Argentina is arguably one of the most beautiful countries in the world. There are ubiquitous opportunities to explore it on a bike, and partake in exotic experiences when not in the saddle. It’s relatively inexpensive, and you do not have to speak Spanish to live out an awesome mountain biking vacation in what is the largest, most diverse Spanish speaking country in the world. Modern mountain biking is still in its infancy in Argentina, but its rugged landscape makes it one of the best mountain biking destinations on earth.
Check out this video from the Trail Ninja and Hans Rey:
There is no time like the present
Flights to Argentina from major US airports like DFW and Miami were historically cheap, sometimes less than $1,000 for a reputable airline, but were double that just a few years ago. This was a result of the economy beginning to implode in 2001, as the finance ministry announced unexpectedly an overnight devaluation of the Argentina Peso, from 1:1 to 3:1 to the US dollar. What this meant was that the Peso was only worth a third of what it once was; people lost their jobs, their savings, and their sanity.
What once was romanticized as the “Paris of South America,” Buenos Aires began showing ugly signs of collapse, with “cardboard caballeros” living in the streets as crime and poverty skyrocketed. Inflation still slowly continues to debilitate Argentine nationals, but for many reasons, the cost of airfare has once again declined, and tickets can be had for around $1,200. Even more attractive for travelers: the Peso to USD is currently 10:1 (20:1 on the streets). The country is hungry for tourism and the USD, as the government has discovered creative ways to punish Argentine citizens financially for traveling, charging absurd interest rates on credit spent abroad, and heavily taxing goods purchased outside the border. However, what this means for most travelers is that there has never been a better time to explore Argentina. Paradoxically, while capitalizing on this country’s chronic financial catastrophe, injecting tourism dollars are one of the few things that can actually help both small and large businesses recover.
Argentina’s growing cycling culture
Like many South American countries, most people rely on bicycles for both transportation and recreation. Having traveled there more times than I can count over the past 15 years, I have seen a recent, welcome spike in the sport of mountain biking, with more and more cyclists riding on the roads and in the mountains. There are still thousands of people who meander the roads on older street bikes traveling from point A to B, but this new breed exhibits modern cycling enthusiasm complete with modern cycling apparel, sporting hydration packs, wearing helmets(!), and riding much higher quality mountain bikes.
All these things suggest a brighter forecast for Argentina’s cycling communities.
In turn, it is becoming easier to find a reliable mountain bike to rent, and more tour operators are offering excursions to places like San Martin de los Andes, Las Lenas, and Mendoza on “real” mountain bikes. Popular Bariloche, known for world class skiing, has developed miles of DH-specific trails off of Catedral peak, and is open from December to March for riding.
Road biking has also become very popular in the last few years, and it is common to see pelotons of cyclists on roadways, particularly near and around vineyards and climbing some of the roads into the mountains. There are also shops that rent road bikes, but just like mountain bikes, the quality will vary considerably. Nevertheless, exploring the countryside as a roadie can be almost as much fun as riding the dirt.
The mountains are breathtaking, and there is so much to see
Despite living and riding in central Colorado, I was shocked at how the Andes seems to dwarf the Rockies. It is an entirely different scale and ruggedness. Flying to Mendoza over the Andes from Santiago, Chile, for example, not only invokes cannibalistic thoughts from the movie Alive, but is a humbling experience. Since the jet cannot gain enough altitude to fly over the massive Mt Aconcagua, which sits at 22,841 feet, it simply flies to the south of it. It is breathtaking to be at such a high altitude, look out the window, and realize a mountain is still higher than your aircraft. Consequently, climbing Aconcagua, which is the tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas, is one of the many things you can do in Argentina. It was the topic of the hilarious guide, How to Mount Aconcagua, written by Singletracks writer Jim Hodgson.