Quick Guide to Montevideo

South Americans often refer to Uruguay, that small country sandwiched between giants Argentina and Brazil, as the “first world of the third world”. I don’t share that opinion as you can plainly see there’s still far too many people living in extreme poverty in this country, but it is, de facto, the most stable democracy on this continent.

Just last week I made my way from Santa Fe, Argentina, to Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital and biggest city. I had visited Uruguay before, a few years earlier, but I had limited myself to Punta del Este, the country’s premier vacation destination, and Colonia, a well-preserved colonial city. Travelers often overlook Montevideo as it’s not a very touristic city, but it appears to be on the verge of a renaissance, finally recognizing the potential of its vast historic district, the “ciudad vieja”, in the port area. Countless old buildings are being renovated and new pedestrian malls are being created. Not too long in the future, this part of town could become as popular as Buenos Aires’ fabled San Telmo.

For now, Montevideo’s downtown is rather gritty, almost every building and monument suffering the indignity of ugly graffiti, and its streets are populated by a large number of beggars. The avenida 18 de Julio, the main commercial street, reminds me of avenida Santa Fe in Buenos Aires. Its sidewalks are bustling with activity during the day, but as soon as night falls, it transforms into a lifeless landscape. Locals warn you not to walk the streets at night, but that’s good advice anywhere in Latin America, not just here.

While Montevideo may at first appear as a kind of mini Buenos Aires, comparisons quickly end when you discover it has a large number of white sand beaches stretching eastward from just outside the port at Pocitos, as well as a coastal walkway that seems to go on forever. The salty water lapping the shore here is milky brown, as it’s still the river Plate (rio Plata) loaded with mud and sediment from sources deep inside the South America, but local authorities certify that its safe to bathe. With its long rows of apartment buildings facing the Rambla (the coastal road), some beaches are reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana, minus the mountains. Curiously, there’s virtually no shops or restaurants along the Rambla. You’ll find those usually a couple of blocks in.

One of the aspects of Montevideo, and Uruguay in general, that can be considered “first world” are its prices. Things are more expensive here when compared to other south American nations, and even more so if you rely on the US dollar, which has fallen from 24 Pesos per dollar to just over 19 in the last year. Wages, however, are only slightly higher than in other South American countries.

Quick Facts:

Language: Castilian Spanish, virtually identical to that of Argentina.

Electricity: 220 volts. 2 round peg sockets or 2 slanted plus 1 vertical (same as Argentina).

Meals: Expect to spend at least 200 pesos (10 USD) per person for an ordinary meal. Cuisine is almost identical to Argentina’s. The national dish is the “chivito”, which can be as simple as a piece of steak or as crazy as a huge stack of wildly different items inside a hamburger bun.

Taxis: taxi meters don’t display the fare, but rather a number that has to be looked-up in a table (“tabla de tarifas”) in order to determine the cost. Taxis must have the table displayed in the passenger compartment. If one doesn’t, you might want to wait for one that does. A typical medium distance fare, say from downtown to Pocitos, would be around 5 dollars (100 pesos). Fares are about 25% higher at night (different table).

Public Transportation: There’s no subway, just buses, which are modern and cheap: fare is 17 pesos.

Cheap hotels: There’s plenty of hostels, but if you want a room with private bath, it’s more economical to stay at a hotel downtown, for rates as low as 45 USD per night.

Getting there: Direct, long distance flights to Montevideo are a rarity. Most travelers prefer to combine a visit to Uruguay with Argentina, typically crossing the river Plate from Buenos Aires in Buquebus, the high speed ferry service (about 90 dollars per person) if you book early.

ATMs: More like Brazil, where few ATMs support foreign debit cards. If your provider’s logo doesn’t appear on the list (say Cirrus,Plus or Maestro), find another machine. ATMs typically dispense Uruguayan pesos and dollars.
Internet: Most restaurants have free wi-fi, and do most hotels and hostels.

International calls: There are a few calling centers, but be forewarned that long distance calls are very expensive, as are calls to local cell phones. You might want to use Internet telephony, say Skype, if the wi-fi bandwidth is good enough where you connect.

Apartment rentals: If you’re planning to live here, the best areas are along the Rambla, from Pocitos to Carrasco, the latter being far more expensive. Rents are higher than in many similar sized North American cities. A very ordinary one bedroom apartment would rent for 500 dollars, while a 2 bedroom would set you back about 700 USD a month. Rents are almost always quoted in dollars and sometimes even paid in that currency. Shared costs, such as heat and water and condo fees are typically charged separately. Unlike Argentina, you don’t require guarantors, just documents proving you have sufficient income (bank statements, letter from employer), but you have to post a monetary guarantee equal to five months’ rent. These funds are placed in a special bank account which both you and the owner must sign for to withdraw funds from at the end of the lease. Rentals usually include no appliances at all except a small water heater. A few furnished apartments can be had, but for more money.

Tipping: Most Uruguayans aren’t good tippers, but as a foreigner you should remember that people here earn only a fraction of what they would in the first world (the real one), and be more generous!

Tourist Traps: There really isn’t any, but prices do seem excessively high in the port market (mercado del puerto), since Anthony Bourdain featured its eateries on his TV show.

Entertainment: No specific entertainment area, although there’s a few discotheques in Pocitos and a handful of bar/restaurants that stay open at night on the Sarandi pedestrian mall. Best way to find live entertainment venues is via the local newspapers. Carnival period lasts virtually all of February. Movies are generally subtitled rather than dubbed. Matinees cost about 5 USD per ticket. There’s an opera near Independence Square, the Solis theater.

How to Expatriate: Planning Your Great Escape

People often express to me their concerns about moving to another country. After all, I’m an experienced expatriate, and it’s my job to help people think through their own “Plan B.”

I recently visited Uruguay, where I met plenty of prospective emigrants.

This experience has given me reason to think about the personal “offshoring” process. It also gave me a chance to refine the core elements of my message… a message that, I’m happy to report, appears to be getting through quite nicely.

Which Kind Are You?

Most prospective emigrants from the U.S. fall into one of two categories.

There are those looking for a change in their overall lifestyle, including their relationship to the United States. People in this category are aware of the “push” factors – such as the state of the U.S. government and the threat of arbitrary wealth confiscation – but they’re also mindful of the fact that their lives will go on in a new country, so it makes a sense to take time to look for a place that “pulls” them. Such people generally accept a measure of trade-off in their ultimate choice of destination.

Then there are those who want to get the heck out of Dodge. They’re convinced that collapse is right around the corner, and they want out, NOW. They’re typically focused on protecting their financial assets above all. The choice of destination is less important than the ability to liquidate their holdings quickly – often converting them to gold or other precious metals – and to relocate them to their new home, no matter what the cost.

There’s something to be said for fear of imminent collapse. And it’s true that economic collapse – of the currency, of stock markets, of living standards – can, and may, come quickly. But paranoia is a poor framework within which to make decisions about something as fundamental as where on this earth you are going to live your life.

Your Guide to the Slide

In a recent conversation with colleagues, I made the point that in the most relevant historical cases – i.e. those with the greatest similarity to, and therefore most valuable lessons for, the U.S. – the process of “collapse” took time. It’s usually more like a “slide” than a sudden breakdown. I suggested that the best way to approach our work, therefore, was as a guide to that process in our country… a Guide to the Slide.

That’s important, because we’re used to thinking of past cases of socio-economic collapse as being sudden and therefore terrifying. But when you look at them closely, the events we associate with “collapse” were really the culmination of much longer processes.

For example, many people see January to February 1933 as the moment when the German Weimar Republic “collapsed.” Indeed, the Weimar political system did disintegrate then, as Hitler first forced himself into power and then shut down the Reichstag in quick succession. But when you read the history of the preceding years, it becomes apparent that many Germans had long anticipated something like this, and had planned accordingly. What appears as a sudden collapse actually took almost 15 years.

The same is even truer of my favorite examples of historical collapse – of the Roman Republic and the Western Roman Empire. Both of these processes took over a hundred years, and the endpoints – the accession of Augustus Caesar in 27 B.C. and the occupation of Rome by Odoacer in 476 A.D. – weren’t considered of great significance at the time.

Keep Calm and Carry On

People make poor decisions when they’re terrified. Being terrified of imminent collapse and abandoning the country in a hurry is a sure way to make plenty of them – selling assets prematurely, ignoring tax consequences, neglecting to do solid research, and so on. That’s why I’ve boiled down the fundamentals of my “Plan B” approach to three basic principles:

Your life and happiness is based on four cornerstones: your wealth, lifestyle, relationships and home. They are interdependent. Devote equal attention to planning for each of them.
You can’t buy happiness and you can’t eat money. If you’d really be happy sitting alone on a pile of gold bars on a desert island, by all means do it. But the most successful emigrants make sensible compromises between wealth and the rest of human existence.
The unit of decision-making is the family. When assessing values and potential trade-offs, include those that apply to your intra-household relationships too. Few people remain happy when surrounded by an unhappy family.

So by all means, get ready to go. But if a well-informed advisor tells you to wait a bit and think before making a big decision, follow their advice. You’ll be glad you did.

The New Uru-Gay Beckons

Although it is almost the smallest country in South America, Uruguay obviously has a big heart when it comes to gay visitors. Bordered by Brazil to the north and Argentina to the west Uruguay has survived the competition from Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro to become the preferred hot spot for gay vacationers from South America and now from around the world.

With a land mass of only 175 square kilometres and a national population of 3.5 million residents of whom almost fifty percent live in the capital city of Montevideo, beautiful sandy beaches and rolling hills in the interior, Uruguay offers a variety of holiday activities to this new wave of tourists.

Five years ago this month in 2003 the federal government passed a law protecting members of sexual minorities from physical and printed homophobic abuse. This was followed in November 2007 with the recognition of same-sex civil unions at the national level—the first country in South America to allow gay unions. The age of legal consent is eighteen and homosexual acts in public are still frowned upon but the overall attitude in Uruguay is very gay-friendly.

The cities of Montevideo and Colonia plus the coastal resort of Punta del Este—Star of the Golden Coast—are where most of the gay and gay-friendly businesses can be found. Although the riviera of Punta del Este is little-known to North Americans it has star-pulling power and rivals many other established gay destinations amongst the smart gay jet-set who are seeking somewhere a little bit different from the norm.

This small country has honestly earned its nickname of Uru-Gay and the first time you visit will enable you to understand how this came about.

The capital city, Montevideo, is rich in 18th century Spanish history when it was founded as a military stronghold and the Ciudad Vieja—Old City—offers many examples of the original buildings erected by the first settlers. This is the trendiest neighbourhood of the city and comes alive after dark as the entertainment hub of Montevideo. Amongst this historic neighbourhood one can also find a recent addition of the Park Of Sexual Diversity and The Gay and Lesbian Persecution Monument inaugurated in February 2005 in recognition of gay and lesbian Nazi persecution. It is located on Policia Vieja St., between Plaza de la Constitución and Plaza Independencia. This is the first monument of its kind in South America and only the fourth in the world after Amsterdam, New York and San Francisco. This was a major accomplishment which the local gay community is extremely proud of initiating and another demonstration of the gay-friendly Uru-Gay people. Not surprisingly here you will also find many gay and gay-friendly bars, restaurants and shops surrounding the park.

Throughout the Old City along cobbled streets and amongst beautiful parks and plazas there are many historic sights providing hours of walking pleasure and of course gastronomic delights. The Port Market is a collection of restaurants, bars and sidewalk cafes offering local culinary specialties and wines. One local custom which is always sure to please is Medio y Medio—a complimentary glass of local champagne and wine(red or white)—to enjoy as you peruse the menu. Of course Uruguay is renowned for La Parrilla—local meats on the barbecue grill—accompanied by a wide variety of locally grown vegetable side dishes to complement your meal. You will also be pleasantly surprised at how good and inexpensive the local wines prove to be with a little advice from your waiter.

Beside the Port Market is the Perez Castellano pedestrian street which allows you to enjoy the sights and shops without any noisy traffic and journey back in time through this old Spanish settlement in peace and quiet. Outside of the Old City the 18 de Julio Street commemorates Uruguayan Independence Day. It is a very long promenade through the heart of Montevideo and almost every major attraction is close to this street. It is lined with parks, plazas, monuments and breathtaking architectural examples of belle epoque and art deco buildings. The City of Montevideo publishes a very good map with a walking tour route that will allow you to see everything in just a couple of leisurely days walking and stopping to enjoy the sights.

At the Plaza Independence Square in the heart of the city is the Placid Salvo gay bar and coincidentally also the Canadian Embassy. Although the gay bars in Montevideo do not open until very late at night the maple leaf flag is flying on the edge of this plaza 24/7! The other gay bar Cain—the oldest gay bar in the city—is located at Cerro Largo 1833 at Arenal Grande. This bar is located in an enormous heritage building and has multi-levels with three dance floors and is the most popular with locals and visitors. Although there are only two gay bars in the city there is a multitude of gay friendly establishments to also enjoy with a mixture of straight, gay, bisexual and transgendered patrons. Be prepared for interesting times late at night until early in the morning in this vibrant city.

Of course any city in the southern hemisphere bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a large river estuary on the other side is bound to have some spectacular beaches and Montevideo is no exception. Close to the city centre is Playa Ramirez and a short bus or taxi ride will take you to Playa Pocitos or Playa Malvin. Pack plenty of sun tan lotion as the rays here are very strong and during the winter months there is very little cloud cover and the temperature averages the low thirties. However, you will find plenty of beach bars and sidewalk cafes should you need to find some shade and refreshments.

Shopping in Montevideo offers a wide variety of choices and the prices are very low compared to Canadian prices. There are major chain stores, small boutiques, local craft stores, markets and of course leather factories. Make sure your plastic is ready for a heavy hit as there will be many irresistible must-have items that you will discover as you stroll along the charming city streets.

Finding gay accommodations in Montevideo is a challenge but the hostal La Puerto Negra is a charming gay bed and breakfast located in a residential neighbourhood within walking distance of the city centre and Old City. The rooms are large, the historic building is charming and the rates are very reasonable. Otherwise the choices are very gay-friendly and most room rates in Montevideo are very affordable depending on your choice of accommodation style and location.

Outside of Montevideo the small town of Colonia is just a short two and a half hour bus ride and will provide a complete change of pace from the big city. Here you will find Portuguese style architecture and cobbled streets reminiscent of Lisbon, Portugal. Winding streets and colorful houses are laid out in a pattern different from most Spanish colonial cities, and a delight to explore. The historic quarter, Barrio Historica, on a small peninsula jutting out into the river, was named a World Heritage Site in 1995. The town’s history dates back to 1745 and you can see an historic drawbridge built at that time, the El Faro lighthouse built in 1857, or visit the Sunday market in Plaza Mayor. A day or two in Colonia is a perfect way to see another side of Uruguay’s unique appeal and history. The town produces a great array of local textiles and has a free trade zone enhancing the already low prices.

Travelling north east for about 140 kilometres from Montevideo brings you to the upscale resort town of Punte del Este on the Atlantic coast. This small coastal town of just over ten thousand residents swells to a seasonal population of about one million people during the months of December to February. The beautiful beaches, casinos and entertainment attract many repeat visitors and newcomers alike who are making this the Riviera of South America not to be missed. The gay community is growing and now includes hotels, bars, restaurants and stores for a complete gay holiday experience. The beaches here offer everything from sailing in the Atlantic breezes on the calm waters to relaxing and suntanning or surfing on the waves. No trip to Uruguay is complete without a visit to Punta del Este and the Monte Carlo style fun!

For a small country you will be amazed at how much Uru-Gay has to offer and what an unspoiled and undiscovered gay vacation playground you have found.

There is also a very experienced GLBT tour company specialising in gay vacations in Uruguay but headquartered in the United States and they can be found at gay-uruguay.com providing assistance with a vacation anywhere in this small country with the big gay welcome mat. They can arrange accommodations, tours and special activities to suite your personal idea of a perfect gay holiday.

Beautiful Little Uruguay

South America’s smallest Spanish speaking country is known as Uruguay. This may be the reason that most tourists have overlooked the country in the past. However to not include Uruguay on your travel itinerary would be a drastic error on your part for you would be passing up a travel paradise. Uruguay has lots to offer the visiting tourist especially for those travelers who appreciate the vivid nightlife that the country has to offer. Once you have arrived and related to this small country you will quickly agree that Uruguay is one of the countries which is certainly worth exploring and is particularly nice to discover.

Modernization has taken its toil in this hospitable country. The people in this land have been enjoying the high standards of their living however perhaps since is low key and the country has not invested heavily in advertising funds most people are unaware as to what the country really has to offer. As a result of this lack of proper advertising Uruguay has lost a considerable amount of the tourist trade to it neighbors Argentina and Brazil. Never the less one should seriously consider a visit to this small nation when planning your next South American trip or vacation.

Here in Uruguay you can readily discover a lost feeling of tranquility and enjoy a relaxed vacation along the countries long stretch of sandy white beaches and partake of its related beach activities. You can feel the fresh wind slapping gently upon your face while you engage in some enjoyable horse back riding. Here you can take advantage of the laid back vacation style and truly experience the various cultures and daily life of the people in this friendly country.

Although Uruguayans share a Spanish cultural background, about 25% of the people are of Italian heritage. Many are Roman Catholic although most Uruguayans do not actively practice a religion. Church and state are officially separated.

Uruguay has a high literacy rate, large urban middle class, and relatively even income distribution. The standard of living there compares favorably with that of most other Latin American countries. Montevideo, with about 1.3 million inhabitants, is the only large city. During the past twenty years, an estimated 500,000 Uruguayans have emigrated, principally to Argentina and Spain. As a result of the low birth rate, high life expectancy, and relatively high rate of emigration of younger people, Uruguay’s population is quite mature.

Some must see places in the country of Uruguay are within Montevideo the country’s capital and they including the breathtaking 17th century Colonial port or the Punta del Este which is a very fashionable and trendy beach resort. You and your family can explore and enjoy Uruguay’s’ long stretch of Atlantic coastlines, lagoons and their famous sand dunes which surely will take your breath away. You will quickly run through roll after roll of film in your camera as you try to take as many of these breathtaking photos as you possibly can. Your camera simply cannot get enough pictures of the beautiful scenery. The fun and adventure will never stop in this place as you relax in one of Uruguay’s many hot springs such as is found in nearby Salto. Nearby you can party the entire night till your hearts desire within the Gaucho country.

Top Ten Places to Check Out in Uruguay

Enjoy pristine beaches, larger-than life steaks, ranches, and other things that offer more than just a South American environment. Travel to historic sites and places of cultural importance and learn the Uruguayan’s way of life. Have a luxurious escape into this South American paradise by going in these heavenly places on Earth.

1.) Punta del Diablo

Find a quiet escape from the busy city in this tranquil part of Uruguay. Walk in miles of empty beach coastlines, surf and fish till you drop, and enjoy wooden cabins and trouble-free rural lifestyle. Learn from people whose lives are as nature-oriented and as down-to-earth as the peaceful surrounding.

2.) Punta del Este

Punta del Este is known world-wide as a plush resort with miles of beaches, a string of luxurious hotels and restaurants and never-ending reasons to party. While it’s not as famous as its European and American counterparts, its untamed charm and stunning beauty makes people come every summer. Strut your winning figure in its beaches by engaging in its beach activities or partying in its all-night discos.

3.) Isla de Gorriti

Do you find Punta del Este serving too many people that it spoils the fun you deserve? Then go to Isla Goritti and find more beaches that could satisfy the hydrophilic man in you. Eighteenth-century fortresses also abound this idyllic place.

4.) Montevideo

Travel to the place of Spanish-Italian art deco designs and see for yourself the cultural diversity in this patch of land. While it lost many tourists over to more famous tourist zones, Montevideo has its own beaches and festivities to be proud of. Travel between late February and early March and find yourself in the middle of a dancing spree in the Montevideo streets.

5.) Casa Pueblo

Take a look inside the Uruguay’s Mediterranean villa and art gallery and explore its rooms devoted to Carlos Vilaro’s masterpieces. Located only five minutes off Punta del Este, Casa Pueblo offers breathtaking edifice that serves as a repository for the equally astounding works of art. A bar was conveniently placed for visitors to unwind in a totally different ambience.

6.) Water Sports

Uruguay’s long beach lines give unlimited possibilities when it comes to water-based activities. Find your gear and do some boating, surfing, swimming, and fishing in some of the beautiful waters in the world. With Uruguay’s water, there are simply unlimited opportunities to enjoy.

7.) Colonia del Sacramento

Overlooking Rio de Plata, Uruguay’s Colonia del Sacramento is a place where you can have some of the most cobbled streets, vibrant history and most scenic spots together. Visit the city’s museum, drawbridge, lighthouse, and bullrings. Plan your trip in this place and experience the life with happy Uruguayans, nightspots and other places of amusement.

8.) Plaza de Torros

Plaza de Torros is located outside Real de San Carlos, Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Let your eyes feast in Plaza de Torros’ grand architecture that characterizes this short-lived bullring. Sneak in with the locals through a broken gate and enter the bull fighter’s arena.

9.) Feria de Tristan Narvaja

Located in Monetevideo, Feria de Tristan is the Uruguay’s center for antiques, records, astesanias, and more. Shop around for secondhand books, pets, fruits, vegetables, and fish in this one-of-a-kind market. Shop during Sundays and treat yourself with a hoard of bohemian goods on display.

10.) Palacio Salvo

Any Uruguayan trip is incomplete without a visit in this spot in Montevideo. Located in the intersection of 18 de Julio Avenue and Plaza Independencia, this building intended for hotel is now a home for a multitude of residential units and office spaces. Treat yourself with some contemporary architecture by visiting this Uruguayan high-rise.

Cabo Polonio, Uruguay – Serenity Now

When I am asked, “What is your favorite place in Uruguay?” The answer invariably is Cabo Polonio. It’s a little slice of Heaven on Earth.

Like Heaven, it is also very difficult to get to-you have to pay attention to what you are doing or you’ll miss it.

My friend Vicky and I had decided to rent-a-car in Montevideo because we were visiting several beaches on this journey. (See renting a car in Uruguay for more information.) However, if you intend to just visit Cabo Polonio for a few days, it is much easier to take the bus from Montevideo if not but for one simple reason: The bus driver knows where Cabo Polonio is!

The drive from Montevideo is about 3-4 hours…the bus may take a little bit longer. After you pass the international hotspot of Punta Del Este, you are about half way home and the highway narrows to one lane with beautiful countryside all around you-beautiful countryside unimpeded with any signs about where your destination might be. La Paloma is the largest beach city near Cabo Polonio so just follow the signs to La Paloma. Once outside of La Paloma, you have about a 1 hour drive.

If you drive for longer than one hour, you have passed Cabo Polonio or you drive way to slow! Coming up from the La Paloma area, it will be on your right and there is a sign, but it’s very small. Don’t be afraid to ask people where it is-“¿Dónde está Cabo Polonio?” if you feel that you have gone to far.

Once you arrive in Cabo Polonio, you have really not yet arrived. This is one of the reasons that it is my favorite place in Uruguay. It is not a place that is accessible by car or bus. When you see the sign for Cabo Polonio from the street, you are greeted with a few huts, houses, and shacks of those people who will take you from the road into the actual city…about 10 kilometers through stunning forests and sand dunes.

These people normally take you into town by truck. However, depending on the season, you can also ride horseback into Cabo Polonio. Vicky wanted to ride horseback and I did too.

However, we were taking this trip in the beginning of November-a somewhat risky time weather-wise. November is the beginning of the warm months but she has her menstrual cycles and can change without warning. Luckily, we caught the good time of the month and the weather was perfect!

Fortunately, we found a family that offered horseback rides into Cabo Polonio at this time of year. We were escorted by Valentino, a young 12 year old who schools in Montevideo during the week and works with his family here on the weekends. I asked young Valentino if he knew that he was the namesake of a famous Latin Lover. He looked at me quizzically…I am only 12. Be patient young Valentino, your time will come!

The horseback ride was a phenomemonal experience and worth well more than the $30 that it cost. I recommend it to everyone who visits Cabo Polonio. You ride through pastures, forest, and finally long sand dunes to your arrival in Cabo Polonio. Interestingly, after we arrived, young Valentino just unsaddled the horses and patted them on the butt.

“Don’t you have to take them back?” I asked young Valentino.

“No”, he responded, “they know their way back.”

For having reputedly such small brains, these horses were well-smart…like big homing pigeons.

Before the horses left, they roamed the streets for a little while as do many other animals, and people, in Cabo Polonio. With no electricity, no paved roads, no 24-hours Nautilus, no Starbucks, no Internet cafes, no nada, Cabo Polonio is just a place to meander and relax.

As we are wont to do, Vicky and I exchanged that knowing glance that speaks a clear sentence: “How ’bout a cocktail?” We did not know where we were going to stay. Many folks labor endlessly visiting many places in order to make informed decisions. Vicky and I visit the watering hole, meet people, and get valuable information with very little exercise.

In this instance, we asked our waiter for a cocktail, and then asked him: “Do you know anywhere around here that we can stay?”

“You can stay here. We have one room left and it overlooks the ocean.”

Perfect.

Do be careful with this approach. This worked because it was early November; it would not have worked in December, January, or February when Cabo Polonio gets overrun with people on their summer break. In fact, I recommend Cabo Polonio during the off-season. In the peak season, Cabo Polonio loses peak form. Tranquility and serenity give way to debauchery and mayhem….which, come to think of it, is not bad either.

Also, as we were cocktailing, a man approached us who spoke Spanish but in a Frenchy kind of way…because it turns out that he was French. He sat down and conversed with us for a bit. He decided, after visiting Cabo Polonio about 3 years back, to give up his thriving Internet business in France and move to Cabo Polonio to relax and pursue his other hobbies, one of which is photography. He created a photo-book of Cabo Polonio that you may want to purchase if you visit. He sells them directly or they can be purchased at the lighthouse. The book captures the essence and fluidity of life in Cabo Polonio.

Could you give up your civilized life and move to a lazy beach community with no electricity? Would you ever want to? I asked the Frenchmen, in retrospect, “would you do it again?”

He said: “It’s not for everybody…this type of life. But for me, it’s perfect. I was living a high-paced life and stressed all the time. I didn’t realize just how unsatisfied I was until I came here. Now I do what I love in a place that makes me feel good everyday. Would I do it again? Absolutely…only I would have done it much sooner.”

The hotel that we stayed in was fantastic. There are only two hotels on the island (I think) and they are situated on the coast right next to each other. Our hotel informed us that the electrical generator would be turned off at 9pm and that there were candles in the room that we should use when the lights go out.

Imagine: A whole city with absolutely no lights at night. We snuck out of our hotel at about 11pm in search of signs of life. We stumbled upon a group of people in a room playing music and drinking. We spent a few hours with them listening to live music and sharing spirits. On our way back to the room, we paused to look at the sky filled with stars. There is no star gazing quite like here…the city with no lights. Truly amazing.

The next day we visited the light house, stood atop the hill where you can see both coasts of the peninsula, and met many people from all over the world.

I cannot say enough good things about Cabo Polonio-it may not only be one of my favorite places in Uruguay, but anywhere.

Do you remember the old Seinfeld episode, when George’s strategy to achieve inner-peace was to shout “Serenity Now!”

Studying Spanish in Buenos Aires? Take a Side Trip to Uruguay

When attending your Spanish language school in Argentina, you may be so caught up in the cultural activities, dining and dancing that it doesn’t even occur to you to think about leaving the country.

After all, you may be completely enthralled in various soccer games, museums, and tango dances! However, if you are planning to learn Spanish in Buenos Aires for more than just a very short period of time, it only makes sense to visit the neighboring country of Uruguay. One interesting fact that you may not have realized is that if you are planning to stay in Argentina for more than 3 months, traveling to Uruguay and back will actually renew your visa for an additional 90 days.

Many students take advantage of this strategy to extend their stay in South America. Similarly, visitors to Uruguay, often visit Buenos Aires for the weekend to extend their passports as well.

Travel from Argentina to Uruguay is surprisingly easy and quick. A pleasant hour-long boat ride can get you from Buenos Aires to Uruguay. For example, the direct boat ride from Buenos Aires to Montevideo costs about $80. You can also opt to take a boat and a bus for only about $40. This trip takes longer but will lower your costs.

Another transportation option is taking a ferry trip across the Rio de la Plata to Colonia, Uruguay. This trip takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours. The shorter versions of the trip cost a bit more money. Colonia is a very sleepy colonial town that is definitely worth a visit. In fact, this is the oldest town in all of Uruguay. In this part of the country, you can relax at the beach and enjoy a break from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires.

During your side trip from your Spanish immersion school in Argentina, you can get a unique glimpse into history by visiting the Barrio Historio (or historic quarter) in Colonia. This neighborhood is very convenient since it is walking distance from the ferry terminal. In fact, UNESCO designated this area as a “World Heritage Site.”

In this section of town, there are cobblestone streets that were built in the 17th century. You can see the oldest church in all of Uruguay, called the Iglesia Matriz as well as Portón de Campo – the City Gate and wooden drawbridge. Another popular attraction is the 17th century Convent of San Francisco lighthouse and convent ruins.

Many students who learn Spanish in Buenos Aires overlook traveling to Uruguay. However, this country is one of the most economically developed parts of South America. In fact, Uruguay has also been rated as having the 50th highest quality of life in the world. It is no wonder that many people call this country “South America’s best little secret.”

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Panama

* Panama is easy to get to. Panama is a crossroads between the Americas and almost every major airline fly’s here. It is only 2.5 hours from Miami and 4 from Houston and with more and more flights to Panama; they are getting less and less expensive!! The tourist visa is now included in the price of your flight. You can bus here from Costa Rica, fly or take a boat from Colombia. Spain, France, the U.S. and many other countries have influenced the history of this country so you will find a lot of people speak more than 1 language. The currency is the U.S. Dollar (officially know as the Balboa, but it’s just a dollar)

* Panama History. A small country with a big story to tell, Panama was once under water, separating the Americas. A land bridge now, in more ways than one. Yes, it connects North and South America but it was also the bridge used by the Spanish to transport gold from Peru to Spain. See the ruins of the 1st city (Panama Viejo) and walk the streets of Casco Viejo built in the 1600’s. Learn about famous pirates like Henry Morgan and see the forts they attacked. For a century 1/3 of the worlds gold passed through Panama and you can walk through the jungle on the original trail! You may also have heard of the Panama Canal. Visit through the famous Miraflores Locks and museum or experience them on a day cruise.

* The Panama Climate. In Panama, we get summer year round! Sure, it rains more in some month than others, but locals call the ‘rainy’ season the ‘green’ season. It rains more, but usually only for an hour/day and this IS the tropics: its hot and it is green! Can’t take the heat, head to the hills. The climate certainly cools off when you reach El Valle, Boquete and the highest ‘town’, Cerro Punta. Enjoy temps in the low 80’s during the day and high 60’s at night.

* The Panama Culture. 7 Indian tribes still remain in Panama. Visit the Wounaan within an hours drive from modern Panama City. Go up river for a night with the Embera. Throughout the country you will see Guaymis influence. Deep in the jungle/national park shared with Costa Rica you will find the Bribri and friendly Teribe (Naso). The ultimate experience is still Kuna Yala. With almost 400 coconut clad islands, white sand beaches, crystal clear Caribbean water for snorkeling, small cabins for a more intimate setting (vs. big hotels), this is the place to visit for culture of course.

* The Panama Adventure. Panama is a playground for adventure. Snorkel/dive in some of the most amazing places on earth, Caribbean and Pacific! Catch a wave on one of the many famous or unknown beaches. Sail, kayak or enjoy any water sport off the 2000 miles of coast or around some of the 2000 islands. Hike jungle trails that take you back in time, along a volcanic crater or to the top of a mountain over 11,000 feet to catch the sun rise and a view of both oceans! Raft and /or kayak the class 1-class 4 rivers. Try one of the 3 zip line/canopy tours. But for the truly adventurous experience the nightlife out on Panama City’s Calle Uruguay!!

The Five Best Places to Visit in Rio De Janeiro Brazil

Want to know what the best places to visit in Rio are?

You do if you are planning a vacation to Rio de Janeiro Brazil. You are investing your hard-earned money in airfare and accommodations. You will have a limited amount of time in Rio. And you want to make sure your Brazil vacation is a memorable experience.

Choosing which places to visit in Rio can be a stressful experience. There is so much to do in the Marvelous City. I fully understand what you are facing. My vacation to Rio only lasted a week. After that experience, I spent 18 years living in Brazil.

My recommendations for the best places to visit in Rio.

1. Copacabana Beach

Copacabana beach is one of the most famous beaches of Brazil. The nearly three kilometers of sandy beach looks out at the Guanabara Bay and offers a spectacular view of Sugarloaf Mountain. A fort at each end of the beach provides tourist with an opportunity to get to know a little more of the history of both the city of Rio de Janeiro and the country of Brazil.

2. Sugarloaf Hill (Pao de Acucar)

Sugarloaf Hill is a quartz and granite peak that rises up from the mouth of Guanabara Bay to a height of 396 meters. A glass-paneled cable car will transport you from Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) to Morro da Urca (Urca Hill) and, from there, to the top of Sugarloaf. The ride takes less than 20 minutes but offers a view of Rio that you will never forget.

3. Maracana Stadium

Maracana Stadium is one of the largest football (soccer) stadiums in the world. It was the location of the World Cup Final of 1950 when Brazil lost to Uruguay before a crowd of 199,954. What is more impressive than the stadium itself is the enthusiasm of the Brazilian football fans. Don’t just visit the stadium, visit Maracana to watch a soccer match.

4. Tijuca National Park (Parque Nacional da Tijuca)

One of the things that make Rio de Janeiro so beautiful is the vast amount of nature that is part of this major urban center. The nearly 4,000-acre Tijuca National Park is the largest city-surrounded urban forest in the world. Within minutes, you can leave the sprawling concrete jungle of Rio and visit waterfalls, grottos, lakes and other wonders of nature.

5. Corcovado

Corcovado, which means “hunchback” in Portuguese, is a 710-meter granite peak located in the Tijuca Florest. Atop the peak is the 38-meter Christ the Redeemer Statue with arms outstretched in direction of the city of Rio. The statue was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. You can catch an electric train to ride to the top. A lookout platform allows you to get a breathtaking view of the city.

Celebrating History at Colonia Del Sacramento Uruguay

Colonia del Sacramento is one of the oldest cities in Uruguay. Visiting this marvelous town, situated at the mouth of Rio del Plata, is like walking into a different era that time has frozen charmingly in Colonia del Sacramento. It was not the Spanish but the Portuguese that founded this Uruguay town in 1680. Today, this town is blessed generously with authentic culture and dramatic history, so much so, that it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Exploring this town on foot is insightful, fun and not too tiring as it’s quite small. Head out to the Plaza Mayor 25 de Mayo, which houses the ruins of Convent of San Francisco, originally built in the 17th century. After admiring the ruins, climb to the top of the nearby 19th century lighthouse. This may be exhausting but when you see a bird’s eye view of the town, you will realize it’s all worth it.

Another highlight landmark is the Municipal Museum, which showcases the past through its collections of precious artifacts. But this is not the only museum here. In fact, Sacramento has not two or three, but eight museums. But don’t expect large buildings as you will soon realize when you visit Colonia del Sacramento, everything is smaller and simpler. The good news is you can gain access to all of them by buying one very affordable ticket from the Museo Municipal.

The wooden drawbridge, the city gate and old houses like the 18th century Casa de Nacarello all serve as reminders of Colonia del Sacramento’s magnificent history. And just when you think your sightseeing trip is done, done forget to pay homage to the Iglesia Matriz, the oldest existing church in Uruguay. If you are too tired to walk, there are shops in town that rent out scooters, bicycles and even golf carts! You can also relax in one of the local cafes or look for crafts, gifts and souvenirs from various shops, and Colonia del Sacramento has lots of them, because, after all, it is a tourist magnet!

The town has become a favorite destination of Argentinians looking for a break from their modern lives. And who could blame them when their capital city of Buenos Aires is just a 50-minute boat ride away from the allure of this Uruguayan town. You can find the ferry terminal just half a kilometer south of the historic center. Just adjacent to it, is a fairly big tourist information center.

There is also a nice marina at the coast, where you can rent boats and spend the rest of the day rowing or sailing. Boasting a temperate climate, lovely Colonia del Sacramento can be visited in all seasons, so it does not matter what’s the weather like in where you’re from. In this Uruguayan town, the sun will be up to greet you as you get lost in its captivating historical streets.