Before I continue with our two weeks in Uruguay, I want to clear up some confusion from the previous post. Rita and I traveled to Uruguay in September of 2017, in the last two weeks of a five week journey that included the Andes in Ecuador; Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu, the Sacred Valley, and Lima in Perú; as well as a weekend in Buenos Aires.
On our return, I had a lot of writing to get caught up on – not just the blog, but also the stuff I get paid for (including a feature article and a few side-bars about Uruguay). I also have spent some time working on a book about the prep for the Inca Trail. Add to that the holidays, company, a conference in Atlanta, selling a house in West Virginia and buying one in Tennessee, and throw in my daughter giving birth to twins, and you can see that life kind of got in my way there for a while.
Uruguay is a beautiful country, and I’m sorry it has taken me so long to finally get around to writing about our experiences there in the blog. So with out further ado, or at least as little do as possible, let’s return to the Uruguay coast.
Our first few days on the coast were hampered by rain, fairly hard at times. This is par for the course in Uruguay, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The farmland in this country is considered some of the most fertile in the world, and the mild climate and regular rainfall allow two growing seasons for many crops. I was told that tree farms in Uruguay can harvest after an average of 7 years, compared to 10-12 years in other locations.
So the rain makes for a very lush, green, and fertile landscape – but it can be a drag for the intrepid explorer. For instance, our visit to Atlántida was pretty brief, as it was raining so hard we couldn’t get out and walk around. As a result, I really cannot give a fair accounting of this popular beach resort.
Sitting just an hour’s drive east of Montevideo, Atlántida gets its name because it is considered the beach where the Atlantic Ocean officially starts and the Rio de la Plata ends. Originally a getaway for the wealthiest Uruguayans, its proximity to the capital has since made it a popular middle-class resort. With only about 5,600 full-time residents, this can seem like a sleepy little town in winter – but I’m told its two beaches become very crowded during the tourist season.
The next day was still rainy, but hoping for the best, we went exploring. This time we went in the opposite direction to see what was east of Punta del Este. Our goal was Punta del Diablo, about which we had read some very nice things; rustic, quiet fishing village, beautiful views, etc. Along the way we could see La Paloma and the park at Cabo Polonio, and surely at some point the rain would let up, right? So we set out on Route 10 to enjoy the coastal road.
I’m sure Uruguayans are laughing at this point, because we were wrong about pretty much everything. First of all, the rain did not let up. We alternated between showers and downpours the whole way. While we did see some amazing homes along the way, and charming little beach towns like La Barra, El Chorro and José Ignatio, we mostly saw clouds and the windshield wipers flopping back and forth.
After what seemed like hours of slogging through the rain, we got our biggest surprise. On the map, it looked like you could take 10 most of the way to del Diablo. We discovered the big difference between the map and the territory after crossing the unique circular bridge over Laguna Garzon. About a hundred meters on, we were no longer on a coastal road. We were on the coast. Literally. What the map did not show us was that Route 10 at this point becomes the beach. Dirt road, or more precisely, hard-packed sand, stretched before us.
How far? Can’t say for sure, because at that point, sitting in the rain in a car without four-wheel drive staring at a trail across wet sand, we gave up.
We could have back-tracked a bit, and taken a road up to 9 and circled through La Rocha to get to our goal, but the combination of rain and just general road-weariness won the day. Although it is hard to slink in a car, we managed to slink back to Punta del Este for lunch, then home to rest up a bit and plan for the next day.
Fortunately, the next day dawned bright and sunny – in fact, we had good weather for the rest of our stay. This time it was west again, to take a look at another town that looked interesting on paper, Piriápolis.
Things were much better from the very beginning. We were able to drive past green, fertile farms under a clear blue sky, admiring the sheep, cattle, and goats along the way. Piriápolis turned out to be quite a treat as well, and in fact, it was my favorite coastal town.
Piriápolis sits on the Atlantic ocean around a shallow bay, at the foot of Cerro San Antonio. The combination of green hills and deep blue sea is just breath-taking. We were pleased to see a long palm tree-lined Rambla along the coast, as we had not been able to walk much during the rains. So we parked at the yacht club on the east end of town, and hit the bricks for some much needed exercise.
Piriápolis Beach, seen from the yacht club
The rambla is adorned with white Greek-style columns, and follows the beach for two miles. Strolling along this brick walkway under the palm trees, we enjoyed the sea breeze and the belle-epoque architecture of the city.
The majestic Argentino Hotel, which at the time of its construction was one of the largest in all of South America, and the rounded tower of the Hotel Colón are just two of the more recognizable landmarks.
Behind the yacht club, you can see the pink towers of the chair lift up to Templo de San Antonio marching up the hillside. There’s also a look-out point up top where you can admire a stunning view.
With a population of about 10,000 full-time residents, Piriápolis is large enough to have the infrastructure you need, but still maintain a small-town atmosphere. Although much of the real estate market is geared towards short-term rentals, there are still affordable properties available. We did some window shopping in local real estate offices, and saw single-family homes listed in the Barrios Los Angeles starting at $150,000 , and a three bedroom oceanfront condo for $235,000.
Once we got to the end of our two-mile ramble on the rambla, we turned around and headed back to the yacht club, stopping for lunch at La Rotonda, a small corner bar right across from the Colón. We enjoyed the warm sun at an outside table, and I tried my second chivito, one of the sandwich varieties this time.
A beautiful city, not as busy and crowded as Punta del Este, and just the right size. If we were to choose to live on the coast of Uruguay, I would want to look very closely at Piriápolis.
We spent the last few days exploring Punta Ballena and Punta de Este in a little more detail. I loved the views from Ballena, that and the nearby Sauces area would be two other place to consider as possible homes.
We had time for one more afternoon in Punta del Este, driving around the streets and walking on the ramblas and beaches.
Our last evening on the coast, we searched the waterfront area for a nice restaurant. We were not disappointed with our choice – Parrilla El Secreto. We started off with cocktails and tapas criollas. Rita ordered the rissotto de camarón con hongos frescos (an extremely rich and creamy risotto with shrimp and mushrooms), while I chose the ojo de bife premium madurado (literally Mature Premium Beef Eye – but fear not, just a big-ass hunk of grilled beef).
Delicious food in a lovely setting, and even better, while we were enjoying our tapas we were treated to an amazing sunset. What a perfect way to say good-bye to the Uruguay Coast!
Next up, Montevideo…