After a month in Valparaíso, my friends and I decided it was time to venture beyond the comfort of our beautiful port town. For our first trip, we selected Mendoza, Argentina. Mendoza is known for its wineries and mountain views, and only a six-hour bus ride from Valparaíso. It was the perfect choice for my first long weekend trip and taught me some useful lessons for future travels.
If possible, take a bus
South America has amazing buses. They are comfortable, frequent, and inexpensive. My round-trip bus tickets to Mendoza cost $60 and included a comfortable seat, hearty snack, and phenomenal views of the countryside. To enter Argentina from Chile, the bus crosses the Andes Mountains, providing spectacular vistas of the massive snow-covered peaks. Traveling to Mendoza was worth it for the bus ride alone.
Choose your hostel wisely
Fortunately, my randomly selected hostel turned out to be great. The staff was incredibly helpful, providing me with maps and recommendations for things to do. The beds were comfortable, the bathrooms were clean, and it was located in a quiet neighborhood. Our fellow hostel guests came from a wide range of countries, and all were interested in swapping travel stories and learning about each other’s cultures. It was relatively cheap, too—$40 for four nights, with a free bike tour of the wineries. The only downside was a skimpy breakfast of bread, cake, and jam.
Friends who stayed in another hostel did not have such a pleasant experience. Their hostel was located on a street filled with bars, so it attracted a rowdy party crowd. They had trouble sleeping as fellow guests decided to hold after parties until 8 am in the lobby. It was pricier than mine, too. However, they were fortunate to have a breakfast that included cereal and fruit.
When it comes to hostels, it pays to do some research. Evaluate your priorities and choose accordingly; if you are looking for a quiet weekend away, choose a hostel further from the bars, and vice versa.
Comparing cultures leads to greater understanding of each
Mendoza was very different from Valparaíso. Mendoza was much more European, with wide, tree-lined streets, sidewalk cafés, and a sprawling park. Because Italy colonized Argentina, pasta, pizza, and gelato are found on nearly every menu. The bus system was impressively organized and well-marked, a stark contrast to the chaotic Chilean micros. The Argentinians were much more flamboyant and outspoken than Chileans, too.
Although Argentina felt comfortable due to its heavy European influence, it made me appreciate Chile. The rambling streets of Valparaíso lead to constant new discoveries. The simple Chilean cuisine is growing on me, and the beach is a welcome substitute to grassy parks. The crazy bus system is a truly foreign experience and always exhilarating. After returning from Argentina, I appreciate being able to walk down the street with relatively few catcalls and whistles. I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate these nuances without having a standard of comparison.
My four-day weekend in Mendoza was fabulous. I ate delicious food, met friendly people, saw the mountains for the first time, attempted to dance like an Argentinian, and made unforgettable memories with my new friends. But what will stay with me are these lessons I could only learn through experience.