Welcome from Uruguay, the second smallest country in South America (Suriname is the smallest). Our first impressions were perfect smooth roads, great infrastructure and nice clean well maintained National Parks when we cross the border at Chuy just 19 days before we fly back for a short break home. The name Uruguay means river of the colourful birds. It is a word in Guarani that was spoken by the natives of the area. Our plan is to beach hop to Colonia Del Sacramento. Except for beautiful beaches it became clear that the scenery was dominated by lots of water courses and flat country. For this reason, Uruguay is known primarily as a Summer beach destination for Argentinians and Brazilians.
Mount Cathedral is 514 meters high. It is the highest point in the country and it rules over a low range of hills which stands out in the landscape. Uruguay’s windswept Atlantic coastline features dunes and lagoons.
While Argentina is known for having great steaks, Uruguay is the world’s highest consumer of beef. We agree the best steaks are from Argentina. Don’t tell Uruguayans this as they like the Brazilians do not agree. Uruguayans are very passionate about their football and their world-famous player Suarez.
BORDER TO MONTIVIDEO
Our first stop was Parque National Santa Teresa. Right on the beach with lots of free firewood. The area is supervised and maintained by the armed forces. In two words PERFECT and FREE. In summer apparently, you pay for camping as the park offers over 2000 campsites. We were the only campers in the park. We took the scooter to explore the area and visited Punta Del Diablo, a small village with a population of just over 100, however, over the Christmas and New Year period the population swells to over 30000, a prime summer getaway for Uruguayans and Argentines and the epicentre of Uruguay’s backpacker beach scene. The stunning shoreline and laid-back lifestyle outside the season makes Puerto Diablo a great stop.
Further south is Cabo Polonio a little hippie village where residents depend on renewable sources of energy, including solar panels and small, modern windmills. Fresh water is obtained by wells. Next stop Punta Del Este the Miami Beach of Uruguay. Known for its beaches and nightlife, Punta Del Este is the place to go if you want to soak up the sun, get a tan, and go to little kilombo’s (crazy parties). Many Brazilians and Argentineans love to come to Punta Del Este for vacation and many famous names have been spotted in the city as well. But as per the opening statement: Uruguay is a summer destination, 90% of places where closed when we travelled south along the coast. From late December to February Punta Del Este hosts wealthy vacationers from Argentina and Brazil and party until sunrise at the nearby discotheques in La Barra.
We now arrived in overlander country and with the bad news regarding the Temporary Import Papers and changes by the Uruguay customs department it was time to get more information. Uruguay is often called the Switzerland of South America mostly due to a developed financial sector based on bank secrecy and we saw many Swiss, German and French people. Not just the residents living here but the south coast is full of Swiss and German overlanders (Like Namibia); they even set up small Swiss themed villages. Hence, we visited Suize Paraiso in the low-key Atlántida area. A great camp spot run by a Swiss couple, popular and (you guessed it) full of Swiss, French and German overlanders. After 6 months of South America travel it was here we met the first overlanders. It also was here where other overlanders told us of the 2 or possible 3 motorhome storage areas in Uruguay closed by customs and where all motorhomes were impounded.
MONTIVIDEO to BORDER ARGENTINA
The campground was expensive, hence we left for Montevideo and found a carpark on the beach. We are no big city people and Montevideo is not a city we liked except from nice breezy promenades and sandy beaches. Montevideo has the highest quality of life in South America according to the tourist brochures. We were told by locals that unfortunately the city is deteriorating rapidly and it is nowhere near the splendour that it used to be. Nearly half of Uruguay’s population lives in Montevideo. And the one place we were told we had to visit was the Mercado del Puerto an old, covered market filled with a dozen or so restaurants grilling steaks and various cuts of meat all day long. The food is excellent, but the dark, smoky atmosphere is what makes this place so interesting. Our overnight parking spot was right on the La Rambla, a 22Km boardwalk along Montevideo’s waterfront and beaches. Nice but we were looking for another quite beach before visiting Colonia del Sacramento hence time to leave town. Colonia del Sacramento reminded us what life was years ago with cobbled streets. Colonia is the oldest city in Uruguay, and the historic district is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was a surprise to hear the change of attitude towards parking your motorhome in Uruguay. Uruguay has always been lenient with the TIP law and allowing people to leave the country while storing their motorhome in Uruguay. But by law this is not allowed and this has now become a topic of discussion and the court should decide on Oct 18. It was impossible to get a correct story from the Swiss Camping / Motorhome storage owner. (the story changed by the day and it became obvious that since Sept 14 he had done little to get proper info, hence, we decided to visit the National Office of the Aduane in Montevideo. Click here http://helvecia.com.uy/…/todo-en-regla-procedimiento-de-ad…/plus http://www.aduanas.gub.uy/…/mas-de-1-millon-de-dolares-en-v… for the story of the first motorhome storage to be closed and motorhomes impounded. As I am typing this we are told over 70 vehicles have now been impounded in 3 different storage areas and are awaiting outcome from a judge on Oct 18. In the meantime, this meeting has eventuated, and no motorhomes have been released and the judge has asked for at least another 10 days before owners, Aduane, solicitors and the judge meet again. In the meantime, many owners are now waiting in Uruguay for the return of their motorhome since September 15th!
We are heading home for a short break before we restart our South America trip from Buenos Aires covering Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia.