most part. People are friendly, and travel / accommodation is easy. It’s definitely better to speak some Spanish especially in the rural areas. The only hard part is the journey to get there (depending where your starting point is, I suppose).

Hope you enjoyed the blog.

Peace,

George

 

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