Creating custom journeys for the Latin America and Antarctica department of Cox and Kings always sparks my wanderlust for the region. Speaking with travelers both before and after their journeys builds my excitement and reminds me of the areas I love to visit whenever I have an opportunity. This summer’s trip to South America surpassed all my expectations, and has only whet my appetite for more exploration in the region.
Although I flew to Buenos Aires, I only spent one night there before getting up early in the morning to take the ferry to Uruguay. Uruguay’s colonial past and rise to independence fascinates me. Largely uninhabited until the arrival of the Portuguese, the country changed hands between the Portuguese and the Spanish before finding itself caught in a similar struggle between Argentina and Brazil. Now this small, independent country leads the way in democracy and innovation in Latin America, and is the hot vacation destination for South America’s elite. Yet somehow Uruguay remains almost undiscovered by travelers from the United States — and I was thrilled to get a chance to experience it firsthand.
Traveling by ferry across the Río de la Plata to the Uruguay side and Colonia del Sacramento, you never quite leave sight of Buenos Aires. Even from Colonia’s quiet shore, the skyscrapers of its cosmopolitan neighbor can be seen on the other side of the water when the sky is clear. The clash between Portuguese and Spanish architecture on different sides of the town plainly shows the history of Colonia’s past, and the view from the top of the local lighthouse is incredible. Settling into my hotel — the Sheraton Colonia Golf & Spa Resort — and watching the sunset over the river, I almost did not want to leave. The day had been perfect, but I had to venture back into town as I could not wait any longer to try the famous chivito, Uruguay’s national sandwich. Skirt steak, cheese, tomatoes, a fried egg and more condiments than I could count or name on a simple bun satiated my hunger for South American comfort food in the best imaginable way.
With limited time, I headed out the next day to the capital of Uruguay. Before arriving in Montevideo, I stopped at Bodega Bouza, which is located just outside the city. I learned about the production of Uruguayan wine in this beautiful winery with its resident peacocks and stunning collection of antique cars, which are very popular in Uruguay. I savored every bite of my lunch at the winery’s restaurant, while sampling the rich Tannat wine grown at the vineyard. Continuing my drive into Montevideo, I explored the old-fashioned port market with my guide, before visiting the rest of the city. Montevideo is defined by the proud Urugayans enjoying their mate as they walk among the neoclassical buildings and 1920s residential homes that contrast with the modern buildings around them. It was clear as I walked around the streets of Montevideo that I could have used a few more days in this cultural gem. I was enamored with the city’s parillas (grills) and the Montevideanos’ evident love of art.
On my last day in Uruguay, I headed towards the tip of the peninsula, where the Rio de la Plata meets the ocean. This resort town is the place to be in South America during the summer. Right before entering the town, I stopped to explore Casapueblo, the magnificent home that the late Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró built with his hands on a cliff over the ocean. His art fills the whimsical space constructed without corners. I moved on to visit the port where the fishermen were cleaning their days catch, and I was surprised to see sea lions waiting at the edge to eat their scraps.
Uruguay left me excited and hungry for more. I look forward to more visits there, to explore Carmelo and spend more time in Colonia, Montevideo and Punta del Este and more. I would really like to experience their month long carnival, a far different scene from Rio de Janeiro. I can not wait to advise travelers who are interested in a cultural experience in a beautiful landscape with rich food and wine to consider this destination.