Uruguay’s Making Waves

Right now it seems safe to think of Uruguay as the new kid on the block, no longer going steady with Argentina and worth getting to know.

Think Uruguay and what comes to mind? Probably that it is the smallest country in South America; certainly that, in season, the famous Punta del Este resort is packed with the stars of stage and screen, as well as thousands of Argentines; and maybe that its soccer team once beat Brazil—in the 1950 World Cup matches. But listen up, for in this age of travelers looking for new destinations and new experiences, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times and Recommend believe it’s time to have a look at what’s happening in Uruguay.

Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo re-opened this year following a gorgeous makeover—a low-lying building capped by a handsome, undulating roof rising high above a light, airy, passenger-friendly terminal. Further, a new long runway was added, permitting the airport to receive nonstop services from the U.S. and Europe, and the first down that new runway was American Airlines with nonstop flights from Miami.

And almost while we weren’t looking, Uruguay has expanded its roster of upscale, beautifully designed boutique hotels, country inns, and resorts.

In fact, although Uruguay has traditionally been positioned as an add-on to Argentina itineraries, says Pamela Lassers of Abercrombie & Kent, “We are seeing new interest in the boutique resorts in and around Jose Ignacio.” According to Lassers, the Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, lying along the banks of the River Plate, is one of A&K’s most popular add-on offerings in South America. “Often after taking a multi-country trip, say the 11-day Wonders of Chile and Argentina, our clients are ready to chill out, relax and enjoy a high level of service,” opting for a stay at the Four Seasons resort.

General Tours’ president, Bob Drumm, points out that tour operators tend to offer the newest of “just discovered” destinations as F.I.T. package options, perhaps one day to incorporate into mainstream. However, he adds, “Uruguay is too charming and diverse not to include in a South America tour program, and it is definitely part of our Freestyle product, designed for today’s travelers who like to put together their own vacation.” General Tours offers a 3-day stay in Montevideo, at either the Radisson Plaza Victoria, located centrally in the capital on Plaza Independencia, or the Sheraton Montevideo, overlooking the River Plate. The $559 pp dbl price also includes daily breakfast, private touring with guide and driver for a city tour and a 1-day excursion to Colonia.

all the buzz A more in-depth Uruguay tour is a new focus for Sandra Borello, president of New York-based Borello Tours & Travel Service, with offices in Argentina. Borello invited the travel press to sample the company’s 9-night The Best of Uruguay with Buenos Aires. The following are some of the highlights of the itinerary, as well as detours, making it easy to understand the new enthusiasm for Uruguay.

Following a speedy—45 minutes—hydrofoil crossing from Buenos Aires, the first stop in Uruguay was Colonia del Sacramento, founded by the Portuguese in the late-1600s. The town is a beauty, distinguished by cobbled streets, palm trees and pastel-colored houses. Its walled-in 17th-18th century area, Ciudad Vieja, is an official UNESCO World Heritage site. Occupying colonial quarters are lovely posadas, guesthouses, restaurants, shopping boutiques and art ateliers. There are many hotel options (including Radisson and a new Sheraton resort), but the charmer is Posada Plaza Mayor, a restored 19th century mansion with shady patios and lush gardens with 15 rooms furnished with contemporary conveniences but in a colonial style. Rooms with breakfast run $105 to $180.

From Colonia, travelers visit the Bernardi Winery, known for its fine wines and grappas or just spend a day or longer at Estancia La Vigna, a small farm converted in part to a rustically luxurious 5-room inn. The owners, a delightful Argentine couple, live on the property, welcoming guests interested in learning about their production of goat and sheep cheeses; to taste the wines and dine deliciously; to visit their art studio and participate in art classes, or yoga weekends; and to go antiquing at local auctions. Rooms run from $110, including breakfast.