Saturday, May 7, 2011
South America’s Switzerland: Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Miss Uruguay
When we told our friends and family we were shipping off to Uruguay for 4 months, "Huh? Where's Uruguay?" was the typical response. Let's face it. At least for now, Uruguay probably isn't on most people’s hot list of places to go. In our own case, we didn't know a single other person who'd traveled to this second smallest South American country with heavy European influences. But after our visit, we know it won’t stay a secret for long…
What made us choose Uruguay? My partner Stuart and I like a good adventure, and we jumped at the chance to venture there after reading several intriguing articles about the country. Mention of wine, gauchos, beaches, and good food were all big reasons for our decision to go. And we weren’t disappointed. Here are five reasons we give Uruguay the travel thumbs ups:
1. Low under the radar
Uruguay is usually not on the A list of places to visit… yet. At the time of my writing, even Lonely Planet didn’t offer a separate guidebook on Uruguay. Instead, a section on Uruguay is included in the book about Argentina. Destinations off the beaten tourist path always have great appeal to us, and we loved this country of Spanish and Portuguese flavors.
Thinking of driving? Here’s a note to drivers: except for the main roads crossing the country, most roads here are not surfaced. If you like off-road driving, however, Uruguay is the perfect place. Just don't expect many of the roads to show up on local maps. If a low-key culture full of surprises is your kind of vacation, then Uruguay’s for you. Experience gaucho culture in an authentic setting which is still unspoiled. Then there's mile after mile of beautiful countryside with hardly a house in sight. Relax on beaches where it's just you, the sea, and the sand.
2. The hospitable people
The Uruguayan people are up there with the best. They're warm, kind, friendly, and proud of their land. They'll do their best to help you in any way. Develop a relationship with Uruguayans. Just ask them about their centuries’ old culture and colorful history. As a matter of fact, strike up a conversation with Uruguayans, and they’ll probably tell you their country is home to superior healthcare and high quality wines. They’ll tip you off about the delicious Uruguayan beef, not to mention the country’s top-notch beaches. You’ll learn that Uruguay’s government is said to be the most honest in all of South America.
3. Personal safety usually not an issue
Uruguay has been called one of the world’s safest, most stable countries. As in any large city worldwide, Montevideo has its petty street crime areas, largely pickpockets. Generally, however, you're far safer in Uruguay than you would be just about anywhere. Of course, use common sense as you would at home. Don't do anything to make yourself conspicuous as a visitor.
4. Quality wines at great prices
A visit to a bodega (vineyard) in Uruguay is a fantastic way not only to taste superb wines, but also to see the winemaking process behind them. The vineyards are mostly small compared to operations in larger countries, and we think this is part of the draw. Chat with the owner and learn the history of the vineyard you’re visiting. Enjoy the local wine, especially that made from the Tannat grape for which Uruguay is deservedly famous. Want to take a bottle or two home with you? You can buy tasty reservas for around US$22 per bottle.
5. Galloping gaucho culture
The gaucho “cowboy” culture is what makes Uruguay even more attractive for travelers. What better way to take it in than on a traditional ranch? Go for an all-out luxury experience or roll up your sleeves and work side-by-side with the gauchos. You'll to learn to ride gaucho style, herd cows, or brand calves. For the more adventurous, you might even help with (errr…) worming sheep.
As a welcome bonus, unlike countries such as Argentina, where you’re hit with a US $140 visitors' tax on arrival, Uruguay has no visitors' tax. If you have a U.S., U.K., Canada, or New Zealand passport, that's all you need as a visitor to Uruguay for tourist stays up to 90 days. Almost every place you go in the country, the nature beauty will seduce you, and the friendly people will welcome you. Don’t miss this South American gem. Visit Uruguay! Feliz viaje!
~A guest post by Honor Dargan
Honor Dargan is a UK travel writer who fell in love with Tokyo and relocated there in 2001. Discover great travel destinations with Honor. Follow her on Twitter: @tokyotopia
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