Whether you’re working, studying or just passing through Chile, chances are you’ll spend at least a short time in the country’s booming and idiosyncratic capital, Santiago. And with a never-ending roll of cultural festivals, high-profile art and music and new culinary spots to entertain you, you certainly won’t be bored.
But one of the wonderful things about Santiago, should you need to escape the metropolis for a while, is its proximity to the mountains, the ocean – and to Argentina. Yes, you can book a bus ticket to go over the Andes and back again all in a weekend, stopping off for a couple of days in the vineyard city of Mendoza.
Here is This is Chile’s guide to an Argentine sojourn from Santiago.
The best time to go is….a long weekend during the summer months. Buses go between the two cities all year round, but there’s a risk of the pass closing for snow in winter. If you don’t have a long weekend to spare, a normal weekend will do, but time will be tight. You’ll depart Friday evening, arrive late at night and leave Sunday afternoon. The bus trip takes anything from six to nine hours, depending on the wait at the border.
Take the bus from….Terminal Santiago, connected to the Metro Line 1 stop Estación Central. A handful of international bus operators, such as Cata Internacional and Tur-Bus Internacional, depart from here with regular trips to Mendoza. Buy your tickets at the terminal a couple of days in advance, leaving more time for long weekends or public holidays.
Have your camera ready for….spectacular scenery on both sides of the border. Once you pass through the small town of Los Andes, the landscape changes from lush and green to an arid, mountainous valley as the road winds upward through sharp switchback turns. On the Chilean side, you’ll pass the ski resort of Portillo where you might catch a glimpse of the mythical Laguna del Inca. On the Argentine side, ask your driver to point out the towering 22,841 foot (6,962 m) peak of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas.
At the border you’ll need….to show your passport and, if you’re on a tourist visa, hand in your Chilean tourist card (the small slip of paper you filled out when you entered the country). Once your whole busload has filed through, you bundle back on board and travel on through the Cristo Redentor tunnel before stopping at Argentine customs on the other side. Make sure you’re aware of any visa requirements or reciprocity fees that apply to you before you travel, and on your return trip, remember the strict regulations about bringing food products into Chile. Finally, take a warm coat, a book and some small change for a coffee. You’ll be glad of them while you wait for the long line of fellow passengers to make it through customs.
In Mendoza, don’t miss….the wine. Sure, you’ve indulged yourself in Chile from time to time on a fine Carmenere or a Casablanca Valley white, but this is a whole other country – with acres more vineyards to enjoy. Wine tours are available in virtually all hotels, hostels and travel agencies in Mendoza. When you’ve had your fill, spend an afternoon wandering around the city’s leafy green avenues and taking in its five Spanish-style mosaic plazas. Or, if you’re feeling active, head into the foothills of the Andes to try zip-lining, horseback riding or water sports.
By Clare Bevis