7 Good Reasons to Stop Between Mendoza and Chile
Lakes , rivers and mountains (links to previous posts in this 4-part series) awed and stunned us in Argentina, and they continued to do so as our time there was drawing to a close – for this visit. Even in Mendoza, when looking for a quiet place to sleep, we headed for the hills. But before that we took a look at the city. I had been told that Mendoza is a beautiful city and, even though it hadn’t impressed Juergen on his previous visits, I insisted that I should see it for myself. By lucky chance we were driving in that direction on a Sunday, making it the perfect time to drive Berta into the centre of a big city. We had no problem finding a park, and wandered around a bit. The main plaza is large and quite nice, and there were a few attractive buildings nearby, but overall I didn’t find it a place I really need to go back to.
We spent a quiet night above the city and drove through the shady tree-lined streets to complete some shopping the next day. That was more difficult than we expected because it was the national holiday for Carnival (or Carnaval or Carnevale or even Karneval, depending on where you are celebrating it), and many businesses were closed. Not wanting to be involved in any resultant mayhem, we left the city and continued north towards Uspallata.
Juergen had travelled this way 3 times already: in May when he drove Berta across from Uruguay to Santiago, and again in August and November when both he and Berta needed new entry permits to Chile. In November he stayed at Embalse Potrerillos, which is about halfway between Mendoza and Uspallata if you follow Ruta 7, and we thought to spend the night there. It is 12Km long man-made lake on the Rio Mendoza.
When we first caught sight of it we became a bit doubtful about stopping because of the masses of people to be seen all around. Of course, being a public holiday, many people were taking the opportunity to enjoy all the lake has to offer. (We were both fascinated by the sight of a crane doing great business, lifting yachts out of the water and placing them on waiting trailers – it must be getting close to the end of the season.) But we drove in mostly because Juergen wanted to take me to the end of the road which follows the lake that is curiously signposted to Mendoza. Strange to put up the signposts before finishing the road – and it doesn’t even look like it will be started any time soon. It’s just a dead-end! Once we had reached the end, we turned around. We stopped in a parking lot with a view over the lake, that didn’t appear to be very popular, so we decided to give it a try as a sleeping place.
It is a beautiful lake with stunning mountains surrounding it, and the sky was once again filled with those incredible cloud formations that we never got tired of seeing. A night undisturbed, except for thunder and heavy rain, encouraged us to spend another day there. People came and went during the day, making use of the vantage point to take photos, but most of the intense visitor activity was down by the lakeshore. We were interrupted mid-afternoon and asked if we could tow someone who couldn’t make it up the steep hill from the shore, but otherwise we spent a quiet and restful day, mostly just admiring the view.
The scenery along the route to Uspallata was once again spectacular. The mountains change colour and texture constantly, and their height is somewhat overwhelming. The road follows the Rio Mendoza, which was flowing very quickly and is used for rafting at this time of the year.
We arrived in Uspallata just in time to get our laundry into the Laundromat and buy bread and cheese at the supermarket before they closed for siesta. The laundry would be ready at 9pm and they would be closed the next day, so we drove out of town along RP52, which eventually becomes the road of 365 curves , to get a change of scenery. Juergen had driven that road from Mendoza to Uspallata on his August visa run and had no real desire to drive it again; even though it was beautiful, it was also nerve-wracking.
Museums surrounded by mountains
We arrived at Parque Arqueológico Municipal Cerro Tunduqueral, about 7Km out of town, a site with petroglyphs. Unfortunately, the park guard told us, we couldn’t access them because the stair was dangerous and couldn’t be used. The one we could see was directly looking into the sun so could only be glimpsed by shading your eyes. But there were some unusual cacti (Denmoza Rhodacantha) that we had never seen before, and the mountain views were amazing. We parked along the road and had dinner before returning to town to collect our laundry. We spent the night in the parking lot of Museo Las Bovedas de Uspallata, which Juergen had used once before. The parking lot gives a great view of the surrounding mountains and is far enough out of town to be reasonably quiet. The next morning I explored the small museum. It was actually interesting: “The Uspallata Bovedas were built at the beginning of the 18th century in order to fuse and grind gold, silver etc. This was a very important industry that (sic) place.” – English sign in museum.
Uspallata surrounded by mountains
We drove back into town and went for a walk to buy bread. It’s not a particularly interesting town. It is small and basically caters for tourists, who come to visit the areas around here, but it is almost totally surrounded by mountains and they are all beautiful and uniquely different. Juergen had talked to me about the beauty surrounding town, and also shown me photos , but there is nothing like experiencing it for yourself.
Mountains of 7 Colours
When we had finished in town, we drove out to the 7-coloured mountains. The sky was blue with a few fluffy white clouds – the perfect day to visit these mountains. They are something else – so amazingly beautiful, with all the colours of the rainbow represented. We drove the incredibly rough road, taking photos and just being astounded by it all. We then parked for the night, surrounded by mountains of all colours, with a clear view of Aconcagua – the highest peak in the Americas.
Lucky we had such a nice day to view the mountains because the next morning dawned with grey skies. It had drizzled briefly in the evening and it had probably rained a bit overnight. We really wanted to go for a walk, but the whole day it either rained or threatened with rain. We sat in the camper and worked on our computers, waiting for it to clear – a couple of times it looked promising, but never managed to. However, the rain did give us a different view of the mountains – the colours seemed stronger somehow, if not as vibrant as in the sunshine.
We had planned to sleep another night but towards evening Juergen began to get more and more concerned about the rain. After all, we were parked in a river bed and the road out was also part of it. When we had finished dinner we decided we should drive back to town to sleep. The drive out was still in daylight and we could clearly see where the river was starting to make its presence felt. We drove back to the museum to spend the night.
Mountain peaks with fresh snow
In the morning all the mountain tops were covered in fresh snow. Juergen was amazed – he had been here in May, August and November, and there was much more snow now, in the peak of summer, than at any of those times. It began to melt quite quickly, except on the peaks, and the day was once again clear and sunny. We decided it was time to cross into Chile. We went into town to the tourist office, where Juergen checked if the pass was open – it was.
Incredibly high mountains
We headed up towards Paso Internacional Los Libertadores (also called Cristo Redentor) although we wouldn’t actually cross the pass because there is a tunnel through the mountain under it, which reduces the altitude of the crossing by 600m to 3200m. The drive is amazing. First we followed the Mendoza River and were totally surrounded by incredible mountains with a lot of colour. It was breathtaking scenery. Then we began to really climb. We stopped briefly at Puente del Inca so that I could see this phenomenal natural structure. On the final stretch to Cristo Redentor tunnel we started to get glimpses of Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas at 6959m. It looked stunning with its triangular snow-covered peak. The higher we went, the closer the craggier mountain peaks came and the smaller I felt in comparison to The Andes.
We left this awe-inspiring scenery behind as we entered the tunnel. Partway through the tunnel we left Argentina behind and entered Chile, although the border formalities for both countries are carried out just on the other side. And there is no doubt that we will return to Argentina.
Uspallata is an active tourist centre with plenty of facilities. There are diverse operators offering tours to the surrounding sights, you can hire bicycles, go horseback riding, and – depending on the season – go rafting or skiing from here. The Aconcagua National Park can be also visited from here.