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Uruguay Tourist information

About the size of Buenos Aires province, Uruguay is a classic political buffer between the South American mega states of Argentina and Brazil. While relatively few independent travellers visit the country, from Buenos Aires it is only a short hop accross the Rio de la Plata to the fascinating colonial contraband centre of Colonia and a few hours more to Montevideo, one of South America’s most interesting capitals. East of Montevideo, the Atlantic beaches attract many Uruguayans and Argentines for summer holidays, but the towns up the Río Uruguay, opposite Argentine Mesopotamia, are also clean and attractive. Uruguay’s hilly interior is agreeable but rarely visited gaucho country.

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Known officially as the República Oriental del Uruguay (Eastern Republic of Uruguay), the area was long called the Banda Oriental or “Estern Shore” of the River Plate. For most of this century, foreigners knew Uruguay as the Switzerland of South America, but political and Economic events of the past 20 years have undermined this favorable image.

Montevideo dominates the political, economic and cultural life of Uruguay even more than Buenos Aires does that of Argentina. Nearly half Uruguay’s 3 million citizens live here, while no other city has even 100,00 residents.

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There is a certain logic to this, though, as Montevideo’s port links the country to overseas commerce, and such a small country with an almost exclusively rural economy hardly requires a competing metropolis for trade and administration. The country’s tax burden, however, has fallen unevenly on the rural export sector and has unquestionably contributed to the capital’s dominance. The rural sector subsidies not only Uruguay’s inefficient domestic industries but also the country’s progressive social welfare policies.

Only an hour or two from Buenos Aires, Colonia (Full name Colonia del Sacramento) is one of the unappreciated gems of South America, attracting many thousands of Argentines but only a handful of the many foreign tourists who visit the Argentine capital.

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Founded in 1680 by the Portuguese Manoel de Lobo, it occupied a strategic position almost exactly opposite Buenos Aires across the Río de la Plata, but its major importance was a source of contraband, undercutting Spain’s jealously defended mercantile trade policy. British godos made their way into Buenos Aires and the interior though surreptitious Exchange with the Portuguese in the Paraná delta.

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For this reason Spanish forces intermittently besieged Portugal’s Riverside outpost for decades. Although the two powers agreed over the cession of Colonia to Spain around 1750, the agreement faild when Jesuit missionaries on the upper Paraná refused to comply with the proposed Exchange of territory in their area. Spain finally captured the city in 1762, but could not hold it until 1777, when the Viceroyalty of the River Plate was formed. From this time, the city’s commercial importance declined as foreign godos could proceed directly to Buenos Aires.

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The Capital of its department, Colonia is a pleasant town of about 20,000, the streets of its historic colonial core shaded by sycamores in the summer heat. In the course of the day, the town discloses its many aspects as sunlight strikes whitewashed colonial buildings and the river; the latter, living up to its name, is silvery in the morning but turns brownish by midday. The townspeople are extremely polite, motorists even stopping for pedestrian.

In the department of Canelones, only 50 km from Montevideo, Atlantida is the first major resort along the coastal highway.

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The tourist office is at the intersection of calles 14 and 1. There are several reasonably prices residenciales, while just west of town is the highly regarded Hosteria del Fortin de Santa Rosa, a popular hideaway for well-heeled folks from Montevideo.

Piriapolis, about 100 km from Montevideo, is the westernmost beach resort in the department of Montevideo, less sophisticated but more affordable than Punta del Este.

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Founded in 1893, it was developed as a tourist resort in the 1930`s by the Argentine entrepreneur Francisco Piria, who built its greatest landmark, the imposing Hotel Argentino, and an eccentric residence known as “Piria’s Castle”, now part of a city park. At one time Piria’s ferries brought tourits directley from Argentina.  In the surroundings countryside there are many interesting features, including Cerro Pan de Azucar, one of the highest points in Uruguay, and the hill resort of Minas.

Punta del Este
One of South America’s most glamorous summer resorts, Punta del Este swarms with upper-class Argentines who disdain Mar del Plata since the latter lost its exclusivity. Strictly speaking, it is part of Maldonado, but economically and socially it is a world apart, with its elegant seaside homes, yachts harbor, and expensive hotels and restaurants. Budget travelers are not likely to lodge here, although there is a small selection of reasonable accommodation.

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Geographically, the tiny península of Punta del Este is south of Maldonado proper but easily accessible by public transport. The Rambla General Artigas circles the península, passing the protected beach of the Playa mansa and the yacht harbour on the west side, the exclusive residential zone at its southern tip, and the rugged Playa Brava, open to the South Atlantic, in the east.

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Punta del Este has two separate grid system, dedicated by a constricted neck just rise Hotel zone is north of this neck, while the are ato the south is almost exclusively residential. Streets in Punta del Este bear both names and numbers, when appropriate, addresses given below refer first to the street name, with the number in parentheses. Avenida Gorlero, the main commercial street, is universally referred to as just “ Gorlero”.


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