Uruguay is dwarfed by Brazil and Argentina, but this tiny South American country is emerging from the shadows cast by its giant neighbors The capitol Montevideo is warming up to becoming one of the continent’s favorite destinations.
With its grassy plains and flat coastline, Uruguay naturally keeps a low profile.
It’s an unhurried place where colonial architectureand modern development balance each other out with ease.
In between the high-rises of the capital Montevideo, stately mansions have been restored to theirformer glory and now house theaters, museums and opulent hotels.
Although Uruguay seems in no rush to be discovered, the news about its revival is spreading fast.
In the past few decades, Montevideo has made a name for itself as oneof the most livable cities in South America, with advanced social policies and free education for all.
Add to that a warm, temperate climate, pleasant sea breezes and miles of beach boulevards and you’llunderstand why this peaceful city was bound to get noticed.
From Montevideo’s pointy TelecommunicationsTower in the harbor you can see the lone hill that first gaveaway Uruguay’s presence some 500 years ago.
Some say a Portuguese explorer sailed by andcalled out “Monte-vid-eo!” “I see a hill!”, while others believe it was the Spanish whonamed the city.
With the Portuguese claiming the land forBrazil and the Spanish eager to expand Argentina, both nations hurried to forge strategic portsand fortresses.
This rivalry resulted in a tug of war lastedfor over three centuries, with Uruguay slipping into and out of thegrips of Argentina and Brazil.
The Uruguayans never fully surrendered toeither side and, with England as referee, became independent in 1825.
In the centrally located Plaza Independencia, visit the mausoleum for the revolutionaryhero José Artigas, who gave up his own freedom for the libertyof his country.
Above the ground, his statue faces the eclecticdesign of the Palacio Salvo.
A century ago, this skyscraper was the talleston the continent and it’s still a national symbol of pridetoday.
In the nearby Plaza Matriz, the cities oldest square, the 18th-century Metropolitan Cathedral alsoreaches for the skies.
Step inside to enjoy a moment of quiet contemplationunder its majestic roof.
While this Roman Catholic church is stillthe focal point of the Old Town, the multi-cultural ‘Montevideanos’ areof many different faiths.
With Portuguese and Spanish blood runningthrough their veins, it’s unsurprising that soccer has unitedthe locals like no religion ever could.
Sports rivalries aside, the Uruguayans live in harmony with theirArgentinean and Brazilian neighbors and were quick to embrace the best of theirarchitecture, hospitality and culture.
Ever since colonial times, Carnival has been just as important to Montevideoas it is to Rio de Janeiro.
Just like in Brazil, it all started with African slaves, who would dress up and parade in the streetsfor harvest fest.
And, in the Uruguayan capital you can alsoget a taste of Brazil’s vibrant beach culture.
Take a little vacation from exploring thecity and join the locals for a refreshing swimor fun game on De Los Pocitos Beach.
Watch closely, and you’ll see groups offriends sharing a yerba mate A tea poured from a flask intocalabash gourds with silver straws.
a tradition they share with the Argentineans.
For the final proof that Uruguay combinesthe best of both worlds, join the locals for lunch in the Mercado delPuerto.
From the irresistible barbecue smells comingfrom under its wrought-iron roof, it’s clear that Uruguayans are just as passionateabout “parrilla” as the Argentineans are.
First, take your pick from cuts of home-grownbeef or lamb at a market stall and then have the experts grill it for youon the spot.
One of the city’s most loved assets is its19-mile long promenade, La Rambla.
As you follow it along, from the Old Town to the outer suburbs, the walkway changes names often… but neverits appeal.
Enjoy the community atmosphere in the lateafternoon, when office workers and students spill outof the city to gather here for sunset.
As they say, it’s often the journey thatteaches you the most about your destination.
So, leave Montevideo behind for a little roadtrip and soak up some history along the way.
A great place to start is Colonia del Sacramento, just a few hours to the west of Montevideoby car.
Enter the riverside settlement over the drawbridgeof the Portón de Campo, the impressive city gate.
Wander Colonia’s cobblestoned tree-linedstreets to take in the simple beauty of days gone by For lunch, find a table at an al-fresco seafood restaurant or take a seat in Colonia’s popular DrugstoreCafé.
The city’s most iconic landmark is its idylliclighthouse, set atop the ruins of a 17th-century convent.
Make your way up to its lantern room and look out over the town and over the water towards Buenos Aires Basking in the last rays of the day, the colonial charm of this little peninsulabecomes even more authentic in the late afternoon.
Hard as it may be to leave such a dreamy placebehind, it’s time to enjoy some of the country’shistoric beach resorts.
Take a road trip along the coastal towns tothe east of Montevideo for a chance to really get off the beatentrack.
Piriápolis is a local favorite, with nice beaches and great coastal viewsfrom its hilltop San Antonio Temple.
While there, view the Castle of Piria, the opulent mansion of a rich local who foundedthe city in 1890.
From Piriápolis, it’s few hour’s by car to La Paloma, another 19th-century beach resort centeredaround its eye-catching lighthouse on the Cabo de SantaMaría peninsula.
Another recommended stopover on your way to Uruguay’s east coast is Punta Ballena.
The small peninsula is home to Casapueblo, one of South America's most awe-inspiring hotels local artist Carlos Páez Vilaró.
Who created it as his workshop and living space, was inspired by the way local hornero birds shape their nest.
After his death his life’s work became amuseum and the artistic rooms are rented out to guests.
When you reach the lighthouse of Punta delEste, you’ve arrived at the easternmost pointof the inlet, where the “Silver River” meets the AtlanticOcean.
Punta del Este is one of those resort towns that reaches out to those who love the simplepleasures in life, As with any journey, it’s often the littlethings that stay with you the most.
Although Uruguay may be small, its big heart….
and relaxing vibe….
create a lifetime of memories.
Every time you feel a sea breeze, get a whiff of a smoking grill, or see the shimmering outline of a settingsun….
you will think of Uruguay, and smile.