Exploring Mendoza: To Do and To Stay

We have spent 2 weeks travelling west through the diverse country of Argentina. Our last stop in Argentina took us to Mendoza, the bustling city at the foothills of the eastern side of the Andes. We arrived by coach after a 10 hour overnight bus from Cordoba without any drama.

Travellers are drawn to Mendoza for it’s mountaineering, hiking, horse riding and other adventure sports. Mendoza is also the route to Santiago (Chile) through the border, for those travelling through South America.

exploring Mendoza

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What we got up to…

Hiking: Round 1
Our first hiking experience in Mendoza was up to a viewing point of the Andes Mountains. The guide from the morning walking tour had recommended walking straight from Plaza Independencia until we got to the top of a hill. On Maps.Me (a great app for maps without using data), we headed to the closest viewing point to his instructions, being Cristo De Los Cerros.

The walk was truly stunning with streets lined with trees with bright yellow leaves. Trees in Mendoza are all gifts from other countries, as nothing grows in the dry desert land. The artificial irrigation system that uses the snow from the Andes, is also quite impressive. It runs besides the roads to feed the plants and allows them to bloom.

Our route was blocked by a couple of streets that were guarded by a Security Guard so we simply walked to the next street with no barriers. Hind sight is a wonderful thing, but it turns out we shouldn’t have maybe done that!

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At the top of the Cerro (‘hill’) was a rather strange monument but there was a huge viewing platform to see the Pre-Andes. What an incredible view we had! We tend to take in the scenery for a while before getting out the camera’s. After-all, pictures are to remind you of the moments you have experienced… they shouldn’t be the experience. This was the perfect place for our picnic sandwiches and snacks!

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After this much needed break from the climb up, we headed down the other side of the hill. We were trying to avoid the 2 streets that were protected by security and thought we could simply walk round. Well… you know what thought did haha! A motorbike and a car with security weren’t too impressed and pulled us aside. They wanted our passports, to see in our bags and even took photographs of our belongings! I remember thinking… ‘I wonder how much hand-cuffs would hurt!?’ Through broken Spanish and the life-saver app of Google Translate we managed to communicate. However, we were still unsure of what we had actually done wrong. Next, we were asked to get in the car which reluctantly we did. They wanted to know where (‘donde?’) on earth we managed to ‘get in’. They refused to look at our map and wanted directions to where we entered. After what felt like a never-ending journey, we were told to ‘Vamos’ (go!). They didn’t need to tell us twice… we were off haha!

After much discussion with locals, we believe we entered a private neighbourhood where the rich and famous live. We may have been trespassing accidently and they wanted us to prove who we were. Let’s hope there were no burglary’s that afternoon, or we may not be able to leave the country haha!

Hiking: Round 2

The second hike, was much more peaceful and enjoyable with the volunteers from Hostel Club. With support from a mountaineering guide, we jumped on a bus to Petrerillos and began a steady hike. This is a small settlement just south from Mendoza city centre. We walked through the town, jumped across streams, climbed up the hill to a view point of the Pre-Andes. The views were incredible and I then realised why we were unable to cross the border to Chile… the snow! We took a well deserved picnic break at the top with the dogs that had accompanied us, and I even enjoyed a Mate drink (with honey is the trick!).IMG_1259 (2)

As we returned to the town we stopped at an artificial lake in Petrerillos. It looks so tranquil and is a great place to stop for a well deserved Empanada from a local vendor nearby. The bus ride there and back was 110 ARG (approx £3).

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Wineries
Argentina is the 5th largest producer of wine in the whole world! So when in Rome… we of course visited a winery! There are many tour options available to visit many wineries in a day. However, we chose to visit one famous winery in Maipu called Bodegas Lopez. They offer 2 English Tours a day, we went to the 4pm one.

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The wine production system is incredibly impressive! They Lopez family have been producing wine for more than 100 years and now make 84 cases every 5minutes. I was pleased that they have 0% waste. Anything they do not use is sold to other companies for production of olive oil or may even end up in your skincare. The red wine is aged for at least 10 years! On the tour we saw the rows of wine barrels that have the smallest little door on them. I cannot believe that the staff fit through these doors to clean inside the barrels. Each barrel is drained and cleaned once every 6 years!

On our free wine tasting tour we learnt how to hold our wine, swill it, smell it before most importantly tasting it! We were surprised to find that we fell in love with a white wine, the sweetest we have ever tasted! Once we realised we got 15% discount on already cheap prices, we walked away for a bottle for the evening for 90 ARG (£2.50).This was used in a white wine sauce for our chicken dish and we enjoyed the rest over tea.

You can easily get to Maipu by utilising the train line. Remember you need a RED BUS card that you top up at local shops that show the RED BUS sign in the window. The card costs 19 ARG and each journey costs 11 ARG.

Plazas
There are 4 Plazas that surround the central Independencia Plaza. It is well worth taking a steady stroll around all 5 parks. This includes Plaza Italia, Espana, Chile and San Martin.

Where we Stayed
Our hostel stay at Hostel Club, really made our stay in Mendoza a great stay. The hostel is ran by loyal volunteers who all bring a positive and fun atmosphere to the hostel. Some of the volunteers specialise in different areas such as Mountaineering, Wine and Cookery. They are able to give great advice, offer tours at competitive prices or just simply take you out for the day with no additional costs. As mentioned above, I joined the volunteers for a day trip to the mountains and had a fantastic day! If cooking isn’t for you, there are volunteers who cook lunch or evening meals for only 100 ARG (£2.71 approx). You are always greeted with a smile by the volunteers!

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First Floor
The building feels like a mansion with wide winding stairways, large rooms and Victorian style bathrooms! In the reception area you will find the weeks worth of activities including wine tours, ping-pong tournaments and mountain hikes to name a few. We stayed in 2 different dorm rooms during our stay and found them to be comfy, clean and bright. There is a large bathroom next door to Room ‘Argentina’ that even had a bath! Down the main corridor is a male and a female bathroom with showers and toilets. We stayed in a dorm room with a private bathroom for a few nights but wouldn’t say it is necessary to spend the extra when the communal bathrooms are just as good. The showers are always HOT too! On this same floor, is the medium sized kitchen with plenty of supplies to make a good meal. The oven even works which is a bonus! We were treated to homemade bread made by a volunteer in this kitchen.

Second Floor
This floor is the communal space featuring a bar area, TV area, ping-pong, eating area and outside space. The bar area is where the breakfast is served in the morning, with coffee, tea, croissants, breads and spreads including Dulce de Leche of course! If you are leaving early before breakfast hours, the staff are great and will wake early to ensure you are fed before leaving! The TV area was great for the Mister to relax and watch the England matches. We spent most evenings playing ping pong with other guests and volunteers. It was a great way to get to know people and improve my ping pong skills! There are plenty of benches and tables to eat at with electric sockets a plenty to work on your laptops. In this space there is an indoor BBQ area, where they host Asado evenings too… a real treat if you get the chance to have an Asado evening. Read about our Asado night in Buenos Aires! The outdoor space was a great sun trap to dry our clothes or relax with a beer. While we were staying there was Chilean guests who were in a band. We really enjoyed listening to there music on the roof top for the evening.

Throughout our stay, the volunteers turned into friends and that’s what made our stay even more special. We were invited on trips, invited to eat with them and we returned the favour by cooking our wine inspired meal for our new friends too. I highly recommend Hostel Club for the great atmosphere, activities on offer, the facilities and the location within Mendoza.

Go the Distance in Mendoza,

Chloe

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Fall in Love with Buenos Aires

As I’m usually not a fan of big cities, I didn’t expect much of the capital city of Argentina. How wrong was I! Buenos Aires (translates to ‘fair winds’) is by far my favourite place so far! We spent 5 days exploring and has been the first place that felt like home.

We found Buenos Aires to be a very multicultural city with people from Italy, France, Asia and so on. It has been described as the ‘melting pot of several ethnic groups’. This means that they expect people not to always speak Spanish, so they have invented universal hand signs. We were grateful for learning ‘I have no idea what your saying’, ‘Watch out’ and ‘How much?’.

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The Food Scene
While in Argentina we really wanted to try more of the typical foods and snacks but without the attached price tag!

The San Thelmo Market is a great place to try the local food such as Empanadas. They are like the equivalent of Pasties. We enjoyed a chicken and a cheese and onion one with Orange Salsa Verde… it was divine!

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On most street corners you will find a Café and we were recommended to try a Submarino and Churro with Dulce de Leite inside. A Submarino is a fancy hot chocolate, where your served with hot milk and you add the chocolate. We literally couldn’t find the Churros with the Dulce de Leite inside but enjoyed a plain one instead. If you find one… well done! They literally put Dulce de Leite on everything! Its the best spread in town and easily replaced Jam for me!

Rhys from Rayuela Hostel recommended Argentinian Ice Cream to curb our midnight munchies and sweet tooth! Off we went to Nicole’s Ice Cream Parlour and with our broken Spanish ordered half a kilo of two flavours – Dulce de Leite Granzola and Vanilla with Chocolate Chunks (we can’t remember the Spanish!)

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We had heard so much about the all you can eat Asados and we were so pleased when our hostel hosted an Asado evening. This involved eating endless meat cooked on a BBQ in a variety of ways with each type of meat served as separate dishes. There was about 20 people sat in a long row of tables (like school dinners!). We started eating at 9pm and didn’t stop until gone 1am. How people eat so late every day is beyond me but what an experience… needless to say we had a veggie meal the next night!

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What we got up to

Buenos Aires is known as the birthplace of the seductive, energetic and romantic dance of Tango! Every Sunday at 7pm you can catch a public tango show in Plaza Dorrengo at the end of the San Thelmo Street Fair which we also really enjoyed! Everything in South America runs late so they advertise 7pm but don’t worry if you are late it actually started at 8pm. Check out their dance floor!

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Casa Rosado (The Pink Palace) is where the presidential offices are and past presidential residences. There are many theories as to why the house is pink when all other buildings were white at that time. One theory is that it is a union of red (The Federalists) and white (The Unitarians). Or another theory is that the white paint was mixed with bovine blood to make it waterproof… pretty grim! Free Tours are offered in English on the weekend but you have to register online.  We really enjoyed the tour, it was great to stand on the balcony where many famous people have stood including the Argentinian Football Team and of course, Eva Peron when she made her famous last speech to her supporters.

While exploring Buenos Aires, you will come across the tall Obelisk that marks the first anniversary of the Independence from Spain. We were fortunate to stumble across this at sunset and it was beautiful. The National Congress building is one heck of a building too and you will find that the Congress building, the Obelisk and the Pink Palace all link up in a triangle.

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You may wonder why you see many women wearing white head scarfs, scarfs tied to peoples bag or the head scarf graffiti around the area. This is a symbol used by the Mothers of the lost children from the ‘Dirty War’. During the military dictatorship of 1976-1983, any Argentinians who didn’t agree with policy were abducted, raped and murdered. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people, were lost during these years. At the time, Mothers of Plazo de Mayo wore white head scarfs and would meet in Plazo de Mayo and hold a silent protest holding photographs of their loved ones, in a plea for answers. Still today, on a Thursday at 3.30pm you see this for yourselves.

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As morbid as it sounds, you could literally wander the city of the dead for hours upon end at the Cementerio de la Recoleta (Recoleta Cemetery). It is truly fascinating to walk the ‘streets’ of statues and mausoleums. I recommend grabbing a map as you enter. This will make finding Eva Peron’s mausoleum much easier. It wasn’t as impressive as I had imagined but there were flowers there which made me smile.

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Buenos Aires, as wealthy as it used to be also has a more deprived area, called La Boca. This is the working class area where you will see many street artists. Le Caminito (translates to Little Walkway) is where the beautiful coloured streets of shacks are. This has become quite a touristy area and there are many souvenir shops, local food to eat and tango dancers to watch. We came across a gentleman who had no use of his arms who was painting the most beautiful painting of the Caminito with a brush in his mouth! We was in awe of his talent and he was very kind letting us take a picture of him and his masterpiece. The Bombonera Stadium is also close by and is where La Boca Juniors play.

Where we Stayed

We found it difficult to find a great place to stay on Booking.com in Buenos Aires and in fact had a bit of a nightmare at the first place. A friend who we met in Paraty, let us know where he was staying and we jumped ship and went to Rayuela Hostel. Rhys and his kind staff made us very welcome and literally took us off the street, as we rocked up with no booking, just a sop story haha!

It doesn’t feel like a hostel, it truly feels like home and we enjoyed both our stay in the dorm rooms and our upgrade to a private room with an en-suite. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights they cook up feasts for the guests at really reasonable prices. We arrived on a Friday and didn’t cook for 3 nights… it was bliss. Vegetable Soup, All you can eat Chicken wings and then Asado… we were in heaven!

The breakfast is by far the best we have had in South America, with homemade bread, homemade cake, all the lovely spreads, fruit and tea, coffee, mate and hot chocolate! The kitchen is equipped with everything you could need (apart from a sieve but we will let them off with that one!)

The staff genuinely go the extra mile to make your stay great including extra heaters, inviting you over for a drink, recommending ice cream parlours and even lending you an extension cable when you want to charge everything at once for your next journey!

Prices range from £8 – £12 for the shared dorms, so for a homely stay on the doorstep to all the top sights in Buenos Aires, we recommend Rayuela Hostel.

Go the Distance in Buenos Aires,

Chloe

Punta Del Este: To Do and To Stay

Punta Del Este is known as South Americas most glamourous resort with its A-List celebrity beaches and yacht harbour.

Often people go on a day trip from Montevideo as it is only 2 hours away. However, I feel Punta Del Este deserves a 2 night stay.

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As we stepped off the overnight bus at 6am (after a surprisingly good nights sleep) we immediately saw the prestigious ‘Hand in the Sand’ in the distance! This was the perfect opportunity to see sunrise and get some ‘tourist-free’ pictures! Also known as La Mano, the hand is on Brava Beach, which is also known for its strong surf.

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This is the first place we noticed we arrived in low season. It felt like a ghost town but that’s not always a bad thing. Yes in the day it was quiet, but we got some fantastic pictures and after 4pm the beaches became alive with locals until sunset and beyond.
That day we not only saw the sunrise but also the sunset… it was a long but rewarding day! We visited the Lighthouse, the Catholic Church (Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria), Brava Beach, Emir Beach as well as a walk to the yacht harbour where we saw our first glimpse of the Sea-Lions!

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Where we Stayed

We spent two evenings at Trip Hostel and then we were kindly invited to Del Barcito Hostel. They kindly hosted us in a private bedroom with a private bathroom. I have to say this is the comfiest nights sleep I have had all month. A proper mattress that doesn’t make you feel like a cripple the next day… bonus points! After a day of rain, we definitely were in need of a hot shower and Del Barcito have HOT showers! It sounds daft but little things please travellers, like hooks and shelves. It makes our lives so much easier and Del Barcito have thought of everything for you.

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Del Barcito Hostel is a restored barn and has accommodation in two wings; the private rooms and the dorms. The hostel offers fantastic communal areas such as; a cinema room, two cosy seating areas and games area in the communal kitchen space. There is ample space to have some time to yourself, watch a film or have a ‘friendly’ game of table tennis! This was Duncan’s favourite thing about the hostel. I didn’t realise he loved ping-pong so much but apparently ‘who doesn’t like a game of ping-pong?’ It’s a good question haha!

The kitchen offers everything you need to make a proper meal. There were ample pots, pans and utensils. We made a lemon chicken, rice and vegetable dish, using many more pans than we usually would and it was divine! In the morning, they served bread, ham, cheese with jams and my favourite, Dolce de Leite. We were also made a banana smoothie, this was a first for us and we really appreciated the effort the staff made.

Throughout the hostel you will see beautiful art work in keeping with the street art we have previously seen around South America. This adds to the ambience of the property. The staff speak good English and were more than happy for us to join them with some popcorn and a film. As we mentioned, it was quiet due to low season but I can imagine this place comes alive in high season!

Del Barcito Hostel offers dorm rooms from 50 BR and private rooms from 149 BR (price may vary in high season). To book your stay Click Here!

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Go the Distance in Punta Del Este,

Chloe.

Rio Forest Hostel Review

This is the hostel I have been looking forward to staying in the most and it didn’t disappoint. We moved here on Day 3 in Rio de Janeiro and came from the Copacabana area up to Santa Theresa in order to move closer to Central Rio.

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After a journey through winding roads, narrow streets and up very steep hills I was thankful that we had took a taxi. The mister’s foot was still not working properly, so we had to taxi it but I would recommend doing the same if your carrying all your earthly goods with you in a rucksack or two!

When we arrived we were faced by never ending steps but … there was a saving grace! What can only be described as a mini cable car came down the mountain side as a trolley for our 60L rucksacks. We were so grateful! We were greeted by the loveliest staff who also speak very good English, which was helpful. We were super early for check in but there was a place to rest our bags and plenty of places to relax and soak up the views of Santa Theresa and Lapa.

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Again, the staff were fantastic and our ‘Samboromo 8 dorm room’ was ready within 30mins. This room had 4 bunk beds, it’s own bathroom with a warm shower (this was a first for us in Brazil) and 4 large lockers inside the room and 8 just outside. The rooms were clean and supplied with clean sheets and pillows and linen was stored in the lockers.

This place is truly stunning with colourful graffiti artwork throughout the many floors and lots of comfy seated areas on balcony areas overseeing the city lights. The first main floor has a Reception and Kitchen. As well as the graffiti murals, canvas artwork transforms the building. The colours and textures of the art add to the vibe of this beautiful hostel. The Kitchen is basic, as it seems to be in hostels. Although, a few extra pans, knives and a tea towel would improve this.

The second main floor hosts the mini bar and pool. When we arrived the atmosphere up there was chilled with all the good vibes, beers and people laid by the pool. There are secluded areas shaded by trees with benches up some more steps, as well as a great photo opportunity with the front end of a VW orange campervan! Living the dream ey! There is BBQ facilities up there too which we by accident stumbled upon a birthday BBQ party! Blissfully unaware, we were invited across for some food by pleasant Brazilianoes that made us feel very welcome. As it is low season, it is quite quiet in the day time so this added a great atmosphere.

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The mini bar and pool area is also where the Free Breakfast is on a morning. We were delighted to see an array of food, drinks and utensils on offer. We had cereal, toasties, fruit, coffee and juice, so we were set up for the day. It was lovely to see healthy looking fruit that was well covered (elsewhere food can often be left out for a while!)

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This place is literally built into the side of the mountain, it is incredible! We have seen lizards, birds and even got to see 5+ little monkeys keen for their banana breakfast too!
Our 8 person dorm cost 45.00BR each which is £10.38 pp/n. The dorms range from 9 person at 40BR to a family room at 220BR. As we arrived in low season we had the dorm to ourselves with its own bathroom. You cannot beat the service, the smiles of the staff, the vibrant artwork, clean rooms and chilled atmosphere, especially for the money!

While in Santa Theresa we stumbled across the Secleron Steps and completed a walking tour in Downtown Rio and Lapa, which are both walking distance of Rio Forest Hostel. There will be a blog featuring ‘Things to do in Rio’ to soak up more knowledge before you arrive, coming soon.

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If you would like to stay at Rio Forest Hotel, I recommend taking a look at their website, Facebook or Instagram. However, for simplicity and best rates book through booking.com.

We intend to return to Rio Forest Hostel in the future in Carnival Season.

Go the Distance in Rio,

Chloe