During our stay in Mendoza (Western Argentina), one of our goals was to set foot in the Andes.
Due to the Andean foothills bordering Mendoza there are many options to choose from, but typically tourists take the “excursion hikes” which involve an organised tour with a guide and are expensive. We didn’t want to do that, so instead I spent time researching the favourite options for locals and planned a nearby half day hike that we could do independently.
I decided that Cerro de Arco was a good choice. It is something that tourists don’t often venture to because transportation to get there is a bit tricky but many locals do and it’s worth the challenge.
Distinguishable by its crown of radio antennae, Cerro de Arco lies just to the West of the city amongst the looming Andean foothills. To get to the start of the hike, we took a local bus (114/115) to El Challao Mirador, at the end of the line 8km to the Northwest. The 8km took 45 minutes due to the bus winding amongst backstreets to various bus stops. It was nice to sit back amongst the friendly locals and even nicer to see all the young men and boys jump up to relieve their seats for women boarding the bus.
We departed at the end of the line, stepping into a desolate and dusty carpark. We sought two landmarks, a white building in the middle of nowhere (a nightclub no less!), and a “dyke” which is a regional term for a dry stone wall. Once locating these two points it was was easy to find the 1km gravel road leading to the base of the mountains. Within 20 minutes we had passed through the gates of the Club Andista clubhouse and were ready to begin the hike.
At the beginning…
What we found surprising, was that those first two steps put many tourists off from attempting the walk at all. Even our American housemate at the Air BnB caught a taxi to the mountain and spent 90 minutes finding and walking to the clubhouse. He had been living in Mendoza and using it as a base for travel for more than 6 weeks and recommended we take a tour guide for this walk. Really?
We decided that as long as directions and reviews were researched carefully and we had a plan (including a back up) it was worthwhile catching public transport and trusting that were were capable of small challenges. This kind of travel seems more genuine to us and overcoming problems is extremely gratifying too.
After passing the clubhouse we meandered along a gravel road for 1km to the reach mountain base. Then began the winding, rocky track up. Having been for a run that morning, we took it easy and yet found ourselves sweating during the constant ascent.
Some locals passed us at a slow jog, puffing and sweating up the Argentinian version of the 1000 steps! Without the leafy coolness and actual steps of course!
Instead the 11km return jog included jaggard and loose rocks, 600 metres of incline and full exposure to the relentless sun.
Heading towards the mountain
Quick stop at the helipad, look at Mendoza!
We made progress quickly and after a few minutes of ascent, looked back and could no longer see the clubhouse
We passed helipads, launching points for paragliders and even saw one paraglider soaring off the summit and spiraling upwards until we could no longer see him at all and felt a bit queasy watching.
But the most spectacular part of the walk was the 360 degree panorama of the city and the seemingly endless expanse of land to the East, as well as a peek into the higher foothills to the West.
Views of the Andean foothills behind
The vast expanse of Mendoza’s plains to the front.
We stopped for a quiet lunch on the top, flanked by two drooling stray dogs and then it was time for a quick decent before dusk.
As we walked back we marvelled at the eagles soaring close by, the cows amongst the foliage and the birds that could imitate other bird songs like our Australian Lyrebirds.
Time to go back down!
Can you see the trail?
With buses running every 25 minutes, it was inevitable that we would get within 500 metres from the bus stop and see a bus coming in the distance.
Nothing else to do but run!
Sprinting down the treacherous embankment with loose and tumbling rocks, all I could think about was the disaster of twisting an ankle, smashing to the ground and seeing a bus of staring people driving away!
But the potential crisis was avoided and we made it onto the bus.
Time to relax.