Located 105-km (65-miles) from Mendoza, the small town of Uspallata is almost exactly half-way to the Chilean border, deep in the Andes mountains. The population of 3500 people make their living supporting various outdoor activities and providing amenities to passengers on the Pan-American Highway as it passes through town.
Since this is the last major town between there and the border, our tour bus made a short stop at a small roadside cafe and craft market on both legs of our trip. Returning from the mountains, I could see the oasis of these tall green trees off in the distance. They were a welcome sight after the barren and dry slopes of the upper Mendoza River valley!
Some of us picked up cold beers while here, possibly helping to deal with the tunnels as we headed back to Mendoza!
Here's a bit of insight on 2 bus companies operating from Mendoza: TAC and Andesmar
TAC is a little cheaper than Andesmar. It is also the lower end of the scale. 'Entertainment' wise, unless you want to spend a very quiet night (no reading or movies), go with Andesmar. The TAC bus I took did not have one reading light nor television working. Andesmar on the other hand showed 3 movies that night and one in the morning (one of them was actually a good Martin Scorsese thriller and the other one had Ben Stiller playing the main character). The TAC bus was not heated and very cold during the night (bring a sleeping bag in the winter). The same trip was also 2 hours longer with TAC. As well, TAC does not hand out pillows or garbage bags and there was no toilet paper nor soap in the toilet. Yuk!!
The only advantage I can see of taking TAC: they serve big meals (milanesa, rice, pizza and dulce de batata)... although they are served cold!
About 3 hours outside of Mendoza city, and at about 2,700m, you can cross the historical border into Chile by going through the 3km long tunnel (built in the 1980s). The traffic through the tunnel is always intense, it is filled with trucks, tourbuses, and private cars. However, during the winter, there is the possibility that the tunnel will be closed due to the weather. During these conditions, the trucks and the buses will have to wait at the border. Always check the conditions up the road before setting off during the winter time (June-September).
Also, be aware that you can not bring any food items with you over the border, and if you are driving a vehicle, check ahead off time what paperwork you will need (I have heard that they need proof of ownership, etc)
One of the two tours included in our 4-day package air/hotel/tours deal for the Mendoza area included an all-day excursion to the high Andes. I arranged the overall tour package from Canada by internet/email with Ripio Turismo and they made the local arrangements with Huentata Touristico.
We had a nice-sized airconditioned Mercedes-Benz minibus, with a great driver and two tour guides, fluent in both Spanish and English. The guides explained things to us as we were driving up the impressive Mendoza River valley toward the continental divide on the Chilean border. There were also rest stops for drinks or washroom facilities as well as several stops at the major attractions outlined in my 'Things to Do' tips.
Altogether, it was a very pleasant outing for the 400-km (250-mile) round trip. All the arrangements made by Ripio for both Mendoza and Iguazu Falls worked fantastically well, and were reasonably priced too!
The Mendoza River valley cuts a path in the Andes that results in some very steep faces as the mountains rise up on either side. Both Highway 7 toward Santiago, Chile (part of the Pan-American Highway) and the now abandoned Transandean railroad (1910-82) have had to make their way along this route as best they can.
The highway has about 13 short tunnels where it made more sense to bore through the mountain slopes than to try to squeeze past the river. Our guides got us going on the practise of clapping and shouting every time we entered a tunnel and it was quite hilarious on the return journey as the beer and wine at the afternoon meal had further loosened-up our fellow travellers!
There are 4 ways to arrive in Las Lenas:
1. Take a plane to San Rafael and then a shuttle to travel the 215 kms (135 miles) to Las Lenas. On your last ski day, you'd better leave Las Lenas late afternoon back to San Rafael and take the morning flight next day. I recommend this option if you wish to stay less than a week.
2. Buy a skiweek (www.skihouse.com.ar)which includes a chartered plane to Malargue and the 80 kms transfer to Las Lenas. You must stay for a week checking in/out on Saturdays.
3. Go by bus which takes 14-16 hours from Buenos Aires. You'll depart the day before and arrive early in the morning to ski.
4. The trip by car from Buenos Aires takes 10-11 hours. You can drive to San Rafael, sleep there and resume the trip early next day. If not the driver will be deadly tired to ski.
This is a good hotel, clean, friendly and well located. Staff are helpful.more
Hipolito Yrigoyen 774, San Rafael, 5600, Argentina
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Couples
Ruta 7 Km 1141 / 1142, Uspallata, 5545, Argentina
Good for: Families