Colonia del Sacramento, one of the the oldest towns in Uruguay, and a former Portugese colony lies across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires. It’s fairly quick and easy to pop across on the ferry from Buenos Aires. The main attraction is the historic old centre, a pretty area with cobbled streets and old colonial buildings in various states of restoration, an old fort and a pretty waterfront area. It’s a pretty place to spend a day wandering and we found a couple of cool local art galleries and an temporary exhibition on the rolling stones. There are lots of nice cafes, and a very hipster vibe about the place. It’s definitely worth a visit from Buenos Aires or like us a good start into Uruguay.
Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America, the name comes from a word in Guarani, the native language, and people. It means the land of colourful birds. One of the most interesting things for me about Uruguay is it has a stable democracy, economy and good social benefits, as well as a smaller gap between the rich and the poor – very different from the rest of its South American neighbours. Many policies in Uruguay are very left wing – women were given the vote here 12 years before France and it was the first South American country to legalise gay marriage. I remember reading about the president, Jose Mujica, dubbed the poorest president as he still lives, with his wife and dog, on a chrysanthemum farm, where they still grow chrysanthemums, he drives a 1987 Beetle and donates 90% of his wages to a charity he set up to help the homeless and and small business entrepreneurs. He however believes he isn’t poor as he has all he needs and freedom from possessions gives him to to be free and live life.
Montevideo, the capital, was our next stop. I was curious, as you get to see all walks of life in capital cities and I thought it would be the best way to get an idea for myself how people live after hearing such inspiring things about their president. I have to admit that I saw a lot more poverty against flashy high rise buildings than I was expecting (although markedly less than we’d seen in all other South American countries we’ve visited) and speaking to people I get the feeling that he hasn’t enacted as much change as they’d like – although how many politicians really do all they say they will!! However I did get the impression that everyone enjoys a relatively decent standard of living. Montevideo is a city of contrasts, the high rise against a pretty historic centre. We spent time walking around and exploring and I learnt that Carnival is also very big in Uruguay, although they seem have a much less raucous approach to it than their Brazillian neighbours. Uruguay is an expensive country and we found a lovely little area a 20 min drive from the city with free camping, it was packed with locals out having BBQ’s during the weekend but we had it to ourselves the rest of the time.