Nestled between two larger, more boisterous countries, Uruguay is often overlooked by travellers to the continent; however, it feels that it is now finally stepping out of Argentina and Brazil’s shadow to emerge as a destination in its own right. Whilst visiting Uruguay last October, it was evident that the country is keen to promote its own national identity as more than just a side trip from Buenos Aires or a buffer state between its more renowned neighbours.
This year Lonely Planet judged Uruguay to be one of the top ten places to visit in 2016 and National Geographic placed it on the ‘Best of the world’ in 2016 list. Fresh from these accolades, it is expected that in 2016 the number of foreign visitors will reach the three million mark. But what makes this relatively small and unassuming country such an attractive prospect in 2016?
Temperate and stable
Uruguay is becoming attractive to potential travellers for many reasons, the first of which is its status as a bastion of political and economic stability. While in other Latin American countries you may have to take into consideration fluctuating currencies or the effect of clamorous politics, Uruguay’s economic stability makes it a reassuring and relaxing destination for visitors. There is also no need to worry about safety: as one of the safest countries in South America, crime rates are low and tourists generally enjoy incident-free trips.
On top of this, the country does not suffer from adverse weather conditions: seasonal variations are pronounced but extreme temperatures are rare. Temperate and pleasant, you can sit back and enjoy this beautiful country safe in the knowledge that your travel plans are unlikely to be affected by external factors.
From peaceful pampas to luxury lodgings
Uruguay has gained a reputation as an understated and humble destination, a place where one can escape to the seemingly empty expanse of pampas. Indeed, in a country where there are four times as many cows as people and with half of those people residing in the capital, Uruguay is the perfect getaway for those seeking solace and serenity. From bucolic landscapes dotted with grazing cattle to untouched, sprawling coastline with craggy rocks and untamed sand dunes, there are pockets of wild beauty to be discovered, particularly in the province of Rocha whose immaculate beaches and sleepy fishing villages are a real highlight.
Despite this understated reputation, Uruguay is also fast becoming a playground for rich and famous Latinos looking for an escape in the sun. This has led to a dramatic rise in the amount of luxury accommodation on offer for those seeking opulence and sophistication. Punta del Este, commonly referred to as the St Tropez of South America, is a beach side resort town with an abundance of glamorous hotels, glitzy restaurants and attractive beaches, and is the place to be seen for the rich and trendy during the summer months.
Food and wine
However, if you delve a little deeper and look beyond the high-rises of this popular resort, there are some gems in the form of estancias and wine lodges dotted around the countryside, which make for the perfect luxury escape. The exclusive and eccentric Estancia Vik is perched high on a hill amid the stretching pampas of Jose Ignacio and is a stunning property set in a serene and stunning backdrop. This blissful location is ideal for those in search of a luxury, countryside refuge half an hour away by car from Punta del Este.
Uruguay is a burgeoning destination for food and wine and many of these exclusive properties offer clients fantastic local produce, which is often grown on site. Uruguayans have immense pride in their locally sourced food: it’s why they are producing some of the world’s best beef (ideally accompanied by the Uruguayan grape Tanat, which is emerging as a credible wine choice).
There is nowhere better to sample these delights than Narbona Wine Lodge, an utterly charming, historic winery and boutique hotel which has recently joined the Relais and Chateaux portfolio. The estate cultivates grapes alongside other fruits for making conserves and olive oils and also produces an array of surprisingly sophisticated cheeses. Wine was first produced here in 1909 and about 80,000 bottles are produced annually, much of which is exported to the increasingly attentive international market.
Too often overlooked, this small and peaceful country has a huge amount to offer and whether you are voyaging to the untouched coastlines of Rocha or sampling the fantastic local produce at a luxury wine lodge, you will be greeted by a sense of optimism and pride, from a country that feels its time has arrived.