Why You Should Plan Your Next Mountain Bike Adventure in Argentina

The Andes border the Western spine of Argentina. Because the country’s 1.1 million square miles are mostly oriented north to south, Argentina has unbelievable diversity in ecosystems. The north is rich with lush rainforests that it shares with Brazil. The south is crammed with glaciers and antarctic fauna and flora. The east is comprised of never-ending coasts with subtropical beaches and amazing marine wildlife. The central parts of Argentina are a mix of other-worldly deserts framed by rolling plains governed by cowboys known as gauchos.

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The winter sun sets near Tres Marias, as these hikers overlook one of the roads that lead to trails. Some are steep and require hike-a-bike, but the effort is worth it for the solitude and views.

Though there are opportunities to ride mountain and road bikes in every one of these places, the areas I am most familiar with are Mendoza and San Juan. Mendoza offers riding similar to what you will find in much of the Rockies, and because of it’s robust outdoor culture and economy, it is a great place to explore on and off the bike. There are defined areas of singletrack, of course, but if you explore any trail systems in Argentina you will undoubtedly ride a lot of dirt roads or doubletrack as well. The scenery, the adventure, and the unapologetic ruggedness is what makes riding here amazing.

One of the best places to rent a bike or sign up for other adventures in Mendoza is to walk down the Peatonal, or main pedestrian area, in the heart of the city. Aside from a plethora of shops, restaurants, and coffee houses, the most reputable adventure businesses are clustered here. Make sure you explain, to the best of your bilingual ability, your skill level and what your expectations are; otherwise you may wind up renting a junk bike on flat dirt road as a participant in an “advanced tour.” In general, though, most of the tour operators speak very good English (as well as other languages) and have a fairly strong understanding of what constitutes real mountain biking.

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A cyclists rides the trails and streets in a park in Mendoza on a brisk December afternoon

San Juan, on the other hand, is an adjacent province to the north, and has a climate and riding similar to what you would find in Nevada or southern Utah: a hot, dry desert with million-mile views. There are less opportunities to rent quality bikes in San Juan, but there are miles and miles of multi use trails that stretch out along the Andes Cordillera.  I’ve spent more time hiking than biking the trails in San Juan (because I didn’t have a bike), and with rare exception, the terrain is choice for the more experienced rider, and worth exploring if you don’t mind carrying your bike up a few steeper sections. The picturesque landscapes here, and the lack of trail traffic, will allow you to experience raw mountain biking in a country that is just starting to embrace it. In a word: beautiful.

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Singletrack winding up and around Tres Marias. The paragliders and hikers use this trail frequently, and it is well maintained.

This crude video will give you a better idea of what some of the trails look like near Dique Ullum in the heart of San Juan Province. Because of the fledgling economy, unfortunately, things are always in flux. If I was to recommend a specific tour or guide, it may not be in existence even if you have the opportunity to visit soon.  However, social media is vibrant in Argentina, and in my opinion, the best way to find tours, rentals, and trails.  By doing some simple web searching, you can ask questions and get more up-to-date information on Facebook pages like this one, or this trail database. Singletracks is still gathering trail data and info in countries like Argentina, so if you have .gpx files, please add them to our list!

The trails here are rugged, but well worth the effort
The trails in San Juan are rugged, but well worth the effort if you have a good set of lungs and legs

It’s not all about the bikes

Chances are, if you visit Argentina you will spend most of your time off of the bike exploring this vast country. Just taking a long drive across a wide open space like Patagonia can give you enough time to clear your head and realize what the world looked like many moons ago.

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Some of the foothills near Dique Ullum and Tres Marias that I rode many years ago. There are no trail maps here, but it is difficult to get truly lost.

In both Mendoza and San Juan, there is a vibrant outdoor scene. Most tour operators in Mendoza offer trips for trekking, kayaking, rafting, parasailing (parapente), mountaineering, ziplining, and snow sports. I’ve snowboarded in several places, and I highly recommend Las Lenas, which is also one of the best places for downhill and enduro-style mountain biking in the warmer months (full disclosure: I’ve not ridden there during the summer yet, but it’s on my list!). All this adventure sure works up an appetite, though, and fortunately Argentina has a cure for that.

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Parasailing, or parapente, is absolutely amazing (and very affordable), in places like San Juan. Photo: J Garcia

The beer’s pretty good, but the wine is to die for

Though Quilmes, Andes, and Antares make fine post-ride suds, Argentina is internationally recognized for wines across the spectrum of color and blend.

Mendoza is the epicenter of the living grape in Argentina. Paired with the country’s most lucrative and delectable export–quality beef–the Malbecs and Syrahs in and around places like Maipu are second to none. There are opportunities to visit bodegas (wineries) and sample the goods, at a fraction of the cost of places like Napa, CA. Setting up base camp in central or southern Mendoza, you can explore some of these establishments by bike without worrying about how much you consume. There are several well-known bodegas in Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo, such as Domaine St. Diego, Mendel, and Tempus Alba, to name a few.

You can check out a sample of must-see wineries here.

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A typical Argentine weekend: barbeque, wine, beer, and a siesta. Grandma Eda looks on as food and drink are brought out.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to try yerba mate, a traditional tea that is arguably Argentina’s most beloved pastime (even more than soccer).

Things to consider

Travel is relatively easy to, in, and around Argentina, particularly if you have even the slightest grasp of Spanish (though regional and Castilian dialects can be difficult to decipher). Taxis are inexpensive in most cities, and busses offer fast, reliable transportation between every city of this vast country. Seasons are reversed from the Northern hemisphere, so prime biking starts in November and ends in March, depending on the region and altitude you are planning to visit. A passport is required, of course, but there is no visa per se. Rather, Argentina chooses to charge US patrons a $100 “reciprocity tax” (bring cash), a visa of sorts, that is a not-so-subtle revenge against US immigration policy. Bribery is uncommon compared to some Latin American counterparts, but expect prices to be inflated if you look and act like a tourist.

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Aside from the fantastic riding, there are sights and memories that you will not soon forget if you explore this amazing culture.

Having traveled much of the world, I believe that Argentina is one of the most beautiful places you can visit. It is also becoming increasingly easier to mountain bike there. Countless opportunities await travelers to explore new singletrack, in a country at the dawn of a mountain biking revolution. How cool is that?

If you do choose to travel and ride there, please comment below and let us know what you think.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

And… let’s not forget Danny’s love for Argentina, chronicled in this amazing video last year:

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