Mate, sunsets and hot springs


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South America » Uruguay
October 2nd 2007
Published: October 3rd 2007
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Before we arrived in Uruguay we had planned to visit the country for only a few days, or a week at most. But here we are two weeks later, still in Uruguay and finding it more and more difficult to leave. It´s hard to explain as there isn´t a huge amount to do here in comparison to other countries in South America. However, every time we plan to leave we find an excuse to stay a bit longer!

We knew very little about Uruguay before visiting (apart from the fact they've twice won the World Cup of course) as finding information beforehand proved to be difficult. None of the major guidebooks cover Uruguay and all we had with us was a small chapter in an old edition of Lonely Planet´s "South America on a Shoestring".

I´ve already covered Colonia del Sacremento my previous blog so this one will focus on the other places we´ve seen in Uruguay.

Montevideo


To anyone planning a day trip to Montevideo, I can only advise you not to come on Sundays. Almost all the museums and shops are shut and much of the city is like a ghost-town. This wasn't such a problem
Plaza IndependientePlaza IndependientePlaza Independiente

This is the main square of Montevideo and out hotel was in a great location, on one corner. There´s a huge statue of Jose Artigas in the centre, and his mausoleum is beneath the square.
for us as we were planning to stay for four days, but I remember chatting with some people in Colonia who were thinking of just visiting for the day - guys, I hope it wasn't a Sunday.

Our bus dropped us at the huge bus terminal about 3km out of town. Trenita y Tres is how all bus terminals should be. Modern, efficient, clean and safe with everything you need: helpful tourist information, shops, restaurants and internet cafes. It's more lively here than in the centre on Sundays. We took a bus to our hostel, Che Lagarto, which was in a great location, on a corner of Plaza Independiente, overlooking the main square.

Montevideo is small for a capital city and feels more like a provincial town. Certainly that first day there was no one about and even over the next few days we never felt like we were in a capital city. There´s a beach practically in the city centre so it must be a lovely spot in summer. We hiked out to this beach and found a tiny hill nearby from where you could get a nice view of the city.

Nearly all the museums in the city are free and we visited a couple of these during our stay. I think the most interesting of these was the Museum of the Gaucho and the Money, which is a combined museum with displays on gaucho life and of the history of minting and the peso in Uruguay. A strange combination but a very informative museum, especially the gaucho section, housed in a nice building on the main Avenue.

We had an interesting encounter at the tourist office, with a friendly old lady who I think could talk for Uruguay. When she heard I was Irish she told me the story of Pedro Campbell, an Irish native who was one of the heroes in the fight against the British attack of 1807. I told her it was very easy to get an Irishman to fight the British, especially in those days! Before she told me the guys name, I rather stupidly assumed she was talking about Admiral Brown, who had fought for Argentina against the British the previous year, and her smile vanished for a second when I said this. Oops - I think this was the equivalent of suggesting to an Irishman that Oliver
Piriapolis BeachPiriapolis BeachPiriapolis Beach

Hard to believe a beach this nice was so quiet even though the temperature was above 20 degrees most of that day
Cromwell was one of his country's heroes! She soon forgave us though and continued telling us more and more about Uruguay. It was great to speak to her - she spoke clearly and much slower than everyone else here. It gives me hope that we'll eventually pick up this language.

On our penultimate day here we bumped into Joshua & Melanie whom we had met in our first Buenos Aires hostel! Good luck for the rest of your stay guys!

Piriapolis


It was certainly out of season for visiting Piriapolis, on the coast about 2 hours east of Montevideo. We were the only people in a hostel with over 100 beds, by far the biggest we've stayed in so far. The lady told us the hostel is usually full in summer, but we had it to ourselves for 2 nights. A little bit spooky, especially walking the long silent corridors in the dead of night, but never mind, it was cheap and we had a good kitchen and a TV in the room.

Our main reason for visiting Piriapolis was to climb Cerro Pan de Azucar, the third highest mountain in Uruguay, at 390m high. Were hoping
Summit of Cerro Pan de AzucarSummit of Cerro Pan de AzucarSummit of Cerro Pan de Azucar

Uruguay's third highest mountain is a straighforward climb. You can also climb to the arms of the cross for even better views
to do lots of hiking once we get to the Andes, and while Pan de Azucar is nothing like the Andes, it gave us our first opportunity to hike since our arrival. Very much required after 3 weeks of steak, wine and city life!

Before we began the walk there was a notice board with the usual type of warnings in Spanish but also with a mention of some of the animals you might meet: the word "vipera" caught my attention. I was kind of glad I couldn't understand what they were warning us about. We met nothing slithery at all on the way up or down and soon forgot the warnings. It took us an hour to reach the top after a fairly straightforward ascent. At the summit there´s a cross which you can climb to reach a total height of 420. There are very good views of Piriapolis and surrounding areas from the top and on clear day you can see Punta del Este and towards Montevideo in the other direction.

After descending we went to the Reserva nearby which has been set up to protect native Uruguayan animals. In the reptile section we saw some
Ruth in PiriapolisRuth in PiriapolisRuth in Piriapolis

The cloud covered mountain in the distance is Cerro Pan de Azucar
of the snakes which we could potentially have met on our hike. I'm glad I didn't see these until after our hike as I would have had second thoughts about going ahead with it. I later read that these pit vipers are very poisonous! Hmm, remind me not to go hiking here again!

There are also good walks in the town of Piriapolis, most notably to the summit of Cerro San Antonio which overlooks the town and its a great place for sunsets. We tried to find a shortcut up, but after coming to a dead end near the cable car and another dead end (near a spooky hotel that reminded me of Bates motel in Psycho), we returned to the road and took the longer route. This was well worth it for the views of Playa San Francisco, the next beach west from Piriapolis.

Three days was enough in Piriapolis, especially out of season. The weather was lovely during our visit so I don't know where everyone was. I think in the height of summer this place is probably packed but if you're here for the hiking spring is a good time to visit.

Salto


The
Termas del DaymanTermas del DaymanTermas del Dayman

I think I could get used to this...
final town we visited in Uruguay was Salto, in the northwest of the country, on the Rio Uruguay which divides Uruguay from Argentina. Getting here involved a long day of travel, starting in Piriapolis at 8 am and ending 10 hours later in Salto. Our bus from Montevideo to Salto was great - we had reclining seats and they even served us drinks and a small snack. Nevertheless, it was a six hour journey and we were aching after it - how will we feel after one of those 20 hour bus journeys in Argentina we've heard so much about?

We walked all the way into town with our backpacks and found a room at Hotel Concordia, the oldest hotel in the country, and the place where the famous tango singer, Carlos Gardel, stayed when he visited the area. This hotel was a little above our budget so we tried to negotiate a better deal on the room, but the man would not budge. After such a long day of travelling we didn't have the will to go elsewhere especially as the tourismo was closed for the day and the only other hotel mentioned in the Lonely Planet book
Ice Cream in SaltoIce Cream in SaltoIce Cream in Salto

Ruth on Plaza Artigas in Salto
had closed down! In fairness, it was a lovely hotel with very nice antique furniture and a beautiful courtyard and they served us a great breakfast. The rooms could be improved a bit though.

The next day we went to Termas del Dayman to spend time in the pools around the hot springs which the area around Salto is renowned for. I think these springs should be on every backpackers itinerary. We've only been travelling for 3 weeks so we haven't gathered too much dust yet but it still felt like heaven after 3 weeks of sleeping and showering in small hostels. The Termas are very popular with the locals and it costs next to nothing to get in. There are about 10 different pools, each at a different temperature but all basically very hot and incredibly relaxing.

On Sunday, we returned to Dayman, this time to visit Acuamania, a water adventure park beside the Termas. It's probably more of a place for kids or teenagers than for adults but we still enjoyed it. One water slide in particular, the Kamikaze, was worth the entrance price alone. If you've one day in Dayman, visit the Termes, and with
Hotel ConcordiaHotel ConcordiaHotel Concordia

Hotel Concordia is the oldest hotel in the country and it's where the famous tango singer Carlos Gardel stayed when he visited Salto.
more time the Acuamania is worth a visit too, though it's more than twice the cost and receives about 1/5th the number of visitors.

Other than the springs there's not too much to see in Salto though it's a pleasant enough town with friendly people and we ended up staying four nights. We also tasted the best steak of the trip so far at a small restaurant on the main street. If anyone tells you Argentina has the best steak in the world they're wrong! Uruguayan steak is even better! So that's it from Uruguay, tomorrow we cross the Rio Uruguay to Concordia in Argentina.



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View from Cerro Pan el AzucarView from Cerro Pan el Azucar
View from Cerro Pan el Azucar

Piriapolis from the summit
Nandu in Piriapolis ReservaNandu in Piriapolis Reserva
Nandu in Piriapolis Reserva

Just one of the many native species we saw in the Reserva
Viper in Piriapolis ReservaViper in Piriapolis Reserva
Viper in Piriapolis Reserva

Very glad not to have met this fellow on the path
Gaucho MuseumGaucho Museum
Gaucho Museum

Display in the Gaucho & Minting Museum in Montevideo


4th October 2007

So Unfair.........
Good to hear from you guys, mixed emotions as we finally head to Santiago this evening for the last 5 days of our trip before heading home. And you´ve only just begun....... Its soooooo unfair! have a blast and keep in touch.
9th May 2008

Carlos Gardel
Gardel was mostly a tango singer. I've never seen him dance. Good choice on the uruguayan beaches!

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