Visit 3 of Uruguays' Finest Places (Colonia del Sacramento, Montevideo and Punta del Este)
Uruguay’s the coolest place.
It’s sandwiched between two huge countries like a well kept secret.
Argentina and Brazil get far more air time on the gringo trail, plus they come with stereotypes.
Unlike tango dancing, g-string bikini’s, or Amsterdam, Uruguay doesn’t advertise that marijuna’s legal there. For Uruguayans. But if your not from Uruguay, some stores will sell you really overpriced lighters that come with a free gift.
Uruguays resulting chilled vibe runs all along its beach lined coast. We’d planned to spend a week there, but the country is so alluring we wished we’d had two.
Pretty buildings that date back to it’s time as a Portuguese settlement line both sides of the cobbled stone streets.
Inside are boutique clothing stores, kitsch art shops, charming restaurants and cute cafes. The historic centre juts out onto a small peninsula over Rio de la Plata. Down at the river front there’s a small rambla where everyone goes to watch the sunset.
For a couple of pesos you can wind your way up the narrow staircase of Colonia del Sacramento Lighthouse . At the top there's a circular balcony overlooking the river, with a birds eye view of the town. You can look down at the vintage cars that line the pavements, like a little slice of Cuba below.
Then for lunch, you can dine in one of those cars.
We spent half an afternoon sipping bubbles from the backseat of an old VW outside El Drugstore restaurant. They've converted a few relics into private dining booths and parked them out on the cobblestones, so you can people watch in-between courses.
After living it up in Sacramento, we headed to Uruguays capital, Montevideo.
We went to two great markets there. One was Feria de Tristán Narvaja, the biggest market in the country. It’s on every Sunday in the district of Cordon. It’s the best place for fruit, vegetables, knick knacks, home made food and souvenirs.
The other was a huge artisan Christmas market that had the most imaginative selection of jewellery, clothing, body products, toys, lamps - you name it, they had it in a new way. The stalls looked like the result of homegrown creative juices spurred into action by copious amount of caffeinated matte. They were incredible.
Afterwards, you can learn about Montevideos' history on a free walking tour.
Curioso Tours took us through Plaza de la Independence, once home to a Spanish citadel, then around the Art Deco buildings and colonial landmarks of old town.
Just down for the stunning Solis Theatre, we walked through Montevideos' very own walk of fame, that uses their national emblem, the Sun of May, to honour local and international figures.
We finished the tour with a shot of Grappamiel - Grappa is to Uruguay what Pisco is to Peru, but with a sweeter kick.
A few days in Montevideo gave way to a couple more in Punta del Este, a tiny beach town with good sushi.
If your arriving in the day from Montevideo, take the bus a little further to Casapueblo.
It’s a fantastic white sculpture of a home, direct from the imagination of local artist Paez Vilaros .
If you have the funds you can stay there, but either way, take the tour.
Vilaros' renowned sculptural and artistic achievements are displayed all over the house that took him 36 years to build. The house is set on the side of a cliff, so all the rooms lead out onto staggered balconies with unobstructed sea views. Perfect for sunset.
We went to see Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabals' creation the next day.
Having booked an Air BnB for Christmas that was fast approaching, we left Uruguay with something to go back for, to go celebrate Navidad Argentinian style.