The road trip from Santiago to Mendoza is a discovery journey of the best landscape through the world’s longest mountain range, the Andes, with magnificent mountain scenery, desert-like plain, raging rivers, beautiful lake areas, secluded valleys, and the opportunity to witness the world’s second tallest mountain, which is Mount Aconcagua.
The charming part about this road trip is that the scenery is so drastic and you will never get tired of looking at it. I traveled on this road three times in two weeks and there were times I wanted to ask the bus driver to pull over so I could get off and take in the breathtaking vista.
Distance and duration of travel
Mendoza is the capital city of Mendoza province in Argentina and is 364 kilometers from Santiago, the capital city of Chile. It usually takes five to seven hours to drive through the entire route depending on the traffic and the border crossing.
How to travel from Santiago to Mendoza
Driving: from Santiago, it is about five to seven hours drive. Drive out of Santiago and take Los Libertadores or Uspallata to Mendoza. The pros of self-driving are that it offers you flexibility and allows you to stop at some scenic lookouts on the way.
If you decide to rent a car, please make sure you have permission to drive from Chile to Argentina and vice versa. Some rental car companies only accept cash payments and do not offer insurance coverage.
Bus: There are daily buses leaving from Santiago and Mendoza frequently and it is a pleasant ride. I was on board with CATA Internacional and the bus featured spacious seats, complimentary drinks and snacks, and movies. I did not pay attention to the movies because who cares about them when you can constantly see the amazing landscape outside the window?
All the buses traveling between Santiago and Mendoza have to cross the border at Los Libertadores, which is opened all year around. It is a regular border crossing so just be sure to get your documents ready. Passport holders from some countries have to apply for tourist visas to Argentina in advance and pay the reciprocation fee. For information about Argentina’s visa application, you can check it out here.
Another thing worth mentioning is that if you travel from Chile, you only need to stop at Argentina’s immigration (Aduana). If you are coming from Mendoza, it is the other way around.
Scenery on the road
I started my bus journey from Santiago on a December morning, and I have to admit that the first part of the trip was not what travel brochures and previous travelers made it out to be. The scenery outside the Santiago city center was pitiful. However, after we got out of Santiago’s rural area, the bus started passing through the mountain range and I was happy to find that the scenery was exactly what other travelers described or even more so. The majestic mountain range and abundant alpine scenery immediately caught my eye and was a constant companion on this trip. The landscape became increasingly drastic the more west we went.
Paso De Los Caracoles/ Los Libertadores
Paso De Los Caracoles is in close proximity to Chile’s border on your way to Argentina and it is one of the most incredible and important passes in between these two countries. The consists of a series of 28 hairpin turns climbing up to an elevation of 3,200 meters above sea level through a tunnel to the Argentinian side. On Chile’s side, the road involves a series of infamous steep descents that permit ultra-low speed for safety.
Drivers and passengers have a love-and-hate relationship with this area. The switchbacks are astonishing to look at, but the one-lane road and sharp turns made it a headache to drive through. I was a bit scared to look down but our driver did not drive maniacally as most drivers do in Colombia and Ecuador. They kept their speed under control and I ended up enjoying looking at the unique shape of this road from the bus.
Mount Aconcagua is 6,960 meters above sea level and it is the second tallest mountain in the world after Mt. Everest. This mountain was first discovered by Paul Gussfeldt, a German explorer who successfully made a summit attempt. Today, this mountain is a dream for mountaineers to accept the mental challenge and push their limits for a hike to the summit, as they need to conquer the altitude sickness, snowy and windy weather, low temperature, the lack of facilities at the top.
I went on a tour to Aconcagua National Park, walked around the area, and then onto the viewpoint where the red mountains and dry desert plains gave away to the snow-capped peaks of Aconcagua in the distance. The scenery looked barren and surreal and there were not so many people around. Under this giant mountain range, the cool breeze, and the desert plain, everything else seemed diminutive.
Inca Bridge is located 180km from Mendoza and it was used as a passenger bridge or Inca and other ancient tribes to cross to the Pacific Ocean before conquerors arrived. When I visited in December, I found the bridge displayed a reddish-orange color and this was a result of the rich mineral content deposited in the water underneath.
Another interesting fact about this bridge is that Darwin visited there in 1835 and there is a mural of his visit somewhere near the bathroom. There you can see an old spa, a hotel, an abandoned train station, and some souvenir stalls.
Embalse Potrerillos is a 12-kilometer man-made lake on the Rio Mendoza and is a perfect pit stop for a leisurely stroll and to admire stunning views of semi-transparent blue-colored water in the high mountains. I went there as part of the organized tour and we did not spend lots of time on this lake. The viewpoint had a huge group of people. Regardless, I still recommend anyone who self-drives to spare a restful day there and take in all the beauty this lake has to offer. The vista there is exceptionally gorgeous on a sunny day and I would love to look at it all day every day.
Arrive in Mendoza
As the bus was approaching Mendoza, the rolling vineyards and urban sprawls came into view. Walking on the tree-lined streets, I started feeling the warmth of the sunshine and humidity. Having spent two months in Patagonia, the warm climate in Mendoza took me a while to get used to.
I checked myself into the Lagares Hostel, which features a delicious breakfast, well-stocked kitchen, and a common area. Every room is equipped with an air-conditioner and the hostel has guided winery, paragliding, and hiking tours for guests to sign up for. This hostel is close to the main plaza, grocery stores, and bars so it is perfect for those who want to get to know more of Mendoza while enjoying exciting activities outside the city.
Have you traveled through the Andes between Santiago and Mendoza? Share your experience below!
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