Our first full day of touring in Mendoza was an excursion to the beautiful Andes Mountains, which we had previously arranged with Leo, owner of Vendimia Wine Tours. This is our third trip to Mendoza and we have used Leo’s company each time for private day tours thru the vineyards, but had never taken an Andes Mountain’s excursion. While we were taking wine tours with Leo the next two days, on this our first full day in Mendoza, Leo had arranged the mountain trip with another guide name Rueben.
We started the day with the breakfast buffet at the Hyatt Hotel. Hyatt buffet breakfasts both here and at home are always good and have plenty of options to choose from.
We then met Reuben, (our tour guide Leo had arranged for us today), at our hotel at 8am for the Andes Mountain tour. Here is a photo of Reuben we took later on in the day at a souvenir shop.
Reuben was born in the US, but grew up in Argentina, and we immediately felt at home with him. Reuben did work for several years in New York and Ft. Lauderdale, so he sounded very ‘American’ to us, and he was absolutely fantastic! I didn’t know what to expect on this day ‘mountain tour’ as we’ve previously only done wine tours in Mendoza, but with Rueben as our guide, and arrangements by Leo, it far surpassed our expectations!
It was still a bit dark when we departed the Hyatt hotel for the mountains..
As we drove along the highway towards the Andes Mountains, we could see a beautiful sunrise behind us.
We could not have asked for a better day weather-wise for touring the mountains. (We would later learn that the day after we toured, there was an early snow-fall, which closed the major tunnel along the way we went! We would not have gotten to do this tour as it was still closed when we departed for home on Wednesday.) But the Sunday we went was blue skies, and just enough scattered clouds to add additional beauty to the surrounding landscape.
The highway we were on goes all the way to Chile, and at times was busy with trucks coming from and going to Chile, but felt mostly remote thru out most of the journey We went thru lots of tunnels on the way as we weaved our way thru the mountain ranges. We made a couple stops along the way, from scenic overlooks:
to small-town petrol/convenience/cafe stops.
As we rode along, Reuben pointed out the tracks of the former railroad which used to run to Chile. Unfortunately, the railroad closed years ago, and while there were talks of re-opeining it, the repair costs would be astronomical, which seeing how remote the terrain it covers, makes sense.
Still, I envisioned they should do an ‘Argentine Express’ luxury overnight train, like the Orient Express or Rovus Rail, but sadly for now there are just the old train tracks. As we drove along thru out the day, the beautiful scenery constantly changed at every turn.
We also made a short stop at a ski village in Penitenes for some photos. The village was literally right between the highway, with hotel rooms and buildings on either side of it.
We next stopped by an abandoned town which contained ruins of a hotel and a still intact chapel. It was located by a ‘hot springs’, and was a resort in it’s day.
The hotel ruins are to the far right of the following photo, up the road from the Chapel.
Unfortunately the hotel was destroyed in 1965 in a mudslide, and while there was a loss of life of five workers, the hotel was closed at the time as it was off-season, so it could have been much more catastrophic. Still, the hotel was not rebuilt, and we later saw old photos of the hotel in a nearby shop we went to next.
The shop had quite an eclectic mix of items, from local handmade coffee mugs and pottery, drawings, tiles, soaps and toiletries, to snack foods, vinos, drinks, local chocolates and cheeses and more.
Rueben made sure we had a few samples of chocolates and other local edibles and drinks as we shopped for souvenirs.
I especially liked this Halloween-looking lady I took a selfie with!
I also liked this coffee mug fountain, but like the Halloween lady, was much too big to bring home.
We did buy a few souvenirs, including hand made coffee mugs, a HUGE handmade beer stein and a few other pottery items, and fridge magnets.
It was quite an interesting and fun store- and in the middle of the Andes Mountains too!
After shopping, we journeyed along to the highlighted viewing portion of the trip with a stop at Sendero Mirador Aconcagua. We viewed the Aconagua Peak from far away, but even from our vantage point you could see the huge glacier tip, with the peak rising to nearly 7,000 meters, making it one of the tallest mountains in the world, and the highest in the Americas.
This is the only portion of our tour today that we had a slight bit of ‘hiking’. While it wasn’t truly hiking, we did have a few hundred steps thru the brush and up some steps for a better view. There are hiking trips you can arrange, but as my ankle is still on the mend and I’m wearing a huge ‘boot’ still, I had asked Leo ahead of time to minimize the walking part of the tour as much as possible, which he thankfully did. I was fine with the limited walking, and was extra careful on the stairs, but I had no issues, and was afforded a spectacular view from the overlook.
As we continued on our tour, we next made a road-side stop that was once an Inca settlement, circa the late 1400’s. This site was so remote you wondered how they survived much less decided to settle there. It reminded me of the Indian settlement we saw in Arica, Chile on a previous trip, as they similarly had stone walls, and also many holes in the ground covered with rocks where they stored their food.
After leaving the Inca site, we then had an unexpected surprise treat – an afternoon pre-late lunch snack, complete with wine! Reuben simply pulled over to the side of the highway, and we settled on a scenic setting complete with a babbling brook for our snack picnic.
Reuben served us a platter of cheeses, crackers, salamis, olives and more, and then opened up a bottle of Malbec. We relaxed with our vino on some large rocks among the brush while sipping the wine and snacking. Reuben even chilled our Malbec slightly from the creek, which we called the babbling brook as it sounded more elegant – LOL!
After finishing our snacks, and the better part of the bottle of wine, we then headed towards Mendoza, stopping for lunch at the ski area we had passed earlier. By this time it was nearly 2pm, and even though we had just had some snacks and vino, we were ready for lunch.
We went to a rustic restaurant by the ski lodges, and had a pre-arranged lunch ordered by Leo, and had yet another bottle of wine he had brought for us! We had a leisurely lunch at the restaurant before heading back to Mendoza.
It was a full day of touring, but the day went by fast. Reuben dropped us at our hotel, and helped us unload our souvenirs we had purchased.
It was quite the fun day, and we were so fortunate to have beautiful weather, as the next day the five feet of early snow would close the tunnel and highway we had just been on. (I’m jumping ahead a bit to our trip home, but posting a photo from our flight from Mendoza to Santiago, where we flew of the now very snow-covered mountains for comparison. Five feet of snow the day after we had just been thru there!)
¡Las montañas de los Andes son muy hermosas!