Mendoza’s streets are lined with sycamore trees giving the city a slight similarity to some of the cities of the former Soviet Union such as Tbilisi. It is a nicely laid back place with the Plaza Independencia pride of place amongst its grid of streets, where the odd colonial gem of a building peaks out at you from behind the sycamore leaves, and the enormous San Martin park on the edge of the city gives residents an easy and attractive escape from urban life. I get the feeling that Mendoza is the nicest of Argentina’s sizeable cities.

Just outside of the city are some of South America’s best vineyards, where the likes of Sottano Malbec and Ruca Malen Kinien are harvested for wine connoisseurs and casual post-office Monday night drinkers in Europe.

Looming above the city are the Andes mountains. It is just 2 hours from Mendoza before you can reach their true spectacular beauty and another couple of hours before the mountain pass reaches the Chilean border and its high point at around 3,000 metres above sea level. And it is also here, with the popular Los Penitentes ski resort and abandoned railway towns disappearing with the elements, that you can glimpse the roof of the Andes and South America’s highest peak, Aconcagua at 6962 metres.

The mountain really is a spectacular site, rising high into the heavens in the distance despite the fact that it is still a good 20 kilometres away from the route 7 mountain pass.

The Incas built a road through here, the British built a railway, and in 1935 a 60-metre tall wall of water rushed through the valley and destroyed whole sections of both. Most of route 7 escaped the carnage but when you see the remains of the road today you appreciate just why only drivers with a special license were permitted to attempt to negotiate the road…it truly is a scary and dangerous mountain pass, with it appearing impossible for two vehicles to have passed it each other in certain places. The new route 7 is far from scary and is in remarkably good condition considering that this is the main artery between Santiago and Argentina.

 (c) Justin Walley &