Exploring South America

Montevideo’s beach on the Rio de la Plata (River of Silver) features a colorfully painted seawall.

Montevideo’s beach on the Rio de la Plata (River of Silver) features a colorfully painted seawall.

Story and photos © Jerry Ginsberg

The enormous continent to our south has a mind boggling array of natural and cultural beauty. Here we can marvel at the wonders of the rugged Andes Mountains, wild Patagonia, towering Iguaçu Falls, the sprawling Amazon basin and several historic Spanish colonial cities spread throughout many nations.

Easily overlooked among the behemoth nations of South America is tiny Uruguay. That is precisely the point. Throughout its two century history since achieving independence from Spain, this small country has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight. Sandwiched between mighty Spanish Argentina and even mightier Portuguese Brazil, little Uruguay, smaller than Missouri, has perfected the art of staying out of the way.

The bustling capital, Montevideo, with a metro population of almost two million, boasts the majority of the country’s three and a half million total souls. This leaves plenty of room for open spaces out in the countryside.

Often overlooked as a tourist destination, today’s Uruguay is still a land of ranches and gauchos, very similar to the pampas of neighboring Argentina, authentic seventeenth century Spanish towns, crashing ocean surf and quaint seaside villages.

Your exploration of Uruguay might well include these highlights:

Uruguay’s imposing capitol showcases a classic symmetrical design.

Uruguay’s imposing capitol showcases a classic symmetrical design.

Montevideo

This modern capital is a really appealing city with some charming architecture. Don’t miss the soft sand beach on the Rio de la Plata, the very imposing Capitol building and the lovely old (vieja) town.

Fine wine ages in huge 100 year old oaken casks in a cool wine cellar.

Fine wine ages in huge 100 year old oaken casks in a cool wine cellar.

Wineries

Uruguayans do love their wines. The country is liberally sprinkled with numerous picturesque vineyards and wineries. Many offer tours and tastings. This can be a fun way to spend a couple of hours on a sunny afternoon when the light is too strong for landscape photography. Keep your eyes open for signs as you drive.

The small fishing fleet of Punta del Este exudes a very laidback attitude for a commercial operation.

The small fishing fleet of Punta del Este exudes a very laidback attitude for a commercial operation.

Punta del Este

A great little resort town. Poised right on the corner of the Rio de la Plata and Atlantic Ocean, beaches wrap around Punta del Este. Strolling the charming streets, you’ll want to take in the lighthouse, the harbor with its little fishing fleet and sociable harbor seals and the shoreline itself.

Rocha is just one of many lovely protected natural preserves throughout Uruguay.

Rocha is just one of many lovely protected natural preserves throughout Uruguay.

Rocha

One of many natural preserves, Laguna Rocha is a tract with a calming, laid back feel and lots of subtle beauty.

Once out in the countryside, ranches and mounted gauchos (paisanos) are common sights.

Once out in the countryside, ranches and mounted gauchos (paisanos) are common sights.

Florida

As the name of both a department (province) and its largest town, Florida is largely a rural area featuring ranches, cattle and horses. With patience you should be able to locate some gauchos (often called ‘paisanos’) working with the livestock. These colorful cowboys on their small and hardy criollo horses make great subjects.

The charming cobblestone streets of the historic neighborhood of Colonia del Sacramento hark back to the days of Spanish colonialism.

The charming cobblestone streets of the historic neighborhood of Colonia del Sacramento hark back to the days of Spanish colonialism.

Colonia del Sacramento

The historic 17th century colonial Spanish village portion of Colonia is one of my very favorite spots in all of South America. Reminiscent of Colonial Williamsburg, VA, these authentic buildings have been lovingly restored and maintained. Even the cobblestones that now pave the streets arrived here as ballast in the holds of Spanish galleons. Walking this compact neighborhood very early in the morning should allow you to capture the charm and romance without hordes of tourists.

Typical example of the historic buildings found all over the well preserved area of Colonia el Sacramento.

Typical example of the historic buildings found all over the well preserved area of Colonia el Sacramento.

Logistics

Flights to Montevideo’s international airport are available from several US gateways including Miami and Dallas.

Once in country, you will find a wide variety of accommodations. The cities offer modern hotels ranging from about two to five stars with three often being quite adequate. A buffet breakfast is almost always included.

Out in the countryside staying on a ranch (estancia) is an excellent way to quickly become immersed in the ambiance of the culture. It’s an ideal choice for equestrians!

Uruguayan roads are pretty good so renting a standard passenger car will prove adequate. To reach some of the roadless seaside villages, just hop on one of the shuttle-trucks that make the short run through the sand surrounding these little hamlets.

With its relatively long coastlines, the need for such lighthouses to protect navigation emerged early on.

With its relatively long coastlines, the need for such lighthouses to protect navigation emerged early on.

Note: While it is possible to get along without speaking Spanish, Uruguayans probably speak less English than residents of most other South American countries. Even in Montevideo, the last ATMs that I saw had no option for English instructions. A pocket dictionary or phrase book can be very helpful.

Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published photographer whose landscape, Nature and travel images have graced the covers pages of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. (Newly created Indiana Dunes N.P. coming soon!) Jerry has been awarded Artist Residencies in several National Parks. This October, he will be in residence in Shenandoah National Park in VA. His works have been exhibited from coast to coast and have received numerous awards in competition. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.

More of Ginsberg’s images are on display at www.JerryGinsberg.com
Or e mail him at jerry@jerryginsberg.com