Uruguay is dwarfed by Brazil and Argentina, but this tiny South American country is emerging from the shadows cast by its giant neighbors The capitol Montevideo is warming up to becoming one of the continents favorite destinations. With its grassy plains and flat coastline, Uruguay naturally keeps a low profile. Its an unhurried place where colonial architecture
and modern development balance each other out with ease. In between the high-rises of the capital Montevideo, stately mansions have been restored to their
former glory and now house theaters, museums and opulent hotels.
Although Uruguay seems in no rush to be discovered, the news about its revival is spreading fast. In the past few decades, Montevideo has made a name for itself as one
of the most livable cities in South America, with advanced social policies
and free education for all. Add to that a warm, temperate climate, pleasant sea breezes and miles of beach boulevards and youll
understand why this peaceful city was bound to get noticed. From Montevideos pointy Telecommunications
Tower in the harbor you can see the lone hill that first gave
away Uruguays presence some 500 years ago.
Some say a Portuguese explorer sailed by and
called out Monte-vid-eo! I see a hill!, While others believe it was the Spanish who
named the city. With the Portuguese claiming the land for
Brazil and the Spanish eager to expandArgentina, both nations hurried to forge strategic ports
and fortresses. This rivalry resulted in a tug of war lasted
for over three centuries, with Uruguay slipping intoand out ofthe
grips of Argentina and Brazil. The Uruguayans never fully surrendered to
either side and, with England as referee, became independent in 1825.
In the centrally located Plaza Independencia, visit the mausoleum for the revolutionary
hero Jos Artigas, who gave up his own freedom for the liberty
of his country. Above the ground, his statue faces the eclectic
design of the Palacio Salvo. A century ago, this skyscraper was the tallest
on the continent and its still a national symbol of pride
today. In the nearby Plaza Matriz, the cities oldest square, the 18th-century Metropolitan Cathedral also
reaches for the skies.
Step inside to enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation
under its majestic roof. While this Roman Catholic church is still
the focal point of the Old Town, the multi-cultural Montevideanos are
of many different faiths. With Portuguese and Spanish blood running
through their veins, its unsurprising that soccer has united
the locals like no religion ever could. Sports rivalries aside, the Uruguayans live in harmony with their
Argentinean and Brazilian neighbors and were quick to embrace the best of their
architecture, hospitality and culture.
Ever since colonial times, Carnival has been just as important to Montevideo
as it is to Rio de Janeiro. Just like in Brazil, it all startedwithAfrican slaves, whowould dressup and parade in the streets
for harvest fest. And, in the Uruguayan capital you can also
get a taste of Brazils vibrant beach culture. Take a little vacation from exploring the
city and join the locals for a refreshing swim
or fun game on De Los Pocitos Beach.
Watch closely, and youll see groups of
friends sharing a yerba mate A tea poured from a flask into
calabash gourds with silver straws. A tradition they share with the Argentineans. For the final proof that Uruguay combines
the best of both worlds, join the locals for lunch in the Mercado del
Puerto. From the irresistible barbecue smells coming
from under its wrought-iron roof, its clear that Uruguayans are just as passionate
about parrilla as the Argentineans are.
First, take your pick from cuts of home-grown
beef or lamb at a market stall and then have the experts grill it for you
on the spot. One of the citys most loved assets is its
19-mile long promenade, La Rambla. As you follow it along, from the Old Town to the outer suburbs, the walkway changes names often but never
its appeal. Enjoy the community atmosphere in the late
afternoon, when office workers and students spill out
of the city to gather here for sunset.
As they say, its often the journey that
teaches you the most about your destination. So, leave Montevideo behind for a little road
trip and soak up some history along the way. A great place to start is Colonia del Sacramento, just a few hours to the west of Montevideo
by car. Enter the riverside settlement over the drawbridge
of the Portn de Campo, the impressive city gate.
Wander Colonias cobblestoned tree-lined
streets to take in the simple beauty of days gone by For lunch, find a table at an al-fresco seafood restaurant or take a seat in Colonias popular Drugstore
Caf. The citys most iconic landmark is its idyllic
lighthouse, set atop the ruins of a 17th-century convent. Make your way up to its lantern room and look out over the town and over the water towards Buenos Aires Basking in the last rays of the day, the colonial charm of this little peninsula
becomes even more authentic in the late afternoon. Hard as it may be to leave such a dreamy place
behind, its time to enjoy some of the countrys
historic beach resorts.
Take a road trip along the coastal towns to
the east of Montevideo for a chance to really get off the beaten
track. Piripolis is a local favorite, with nice beaches and great coastal views
from its hilltop San Antonio Temple. While there, view the Castle of Piria, the opulent mansion of a rich local who founded
the city in 1890. From Piripolis, its few hours by car to La Paloma, another 19th-century beach resort centered
around its eye-catching lighthouse on the Cabo de Santa
Another recommended stopover on your way to Uruguays east coast is Punta Ballena. The small peninsula is home to Casapueblo, one of South America's most awe-inspiring hotels local artist Carlos Pez Vilar. Who created it as his workshop and living space, was inspired by the way local hornero birds shape their nest. After his death his lifes work became a
museum and the artistic rooms are rented out to guests.
When you reach the lighthouse of Punta del
Este, youve arrived at the easternmost point
of the inlet, where the Silver River meets the Atlantic
Ocean. Punta del Este is one of those resort towns that reaches out to those who love the simple
pleasures in life, As with any journey, its often the little
things that stay with you the most. Although Uruguay may be small, its big heart. And relaxing vibe.
Create a lifetime of memories. Every time you feel a sea breeze, get a whiff of a smoking grill, or see the shimmering outline of a setting
sun. You will think of Uruguay, and smile..