A travel journal
to Uruguay by SeenThat
Quote: Trapped between two giants, Uruguay can be more than a crossing point between Argentina and Brazil. It offers beautiful beaches alongside the Uruguay and Plate rivers and by the ocean, a beautiful capital with amazing early 20th-century architecture, a rare hybrid Spanish-Portuguese colonial city, and a generally relaxed ambience.
Colonia del Sacramento is closer to Argentina, just next to the encounter of the Uruguay River with the Plate River. It is a colonial city with a mixed heritage. It was founded by the Portuguese, but it was conquered later by the Spaniards. Its hybrid streets will tell you the whole story. Punta del Este is the place were the Plate River meets the Atlantic Ocean. You can walk between hot, sweet water beaches and cold, salty water ones. Paysandu, the second largest city, provides access to northeastern Argentina and to the Iguazu Waterfalls.
Hotels and guesthouses offer meaningful discounts if you are staying for more than a day – ask when checking in. Fishing is a popular pastime along the coasts, and the country offers excellent facilities for fans. Shortly before Carnival in Rio, there is a smaller and less known one in Montevideo that offers a fascinating mix of tango and candombe.
Since the town is usually considered only as a crossing point, few stop here for more than the necessary, thus accommodations are very limited. I can recommend the Nuevo Hotel Plaza, Av. Artigas corner Arachanes, by the Plaza de Independencia. This cute place is at the very center of the town and offers cosy rooms for around $10 a single, including a basic breakfast. Credit cards are accepted only for charges $15 and higher. You can pay in dollars, but it is better to exchange into the local currency at one of the many exchanging locals by the border, as the rates are fair.
If you are arriving from Brazil, you may be surprised by the electric sockets: in Uruguay, they have three round holes set in a straight row. I was more than surprised to find that my Nepali adaptor fitted almost perfectly.
In the culinary sense, this place is hot and offers the best of both worlds: immense cuts of meat on the southern side of the line and feijoada, cozido, and all the other Brazilian hits just a few meters north from there. The immigrations are placed at the exit of the town on each side of the limit, and if you do not need a special visa, you should not bother going there, as all the buses leaving the town make a short stop there for a passport-stamping rite. As with most travels among a country’s main cities, the capital, Montevideo, is half a day away, and buses headed there leave at all hours. If you have the time, it is recommended to break the trip at the town of Rocha, from where you can take a local bus to La Paloma, 28km south from there. La Paloma is a tiny Punta del Este for locals searching for beaches facing the ocean, but not attracted to the overwhelming crowds of its big sister.
There is a Brazilian consulate at Aparicio Saravia 711, but if you do not need a special visa for that country, then it is perfectly good to approach any border crossing and get your passport stamped there. This means that when comparing it with other cities in the Uruguayan interior, Melo is surprisingly well developed. The best bus terminus in the north is here, and it has supermarkets, Internet, and even a skyscraper with more than 10 floors.
The Brazilian proximity can be felt in the local cuisine: Bauru sandwiches are sold everywhere. They are made from a fried, thin piece of meat, which is put inside a big bun with ham, cheese, egg, mayonnaise, and a paste of sweet corn and peas. A good place for tasting it is the Carrito Bulevar 2 at Plaza Constitucion, the central plaza in the town.
The Iglesia Catedral dominates the plaza and is considered a national monument, and radio and television stations fill the remaining space. A few blocks to the northwest there is a beautiful park build around a small stream called Arroyo Conventos, worth an afternoon picnic.
There are several hotels in the town, and I recommend the Hotel Principado de Asturias, at 668 Dr. Luis A. De Herrera Street, just 5 blocks from the terminal. Spotless single rooms with hot water and private bathrooms are available there for around $5. Cattycorner is the Confiteria Washington, one of the two coffee shops I found in town. For breakfast it offers torrejas, which are French toasts sprinkled with sugar. The terminal has another coffee shop called Sarita, which sells Yemas de Melo: spherical sweets made of egg yolk and sugar, with a raisin on the top and coated by yellow cellophane. The terminal offers connections to most of the main cities, including the selling and validation of return tickets.
The town’s main axis and commercial centre is the Avenida 18 de Julio, which runs perpendicular to the river and edges the southern side of the central Plaza Constitucion. An afternoon coffee by the beautiful plaza is the perfect setup for a productive writing session. The riverfront is mostly parks, but 2km north from the centre is the Balneario Municipal, the main and most beautiful beach in town. Next to it is the Museo de la Tradicion. In the town centre there are two other worthwhile museums: the Museo Salesiano at 18 de Julio and Montecaseros and the Museo Historico at Zorrilla and Sarandi.
Being at the heart of the agricultural interior, Paysandu is an excellent place to check out the Uruguayan products, and Uruguay being a big producer of meats, it means huge steaks. Restaurant Don Diego, at 19 de Abril 917, is an excellent place for a parrillada.
Hotels here are more expensive than in other secondary cities and approach the prices of those in Montevideo. Hotel Artigas, at Baltasar Brum 943, offers basic rooms with a private bathroom for around $12.
The Puente Internacional General Jose Gervasio Artigas connects the city with the town of Colon in Argentina. There is an Argentinean consulate at Leandro Gomez 1034, but if you do not need a special visa for that country, then it is acceptable to approach the bridge and get your passport stamped there. Local buses do the way for around $1. Montevideo is just half a day away by bus, and tickets are available at the terminal at Montecaseros and Artigas, south from Plaza Constitucion.
Traveling:A bus to Montevideo costs some 140URP and takes almost 3 hours. The buses leave at 5am (Monday), 6:20am, 9:30am, 12pm (except Sunday), 2pm (except Sunday), 4pm, 8pm, and 10pm. In the opposite direction, the timetable is similar, with departures half a hour later.
The Buquebus (it’s a hydrofoil!) fast line to Buenos Aires costs 720URP and leaves at 9:15am, 5:30pm, and 9pm, and the trip takes about 1 hour. The slow line costs 420URP, takes almost 3 hours, and leaves at 4:30am and 7:30pm. The Buquebus has a good cafeteria, which helps to comfortably pass the trip. Hence, eating a heavy meal before the departure is not recommended. The prices aboard are only slightly higher than those on the coast.
At the same counter where the Buquebus tickets are sold, by the pier, you can buy tickets for the Lancha Carmelo. Using this option, you travel first 85km to the north by bus and then cross the narrower Uruguay River with a speed boat to Tigre in Argentina. From there you can continue to Buenos Aires by bus or train (this is the only public train still in use in Argentina). This option is cheaper, with a 261URP one-way ticket or 437URP for a return ticket. It leaves daily at 2:30pm, and the only drawback is the landing place in Argentina, which is considered somewhat dangerous.
Very conveniently, the Uruguayan and Argentinean immigration are placed on the Buquebus departing hall, so you get both stamps on the same spot.
Tips:By the new pier there are many motorcycles for rent, and a day rental costs $4. In the same place there are many touts offering rooms in guesthouses next to the Old Quarter. Most rooms cost $5 per night, and there is no extra cost for the touts work: the same price will be offered if you arrive without them. A typical basic room costs $5 per night. As with all Uruguayan coasts, Colonia is quite a windy place, so you should bring adequate clothing.
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