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vagamundos Colonia - A travel report by Carlos
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Colonia,  Uruguay - flag Uruguay -  Colonia
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vagamundos's travel reports

Uruguay, River of the birds.

  19 votes
This is what Uruguay stands for in Guaraní language and, in addition to being a nice name, to me it looks like it’s perfect for a country of 175.000 sq. km that hosts more than 440 bird species. More detailed reports about Latin America in vagamundos.com


Uruguay. Colonia Lighthouse
Uruguay. Colonia Lighthouse
It’s in the bowl of Plata, the biggest in South America after the Amazon bowl. It measures 400 km of estuary coast along Rio de la Plata river and another 200km of ocean coast. The bouquet of lighthouses that marks the coast is every time more beautiful, and some of the lighthouses have a long history. I don’t know how to say it in Guaraní, but I would add the qualifier “Country of the pure skies”, because in the 2 weeks that I spent here I’ve seen some unbelievable skies and spectacular clear nights.

If you add to it that the tourist season finishes on March 1st and prices go down by 50%, Uruguay is a more than recommendable destination for nature lovers, as long as they are not mountaineers, as the maximum elevation is the 514m of Catedral hill.

My Argentine friends used to tell me that the best thing about Uruguay are the Uruguayans and they are right. In the 2 weeks I spent in the country I didn’t see one single dispute, one single coarse gesture and even in Montevideo people don’t toot their horns and it doesn’t look as stressful as the rest of the world capitals.

There are places like Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo where people are in a state of permanent smile, and one of the reasons could be that instead of walking on the asphalt in shoes, they walk barefoot on the sand streets. I definitely prefer it this way.

A strange thing to notice is that Uruguayans have two accessories not very common in the rest of the world. One is the thermo they carry under their arm and the other one is the gas cylinder, the two necessary gadgets for the national vice: the herbal tea. People walk carrying a thermo and drinking tea all the time, everywhere.

They are addicted to it and confess that if they drink no tea their head hurts and they are in a bad mood. It must be the cheapest existing drug. Maybe the best way of entering Uruguay is from Buenos Aires, crossing the wide and large Río de la Plata to Colonia del Sacramento.

Favourite spots:
Uruguay. Ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia
Uruguay. Ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia
I recommend doing it by the old ferry, Eladia Isabel, as you can spend the three-hour boat-ride with the breeze spanking your face. On the contrary, the fast boats, which only take 1 hour, are like a fridge full of penguins, due to the air-condition which they set at full power, and you can’t even put your head out of the window.

I return to Colonia del Sacramento 3 years after my first visit, but that time it was winter and now I’m welcomed by summer temperatures and ultramarine skies; the diary I wrote then, titled “Harmony in stone” is still valid, because time has stopped in this beautiful colonial city.

The city was disputed for many years by Spaniards and Portuguese; today the only dispute is the one in order to get a table on a balcony so as to dine on a weekend night.

What's really great:
Uruguay. Sunset in Colonia
Uruguay. Sunset in Colonia
My next destination was Montevideo, capital of the country. The coasts of Uruguay were explored in 1516 by the Spaniard explorer Juan Díaz de Solís, the first European to have navigated Río de la Plata; the Charrías Indians decimated his expedition as well as others that arrived later, becoming thus a symbol against Spanish occupation.

The first permanent settlement was in 1624, in Soriano, on Río Negro. Today Uruguay has a population of 3,5 millions (including those residing in Spain) and its capital hosts almost half of the population (1.400.000 inhabitants).

Sights:
Uruguay. Montevideo, tradition and modernity
Uruguay. Montevideo, tradition and modernity
The best place to observe sunsets is San Antonio hill, in the heart of the city, which – despite the fact that it measures an altitude of only 137 meters- boasts a cable-car for those accessing it from the port.

I confined myself to following the track below the cable-car pilots and in 15 minutes I got to the top, where Virgen Stella Mari, fishermen’s virgin, stands.

Accommodations:
Uruguay. Congress House in Montevideo
Uruguay. Congress House in Montevideo
Montevideo was founded in 1726 as counterweight to the Portuguese settlements in the coast, especially Colonia del Sacramento, founded in 1680 by Manuel Lobo.

It’s situated – where else? – on a peninsula, with the important commercial port on one side, and the beaches on the other.

The most impressive building in the city is the Governmental Palace, inaugurated in 1925, commemorating the first centenary of independence.

Its four façades are orientated towards the four cardinal points and it’s made by 50 different types of Uruguayan marble.

The style is eclectic neoclassical and the architects were Italian, which is obvious in the luxury of some halls, like the Hall of the Lost Steps, which separates the Congress of the Senate.

The impressive library was fabricated in Italy and shipped in pieces.

Nightlife:
Uruguay. Sunset in Piriapolis
Uruguay. Sunset in Piriapolis
The building has about 8.000 sq. meters in its 4 floors. The day I visited it, there was a Congress session, so I had to queue up in order to enter. However, as I had to leave even my toothbrush to the security, I desisted. The next day I read in the newspaper that a 72-year-old congressman died during the session.

Montevideo is a big city, with a vivid cultural, social and night-life and currently the degraded old city is being restored for weekend leisure; I found out that the street where my hotel used to be, called Palacio (don’t be fooled by the pompous names of the hotels) is being turned into a pedestrian street and getting full of terraces.

Green was the predominant color, as it was Saint Patrick’s Day, day of the patron saint of the Irish. This had all the ethylic consequences you can imagine.

Hangouts:
Uruguay. Sunset in Piriápolis
Uruguay. Sunset in Piriápolis
The are two main squares: Plaza Independencia, the most monumental in whole Montevideo, with Salvo Palace, which, with its 26 floors, was the highest building of South America in 1927, when it was inaugurated. The second one is Plaza Constitución, with the neoclassical Cabildo and the Matriz church (1799), one of the oldest standing buildings in the city.

There are several restaurants in the commercial port area where one can try fish, but my experience in “Don Tiburón” was pretty bad, as 2 hours after having swordfish I had an allergy shock which turned my skin into an intense red, looking like a cooked lobster or a Swedish girl in Benidorm after 6 hours at the beach. Luckily it was nothing serious, I must have choked on the sword of the fish.

Restaurants:
Uruguay. Night lights in Colonia
Uruguay. Night lights in Colonia
From Montevideo I headed to Piriapolis, a name as egomaniac as it can get, as the city was founded by Francisco Piria in the beginning of the 20th century. The biggest and most luxurious hotel of South America was built here in 1930, Hotel Argentino.

Today it’s a resort town that enjoys extraordinary sunsets over the sea, despite the fact that we are in the east of the continent, but the irregular geography of Uruguay, full of peninsulas, makes this a common phenomenon.

More detailed reports about Uruguay and Latin America in vagamundos.com

Published on Thursday November 3th, 2005


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Tue, Nov 15 2005 - 11:52 AM rating by gloriajames

hiya Carlos!
What a wonderful report with great pics!
GJ

Mon, Nov 14 2005 - 07:33 PM rating by mistybleu

Carlos,

I was just say I never see any reports of pictures on Uruguay. Thanks for your contribution.
Misty

Sun, Nov 06 2005 - 11:53 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Otro maravilloso report! Debería estar de los primeros en la lista general de globo

Thu, Nov 03 2005 - 11:04 PM rating by eirekay

Carlos, marvelous report with beautiful photos! I especially like the church reflected in the high rise!
Eire

Thu, Nov 03 2005 - 06:04 PM rating by rangutan

Wonderful and acurate report, I was there for a week in 1987. I remember now a lot of the described places and scenes just like in "night lights in Colonia". When I left South America after visiting 8 countries, I swore to visit the Amazon again but also to retire oneday to Uruguay.

Thu, Nov 03 2005 - 03:05 PM rating by miguelmarchi

Fenomenal!

Thu, Nov 03 2005 - 12:17 PM rating by bear495

I really liked this report, other than the commercialization aspect. I would have rated this at 5* otherwise.

Russ

Thu, Nov 03 2005 - 11:33 AM rating by jesusferro

Report Fabuloso!!!!
Gracias!, Thank you very much! Obrigado!!!
Casi me haces llorar

Thu, Nov 03 2005 - 11:12 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

excellent report

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