Oasis of tranquility: Uruguay
Officially the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, this is a country in the southeastern region of the continent of South America. Bordered by Argentina to its west and Brazil to its north and east, with Rio de la Plata (River of Silver) to the south and with the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast. This is geographically, the world’s second-smallest nation, after Suriname.
The Charrúa people inhabited Uruguay in approximately 2000 BC before the Portuguese colonized it. This is one of the oldest European settlements in the continent. The Spanish founded Montevideo, the capital of the country as a military stronghold in the 18th century, which intensified the struggle for claim over the region between the Spanish and the Portuguese. Modern Uruguay is a democratic constitutional republic, with a president who serves both as head of state and head of government. Uruguay is ranked first in Latin American for maintenance of democracy, peace, lack of corruption, press freedom and middle class prosperity. It is regarded as a high income country, with high GDP growth and has been named the country of the year by the Economist in 2013. Uruguay is probably the freest economy in Latin Amercia. There are no currency restrictions and the banking system uses the Swiss model for integrity.
The general nature of the Uruguayan people is calm and tranquil. Quite different from the frenzied residents of the city across the Rio De La Plata of Buenos Aires, or the Samba driven tempo of the Brazilians on the northern border. Poverty and crime in the country is minimal.
Montevideo is the capital and largest city of Uruguay. The southern most capital city in the Americas, Montevideo is situated on the southern coast of the country on the northeastern bank of the river Rio De La Plata. The proximity to the ocean makes for a wonderful coastline and beaches. With a small population and area, the city has the nuance of a small village. historical sites, old and new architecture, world class restaurants, music, theatre, and more – welcomes business and pleasure travellers alike.
The city is a relatively new one, founded in 1724 by a Spanish foot soldier. This was part of a strategic move amidst the Spanish-Portuguese dispute over the Platine region.
The Uruguayans will put out welcome mat for everyone they meet. They will thank everyone that visited. There is an authentic display of hospitality that pervades the country.
Beachy beach town
With the beach coming right up to the edge of Montevideo, one can drive or walk along the Las Rambla with bustling city life on one side and sunbathers relaxing on the other. The Rambla is an avenue that goes along most of the length of the beach of Montevideo. Most of the attractions of the city are here, with powdered sugar sprinkled donuts and churros and watch children play beach volleyball, fly kites, skateboard and walk their dogs and enjoy the laid back life that is the signature of Montevideo.
Montevideo has an extensive history, and it is centered in the Ciudad Vieja area (the historical quarter), which has been rejuvenated in recent years and is now the focal point of nightlife. If you have time, squeeze in a performance at Teatro Solis, a gem of a theatre similar in style to Milan’s La Scala. The Sarandi street and the Mercado del Puerto are the most frequented venues of the old cities. On the edge of the Ciudad Vieja, Plaza Independencia is surrounded by many sights, including the Solis Theatre and Palacia Salvo, and the plaza also constitutes one end of 18 de Julio Avenue, the city’s most imporat tourist destination outside of Cidudad Vieja. Apart from being a shopping street, this avenue is also noted for its art deco buildings, three important public squares, the Gaucho museum and buildings of municipal and community interest. The avenue leads to the Obelisk of Montevideo, beyond that is the Parque Batlle, which along with the Parque Prado are important tourist destinations with imporant ceramic and tile artworks displayed proudly
Colonia del Sacremento
Take the one-hour ferry ride from Montevideo or Buenos Aires on the other side of the river. This world heritage site is the country’s oldes city. Spain and Portugal alternately ruled it since 1680, leaving a quant historic quarter, marked by a unique blend of Spanish and Portuguese architecture. Walk along the cobblestoned streets under yellow street lamps at night and make your way to the Lobo Restaurant on Calle del Comercio for a memorable meal that might include Spanish styled tapas, sautéed prawns, and rib eye steak. Los Cerros de San Juan, the country’s oldest vineyard, about 20 miles from Colonia, hosts groups (minimum of 10) year round. Visits include a tour and sampling of the wines produced from grapes that are harvested by hand at the peak moment of perfection. A lunch of fresh salad and Uruguay’s signature meal of parrillada—grilled sausages and steak—completes the visit. El Terruño (“Homeland”), an 800-acre sheep and ostrich breeding station, also near Colonia, showcases the gaucho life. It hosts parties, weddings, and individual tourists and accommodates overnight visitors.
Wedged between the massive countries of Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay has been something of an underdog. Yet, after two centuries of living in the shadow of its neighbors, this country is finally getting its well deserved recogition. Progressive, stable, safe and culturally sophisticated, this country offers an experince that is not made of the ‘everyday’ tourist. Whether it is the caught in a cow-and-gaucho traffic jam on a dirt road outside the city of montevideo or strolling on the waterfront on las Ramblas.
An oasis of tranquility, with a near perfect climate that eagerly welcomes foreign guests, this small Latin American country provides a rich mix of historical, beachy, urban, rural and ecological offerings.
By air: The chief airport is Carrasco Airport in Montevideo and most commercial fliers like Emirates, Qatar, Lufthansa, Air India, British airwas etc. connect major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore via codeshare to Latin America for fares starting at Rs 110,000. Usually, the first stop is Sao Paolo or Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, from where local airlines connect to various capital cities of every South American country.
Domestic travel within the country is aided by about 20 domestic airlines, which connect all the thirteen airports within the country.
Rail: The Uruguayan Railway network has connections to most cities from Montevideo- Rivera, Livramento, Piedra Sola, SAyago – Minas, Verdum, La Teja, Paysandú, Concordia, Fray bentos and many others.
Road: Walking is a good means of getting around the city of Montevideo as well as most cities and towns in Uruguay. Local bus agencies ply buses between and within cities.
Currency: The primary currency is the Uruguayan Peso which stands at 1UYU = 2.2 INR. Both Argentine Peso and the USD can be readily exchanged in the airport, several shop and hotels and is also readily accepted.
VISA : Tourist visa is required for Indian citizens traveling to this charming country. One must contact the Embassy of the Oriental republic of Uruguay in Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, which issues all visas. The Uruguayan visa form must also be collected directly from the embassy but it is usually no more than a one-day procedure.