What do you know about Uruguay?
Sports enthusiasts among you will know that this little pocket-handkerchief-sized country in South America, insolently wedged between the behemoths of Brazil and Argentina has achieved much more in football on the international stage than its geographical status warrants: two FIFA World Cup triumphs, two Olympic gold medals and 15 Copa América titles. This is without mentioning players of stature such as Diego Forlán and, for reasons not uniquely related to his footballing skills, Luis Suarez.
Older UK readers may recall Fray Bentos, a company which made rather delicious tinned steak and kidney pies popular in the 1960s, and be aware that the company is named after beef-rearing town of the same name in Uruguay.
Readers with an interest in politics and international affairs will be aware that, also in the 1960s, the country suffered political and economic instability during the insurgency of the Tupamaros guerillas.
Otherwise – nothing.
So you might be scratching your head about why on earth anyone might want to go there.
Here are our top ten reasons:
• Beaches: the whole country is fringed with gorgeous beaches, even Montevideo city. The coast hosts sandy bays and broad sweeps of beach from the wilder reaches of Rocha to the manicured sands of chic Punta del Este, one of Latin America’s premier resorts.
• Family friendliness: Uruguayan accommodation is often family-friendly thanks to the volume of visitors from Argentina. It’s relatively safe, there are wildlife watching opportunities, roads are good, journeys are short and the climate is benign.
• High quality accommodation: at the upper end of the scale there are some unique and often quirky choices which in themselves merit a journey from Buenos Aires: the Vik properties in San Ignacio (crammed with modern art), Fasano Las Piedras (a luxury inland retreat), glamorous Sofitel Carrasco in Montevideo, Finca Narbona (an old fashioned winery-lodge) and Four Seasons Carmelo (a prestigious riverside resort), Garzón Floating Lodge (on stilts above the water).
• Estancia experiences and hosted stays: the country has some super options, where you’ll usually be welcomed by the proprietors, such as the rural ranch El Charabón and hosted B&Bs such as Casa de los Limoneros in Colonia.
• The coast around Cabo Polonio is perfect for horse riding, for example at Estancia El Charabón and Estancia Guardia del Monte.
• Self drive: Uruguayan roads are empty. They are generally well signposted, with plenty of petrol stations; driving standards are reasonable. Eastern Uruguay (San Ignacio – Rocha) and the area around Carmelo is very pretty. Many of Uruguay’s better properties are in locations, although not essential, it is ideal to hire a car.
• Food and Wine: Uruguayan steak is very good and the port market in Montevideo should be visited for a traditional asado. Uruguay is less well known as a producer of wine. Its signature wine is Tannat (red). Carmelo, just one hour’s drive from Colonia has very attractive accommodation from which to explore several wineries which welcome visitors. Many other wineries are within reach of Montevideo and Punta del Este/Jose Ignacio. Uruguay offers a more low key ‘boutique’ alternative to other better known South American wine regions. This can make a visit all the more rewarding as chances are it will be the proprietor or enologist who shows you around, lending a personal touch to the experience.
• Birds: although little known as a destination for birders, Uruguay has 550 types of bird and being overwhelmingly rural you notice them everywhere. Spring (Sep-Oct) and autumn (Mar-Apr) are best times – there are lots of migrating species present. The best bird watching location is the Sierra de Minas (inland between Montevideo and Punta) and a good base is Estancia Guardia del Monte.
• Vintage / retro feel: downtown Montevideo with its art-deco buildings, and the hulks of vintage cars littering the outskirts of Colonia (you rarely see them outside Colonia though). Colonia has pretty posadas which make it a relatively inexpensive place for relax for a night or two rather than just doing the standard day-trip.
• Peace and quiet of the countryside, lack of any heavy industry, pollution anywhere, even Montevideo is relatively uncongested.
So maybe it’s time for you to think about going there...
By David Nichols, Product Manager and Claire Milner