Leaving a very beautiful part of the country ( the Lakes District ) for some, well, “less beautiful” parts was not something we looked forward to but such is the geography of Argentina. Given we were very broadly following Route 40 up the western spine of the country, the next area of significant appeal would be the wine country around Mendoza but that meant 3 long days of driving on either of two possible routes. Mendoza and the wine region we were really looking forward to, the bits in the middle – not so much !

Our last days in the Lakes District were spent relaxing in San Martin De Los Andes, a delightful little town, but like Bariloche just packed with Argentine holiday-makers. January and February are the high season months in Argentina.
Lots of street cafes and nice outdoor pubs in San Martin.
The lake was pretty but still a bit cold to swim in – we saw no one in the water.
Leafy street in San Martin De Los Andes.

Having more or less been on Route 40 all the way north so far we were open to a diversion – that, plus the fact that we’d been advised by a couple of Argentines that a good portion of its next 1200 or so kms were in very rough shape, unsealed, and with bad corrugations. Decision made – we’d divert to the more easterly route, through Zapala, Neuquen and on up Route 151 and then 143 entering Mendoza from the east, rather than the south on Route 40. Sacrificing slightly better scenery ( RN 40 ) for much better roads ( RN 151 ) was probably the right move – the very same Argentines assured us the best of Route 40 was in any case much further north. A bit overwhelming to think of all the travel we had done so far in Argentina ( and all in one direction )  yet we were still nowhere close to what they consider the “north” !

Our route north, diverging east from Route 40 – one can’t get too much desert !
Route 40 hugs the east side of the Andes – very rough in parts so many folks divert east around this segment.
Lois loves these plants, great for our dry climate back in Kelowna – everywhere by the roadside this past week.
Not far out of the Lakes District we climbed and passed through what seemed like a giant crater. Possibly it was, note the volcano in the distance.

Two things became immediately apparent as we plowed through the next few days on the road – firstly, formal campgrounds are scarce in the area and secondly, it seemed like half of Argentina was on the roads heading south for their holidays. A lot of traffic but generally going the opposite direction to us ( one benefit of entering the country at the bottom I suppose ). For the most part the roads were pretty flat and the landscape pretty uninspiring and unchanging.

In the abscence of campgrounds YPF gas stations fill the void. They often have enclosed ( segregated ) overnight parking areas, 24 hour service, a minimart, often a restaurant and sometimes even hot showers – who needs a campground ! We stayed in this one just outside Zapala as the only official campground in town had closed.
Look familiar ? Lots of this coming north.
Another gas station “campground” at the end of a particularly long stretch of road, this one near Santa Isabel on RN 143. We were first at this one, the Argentines in the van ( on the left ) followed us……
……by morning it looked like this. We were never short of company at these “unofficial” campsites !
We try to break up the long dreary drives with a supermarket visit to fully restock the camper – can’t just sit in the truck all day ! This one, La Anonima, near Neuquen. Every food imaginable and a good selection of wines and beers.
Have mentioned before that Argentina is exceptionally good value overall but the wines are ridiculously cheap. Here a Malbec red can be had for just $1.16 US. That’s low end obviously, but spend $3-4 and you are getting decent quality stuff.

Entering Mendoza from the east generally offers the advantage of seeing it against the backdrop of snow-capped Andes mountains but some low cloud and the fact that most of the snow had melted made it a bit less dramatic as we arrived. This self-proclaimed “wine capital of Argentina” is a low-rise, very cosmopolitan and attractively tree-lined city of almost 2 million people. Apart from some beautiful parks, and an excellent historical museum there’s actually not so much to see in the city – it’s major attractions lie nearby; the numerous vineyards, mountains, a great ski hill and ( apparently ) the only “Sahara-like” desert in South America. The wineries were a key draw for us, too, but we decided we’d save that for next week. Meanwhile, we spent a few of days in the city, exploring its sights, walking it’s leafy streets ( seems every  street is tree lined – right to the heart of the city ) and enjoying its numerous restaurants and cafes. One of those places people just like to hang out it seems and we have to admit getting pulled right into that ! Like many of the bigger cities in Argentina it has a classy “old European” ambience- no surprise given where many of the Argentines in this area originally came from.

Mendoza does have its dangerous parts so no “unofficial” or wild camping for us here. Fortunately busy El Mangrullo campground managed to find a spot for us . A very nice campground close to the city and an easy Uber ride to the downtown area. Love Uber !
Not too crowded when we arrived, thankfully, as we had to drive through the middle of the city. Something we try to avoid when we can. Realized it had been quite a while since I’d tackled downtown traffic in a Latin American site this size – coming from the south the cities are all much smaller.
Avenida San Martin, the heart of downtown.
Paseo Sarmiento downtown – a pedestrian street full of outdoor cafes and restaurants.
Mendoza is old ! Founded way back in 1561. Plaques outside the Museo Del Area Fundacional.
The Museo Del Area Fundacional ( MAF ) has a great section over some uncovered ruins of the original city. The excavation work is not extensive but what there is is well done. Sadly an earthquake in 1861 destroyed much of the city ( and killed more than a third of its population at the time ).
Cafes are everywhere and it’s hard to resist their temptations – the trade off ( for the sake of our health ) is that we do a lot of walking !
Many restaurants have sidewalk dining. Great to enjoy the fresh air and people-watching is almost a sport here. Can’t beat a good Argentine steak !
One does not actually even need to visit the nearby wineries to sample wine – specialty wine stores are all over Mendoza, some of which allow sampling. Here, Lois is checking out one section – and that’s just the Malbecs !
The gates to enormous Parque San Martin in the centre of Mendoza.
Tree-lined Avenida Libertador runs along San Martin Park: very “Champs Elysees” – like ( well, minus the Arc de Triomphe ! ).
Selfie, in Parque San Martin, Mendoza, in front of the lake.