November 25th, 2011 – by: Jollyjetsetter
Shell sculpture in Punta Del Este
Upon arrival at Montevideo airport in the modestly-sized nation of Uruguay, the overall impression is that you have arrived in a country which, despite not being a huge international tourist magnet, is out there to prove its appeal and create a lasting impact. The first port of call for myself was the resort town of Punta del Este, with its sun-kissed beaches, involving scope for surfing action, jet-set mingling yacht moorings, and a host of shops and restaurants which led me to believe this was well and truly the exclusive price end of the South American cost of living scale. In peak season, Punta is choked with tourists who succumb to the city's beachside charms, but getting around is manageable on foot, and the main attractions seem to centre on the peninsula area of the city.
Public building in Maldonado's main square
The Hotel Concorde was the choice of lodgings for the stay, and both location and amenities proved it to be a winner, and with rolling waves on the eastern side of the peninsula, who could resist combating the forces of nature on a surf- or bodyboard? Further north of Punta lies the compact but appealing town of Maldonado
, reachable by local bus, and one of the area's attractions is the unconventionally-styled hotel complex and museum that is known as Casa Pueblo, well worth the trek to see both its exterior and interior. Getting back to Montevideo by bus was straightforward enough, and with a hotel being located a few steps away from the Tres Cruces bus terminal, getting my bearings in the Uruguayan capital was a fairly instant process, made easier by the city's grid-pattern street network, and the city's compact nature.
Striking architecture in Montevideo
For my money, although Montevideo had its plus sides, it came across as a more inactive capital city than the other 2 visited on the city, but still endowed with a kind of '1 of everything' feel which alone makes it a sufficiently liveable place. The main bulk of attractions are located in the city's Old Town, yet the star attraction for myself, just had to be the highly symbolic Independence football stadium which was the venue for the world's first ever-played World Cup football game. The host nation lifted the trophy and sparked off a whole international institution of a football tournament being hosted every 4 years, with the host nation being the cultural centrepiece. The football museum tagged onto the stadium is a joy to behold, even for a non-avid follower of the beautiful game, and as a result of my visit there, I now consider the stadium to be just about the most symbolic spot in the whole of Uruguay.
Typical street scene in Colonia
An evening of tango moves fused with Afro-Uruguayan energy and drums beats was experienced at the city's venue of 'El Milongon', and the departure for the sleepy colonial town of Colonia Del Sacramento
was the final piece of the Uruguayan jigsaw which was set to be put in place the following day. Colonia is, in short, a piece of history kept alive by the presence of colonial-style architecture and a few 1950's-era cars dotted around here and there. Half a day is sufficient to experience all of Colonia, due to its compact nature, and most travellers, including myself, will consider it to be itinerant, as a stop-off point prior to boarding a ferry boat or catamaran for Argentina. All in all, Uruguay did not feel like bargain basement territory, and the prices in Punta alone made it feel highly westernized. Its charms may not instantly strike the visitor, but with a few cultural tweaks and moments to savour, I was more than glad this overlooked nation was a part of my itinerary, and equally curious to know how its neighbour Argentina would fare on the cultural experience scale.