Few people have Uruguay down as a reason for visiting South America and most (including us) just visit as a short hop over the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires. However, the country has a special charm and is definitely worth a visit.
Here are some things you might not know about Uruguay:
- It has the stablest economy in the continent, low poverty, very high adult literacy (98%) and little corruption
- Uruguay occupies an area small in comparison to it’s neighbours (Brazil and Argentina), but 35% bigger than England with a population of only 3.3m (nearly half of whom live in the capital, Montevideo)
- It’s forward thinking: in December 2013, it became the world’s first country to legalise the marijuana trade. Same sex-marriage and abortion are legal (unlike a lot of Latin America).
- Uruguay is the most non-religious country in the Americas. So much so that they have renamed many of their traditional holidays: Christmas has been renamed Family Day and Holy Week is now called Tourism Week
- Over the years, it has been fought over by the Germans, English, Portuguese and Spanish meaning it is a country with a wealth of cultural influences and where almost everyone is an ‘immigrant’
We only spent five days in the country and visited two places but we wished we had more time.
First up was Colonia Del Sacramento, just one hour (50km) by boat from Buenos Aires, but a world apart from the bustling capital. It is a quiet, picturesque UNESCO-protected town of cobbled streets and colonial-era buildings situated on a small peninsular. We walked the pretty tree-lined streets, went up the lighthouse, visited a derelict bullring and took loads of pictures.
We were keen to experience a more rural life so found an estancia (ranch) that we could afford on our backpacker budget. Run by a lovely well-travelled Uruguayan couple, only 60 minutes east of Colonia in the countryside.
Here we walked the surrounding area, fed the horses, tried out the sauna, ate lovely home-cooked meals (including fondue as the area also has Swiss links), saw amazing sunsets and spent hours relaxing around the fire with glasses of tannat ( Uruguayan grape).
Next up: Buenos Aires