A February 2004 trip
to Carmelo by hajecj
Quote: When people hear "Uruguay," thoughts go to the big-time party beaches of the coast. However, there's a lovely resort at Carmelo, hours upriver from Montevideo.
It’s around round-trip from Buenos Aires on the Four Seasons plane, which can be booked through the hotel. Trying to drive from BA was too complicated for serious consideration.
There are other places to stay in Carmelo, or more romantically, in the old town of Colonia, about an hour away. Part of me wishes there were less expensive options than the Four Seasons, but on the other hand, having only this fantastic 44-room resort means that you are not elbowing any big tourist crowds.
I highly recommend this as a part of a trip to Argentina, since most visitors spend some time in Buenos Aires or elsewhere in Argentina. It’s a great spot to unwind.
I regret that I didn’t get to see more wineries in Uruguay after the experience at Narbona. A bottle of wine to go was about $10, and the cognac about $20. Numerous other goodies are available to go if you have the room to pack them or time to eat them before flying home. Dinner is inexpensive--$20 per person is probably a fair estimate, including drinks, unless things have changed dramatically.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 25, 2004
Punta Narbona Winery
Attraction | "Rio de la Plata tour"
We made a stop at the local market, where locals and visitors alike come to buy necessities and trade information. We continued through several quietly overgrown waterways, where the only sounds were the birds in the trees and the soft hum of the barely running motor. We passed local fishermen hauling in their catches. We passed the "school bus," a small boat chugging from home to home along the river and depositing children from the nearby school. We finally stopped at a small restaurant with a campground and maybe a few small rooms for rent, where a quart of beer was a dollar and some local soft, tangy white cheese was the appetizer of choice. The contrast of seeing the enormous oil terminals on the River Plate and the gargantuan tankers feeding them, so close to the local fishermen pulling in a day’s catch in their small (but motorized) wooden boats, was striking. The quiet backwaters of the Plate and the natural beauty of the surrounding jungle were starkly set against the lifeblood of the world economy.
Naturally, our 4-hour tour stretched into almost 6 hours, and it got dark as we crossed the Plate back to Uruguay. As the temperature dropped and the sun dipped below the jungle skyline, we were treated to an unsettling darkness that highlighted the most beautiful night sky I have ever seen. Never have I seen so many stars, and disconcertingly so, since finding an almost entirely blacked-out shoreline by starlight seemed to be trickier than the boat guide let on.
Rio de la Plata
If you don’t mind heights, go up to the lighthouse for unimpeded views across the 20-mile delta, where you can just make out the Buenos Aires skyline on a clear day. There are all kinds of shops and small museums to poke around in, and the town itself is exceedingly easy to navigate, as it is centered on the ruins of the old fort, which lies next to a tall double-towered church.
By all means, have lunch in one of the restaurants here. I had thought eating at the Four Seasons was a bargain (well, compared to its resorts in the Caribbean or the US), but lunch in Colonia was amazing—a wonderful four-course meal with a great salad, a seafood appetizer, a local beef dish, and a dessert, along with a pitcher of Sangria, was about $12.
The round-trip cost about $70 (including tip for the driver), leaving Carmelo at around 8:30am and returning at around 4:30pm.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 25, 2004
I made a trip here as an add-on to my trip to Buenos Aires, and if I had to do it over again, I would probably make Buenos Aires an add-on to Uruguay. This part of Uruguay is just beginning to be discovered, I think, and the tourism is much more low-key than in Montevido or on the coast.
The Four Seasons Resort is set quietly in the deep woods, off a small country highway leading up from Montevido, and directly on the banks of the Rio de la Plata. To get here, one must either arrange transportation over land, a bit complicated, or take a short flight in a 6-seat, twin-engine prop plane across the river, which is roughly $200 round-trip. The flight amusingly lands at "Carmelo Intl Airport", which is a grass runway and a small one-room shack that houses customs and a soda machine.
The hotel itself could be a relaxing destination on its own, if you are inclined to take advantage of the spa, the golf course, and the river activities at the hotel. The spa is set beautifully in the woods, and just walking into it was relaxing. A variety of treatments are available. I am not a spa person, so I can’t elaborate much there. The golf course, however, I spent quite a bit of time on. The course is about 3/4 of a mile from the hotel, and you can ask the front desk to send a cart down to pick you up if you don’t feel like a walk in the woods to get up there.
I am not sure how many other people would haul clubs from NYC to Uruguay, but I did, and it was great. I was at Carmelo for five days, and I played all but one day. The course is challenging and long, with a good deal of water and marsh area. I more or less had the course to myself, and the hotel’s director of golf and the pro both offered to play with me. A few mornings, I came out and played early, when the southern winds were up, and returned in the evening to shoot nine on what, when the winds died, was an entirely different course. A few golf adventurers I met here said this was the best course in South America. I will take their word for it--it was very nice.
The hotel has a wonderful and enormous outdoor pool that is almost prettier to look at than to swim in. There is also a long, open stretch of beachfront along the river, but I was not intrigued, as the famously silty brown water of the Plate Delta was not enticing in the slightest. The hotel is happy to arrange horseback rides along the beach or cater dinner in the beautiful pavilion they have along the water, which makes the sunset over the jungles and the river really something special.
Meals at the hotel were quite good, and I found it interesting to discuss the relative merits of Argentinean and Uruguayan beef with the somewhat non-partisan chef. Definitely try the sandwich (I forget the name), which is a nice-sized slice of beef seared in a butter sauce, served hamburger-style on a roll with a fried egg and cheese on it.