Uruguay: “Quedarse en el chiquito”

Story by Emma Bernstein, Dialogue of Civilisations ⎜ Photo by Hope Luria

Uruguay is Argentina’s hermanito to the north, colloquially referred to as the Switzerland of South America. Both Argentina and Uruguay have a heavy European influence due to a high volume of early European immigration, but the countries have their own unique identities, and Uruguayans would be offended to be referred to as Argentina’s little brother. When I heard that a week of my dialogue would be spent in Uruguay, I had absolutely no expectations of this small South American country. In fact, nobody in the group had any expectations at all, which I came to realize was one of the best aspects of our trip to Uruguay.

After spending three weeks in the chilly, bustling city of Buenos Aires, everyone was feeling worn down and over-stimulated. We boarded the ferry in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires’s shiny port district of skyscrapers with reflective windowed facades and upscale parillas. After a two hour ferry ride, we arrived in grey, rainy Montevideo. The first day in Montevideo was a blur of tour busses and historic information, clouded in a gloomy drizzle. We passed mate drinker after mate drinker, sitting on park benches with their cups and thermoses, sipping from metal bombillas that are designed for drinking mate. Mate is the unofficial national drink of Argentina and Uruguay, and once you drink it, it is clear why it’s so popular. It tastes like an extremely bitter green tea, but the caffeine hit is completely unlike coffee and is very enjoyable.

In Uruguay, we spent a couple days in the capital city of Montevideo which had a surprisingly relaxed, slow vibe for a capital city. Nobody ever seemed to be in a rush for any reason, which was a welcome change of pace after being in hectic, crowded Buenos Aires for three weeks. From Montevideo, we travelled to my favorite place I have ever been to: Colonia del Sacramento, or Colonia for short. Being in Colonia felt like we were transported back in time to colonial days. The historic district was impeccably preserved, and was reminiscent of old Portugal. The buildings were pastel and terracotta stucco, with palm trees and sea views within walking distance on all sides. There was an indescribable feeling that we all experienced, but everyone was very at peace while we stayed in Colonia. Every night we would go down to the waterfront with a bottle of Malbec to watch the most incredible sunsets I’ve seen in my life. For me, there was absolutely nothing to complain about in Colonia.

My favorite day of the entire dialogue was our free day in Colonia. The most popular mode of transportation there was golf carts, so we went to the rental shop and rented an old-fashioned buggy for the day. We drove all around the peninsula during the most beautiful sunny day. When we got hungry, we decided to stop at a restaurant right on the waterfront to order Uruguay’s national dish, chevito. Chevito is a literal pile of meat, cheese, french fries, and eggs, and was one of the most delicious meals I have ever had. Paired with a view of the sparkling water, a glass of malbec, warm sun, and good friends, I was at my happiest in that moment.

I think what I love the most about Uruguay is that it is truly a hidden gem. Nobody knows how magical Uruguay is unless they have been there and experienced it. Even Anthony Bourdain agreed that it was one of his favorite countries on Earth. However, I hope that people do not flock to Uruguay as a tourist destination, because that would ruin the vibe that local Uruguayans have created.