Think Uruguay and what comes to mind is probably that it’s the smallest country in South America—roughly the size of Oklahoma; certainly that in season—December to February—the famous Punta del Este beach resort roars to life with thousands of Argentines and lately Brazilians; and maybe that, at 45 days, Carnival celebrations are the longest in the world. But listen up, for in this age of travelers looking for new horizons and new experiences, right now it seems safe to think of Uruguay as the new discovery kid on the block, no longer going steady with Argentina—just a fast ferry (buquebus) ride across the Rio de la Plata.
Today’s buzz is all about the jet-set refocused on good times along the greater Punta del Este peninsula, while the rest of us are discovering lively arts and dining scenes in “La Punta” and Montevideo, the capital. New frontiers of exploration include fine wine touring around UNESCO-listed Colonia del Sacramento, and while most of us weren’t looking, Uruguay is becoming a hotspot for eco-oriented and active adventures—think horseback riding, birding, and touring from estancia to estancia (ranch to ranch) in the Rocha province.
Key to visitor appeal of the “new” Uruguay is its expanded roster of upscale, beautifully designed boutique hotels, seaside resorts, country inns and haciendas. A trio of architecturally special Vik hotels—the art-filled, 12-suite Estancia Vik Jose Ignacio set inland on 4,000 acres; the six 2- and 3-bedroom casitas and four master suites at Playa Vik Jose Ignacio overlooking the sea; and the newest Bahia Vik Jose Ignacio with 11 uniquely designed bungalows and 10 master suites right on the beach—shine the spotlight on both Uruguay and the laid-back fishing village of Jose Ignacio, 20 miles northeast of Punta del Este.
Worldwide prizes for fine Tannat grape-based blends and varietals are putting Uruguay on the wine-aficionado circuit, which, going west from colonial Colonia, leads to the top wineries around quaint Carmelo. Stop for a tasting at Narbona Wine Lodge, and stay for the night in one of five stylish rooms in the 1909 wine estate inn, recently adopted by Relais & Chateaux. Or, move on along the Rio de la Plata to award-winning Carmelo Resort & Spa, A Hyatt Hotel, formerly a Four Seasons and now a member of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection.
Nicaragua’s time has come. Why now? Nicaragua has been at peace for more than two decades, and not only are travelers finding it is safe to visit, but they are discovering a whole new world of colonial charm, cultural creativity, natural beauty, sun-swept beaches fringing two seas and active adventures galore.
Few vacation itineraries in Nicaragua skip by lovely Granada, focal point of outdoor action— kayaking on Lake Nicaragua, ziplining, and volcano climbing—as well as the country’s colonial showcase. Granada also beckons with her bevy of restaurants and her grand inventory of boutique lodgings occupying restored historic mansions.
Just opened this fall and 30 minutes north from Granada is the all-inclusive Nekupe Sporting Resort & Retreat set on a 1,350-acre nature reserve. Accommodations include villas with floor-to-ceiling windows and terraces looking out to Mombacho Volcano, as well as private butlers and one’s own ATV to get around. Experiences are rooted in both an active-outdoor lifestyle starring hiking, horseback riding, skeet shooting, and sportsfishing, while wellness is catered to through mountaintop yoga, spa treatments, meditation and nature walks. On the Caribbean coast—a boat ride away from Big Corn Island—carefree and car-free Little Corn Island is ripe for discovery by avid divers, snorkelers, kayakers or anglers. Clients can vacation in comfort at the barefoot-style Yemaya Island Hideaway & Spa, an eco-chic lodge with 16 bungalows whose decks invite guests to step right down on a white-sand beach and into the sea.
Check out Central Holidays’ 2017 Latin America brochure and you’ll find Highlights and Tastes of Uruguay, a 10-day luxury-perfect, private car and driver program highlighting wining, dining and cooking, as well as stays at Uruguay’s finest hotels and haciendas (from $6,549 pp dbl). Then have a look at the 9-day Best of Nicaragua, which touches down in Managua, historic Leon, colonial Granada and Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua; top hotels, private car sightseeing and breakfasts are included in the rate, which starts at $1,599 pp dbl. In addition to these destinations, Arthur Berman, v.p., Latin America & Cuba division, Central Holidays, points out that “we have many more traditional destinations that are top sellers because they are still discovery destinations for the North American market.” For example, he says, “demand is ongoing for visitor-friendly Costa Rica, and for Peru, nowadays including Cusco and Machu Picchu and the Amazon, as well as the Puno, Colca Canyon and Arequipa circuit. Peru’s hot cuisine scene in Lima helps to keep the country in high-demand.”