By Cathy Brown
Uruguay, known worldwide mostly for its relative economic stability, charismatic President Jose Mujica, and glamorous oceanside playground of the superrich, Punta del Este, has consistently been one of South America’s expat hot spots. But specifically, where to go, where to start looking? Here are a few regions to have on your radar:
Located in the southwest of the country, on the River Plate, this is Uruguay’s premier wine growing region. While Mendoza has its Malbec, Carmelo has its star Tannat varietal, and the riverside climate provides the perfect environment for it to grow. Carmelo is a small town a 3 hour boat ride through the Tigre Delta from Buenos Aires or a 4 hour car trip from Montevideo. Carmelo is farm country, where hundred year old general stores sell homemade bread, jam, and organic cheeses, where cows graze in picturesque rolling fields, and where the tradition of siesta is still taken very seriously. Here, you may feel like you have been transported back to the 1950’s, as most of the farmhouses retain their antique architecture and many vintage cars still meander unhurriedly down the roads. Carmelo is an understated place, off of the radar of most, yet has amenities such as golf, an established wine route, polo, a small private port, some gourmet restaurants offering up peasant food at its finest, and one of the few hotels in the area is a laid-back Four Seasons.
It is still little-known, but has the potential to be the next Mendoza. It offers country life with easy access to both Montevideo and Buenos Aires. Its shabby-chic countryside is ridiculously charming and transports you back to simpler times.
How to get there: Cacciola runs very comfortable ferry boat trips from Buenos Aires to Carmelo through the Tigre Delta. http://cacciolaviajes.com/arg/
What to do: Rent a bike and explore some of the local wineries. Almacen de la Capilla is a quaint, boutique winery definitely worth knowing. http://almacendelacapilla.wix.com/almacendelacapilla
Much smaller and much more chilled out than Buenos Aires (its neighbor across the river), Montevideo offers all of the amenities of a capital city with few of the common headaches. Traffic is manageable, public transportation is decent, views of the Atlantic are abundant, and there are more than a few desirable suburbs to choose from if downtown living is not your thing.
For businessmen or entrepreneurs from abroad, it is relatively straightforward and stable economically compared to other places in Latin America. It has modern suburbs along with the old-world charm of the ‘Ciudad Vieja’ to choose from. It offers great gastronomy, an appreciation for the arts, and friendly locals. For those who are easily overwhelmed or exhausted by city life…it’s definitely not even close to Buenos Aires, Lima or Rio energy-wise – for some, this is a great thing.
Where to stay: Those looking for luxury should hit up the Sofitel, http://www.sofitel.com/es/hotel-7969-sofitel-montevideo-casino-carrasco-and-spa. For less expensive lodging in the quirky, more bohemian Ciudad Vieja, try Hotel Palacio http://www.hotelpalacio.com.uy/ or the NH http://www.nh-hoteles.es/nh/es/hoteles/uruguay/montevideo.
Where to eat: La Silenciosa, Mercado del Puerto, La Pulperia and Umaga are worth checking out.
Real estate contact from the US, who specializes in helping expats find and close on investments in Uruguay and Argentina: Patrick Archer, www.investba.com
Unless you are status-seeking, desperately needing nightlife, and are prepared to throw down millions for some basic real estate, skip the popular beach destination of Punta del Este. For those who want to live at the beach to, well, actually enjoy the beach, La Pedrera is a charming, tranquil coastal town that fills up with tourists in the summer and dies down significantly in the other months. It is still within easy reach of bigger cities (a day trip to Punta del Este is not out of the question and Montevideo is only a few hours away by bus or car). The tight-knit, friendly local crowd will make any new expat feel right at home. Spend your days surfing or learning to surf in nearby La Paloma, watching sea lions or shopping the hippie artist market at nearby Cabo Polonio (only accessible with 4 wheel drive through sand dunes – rides are offered about once every hour), or taking in the activities at the quaint community center, which plays movies for the public and offers theatre and live music as well.
Why La Pedrera? It is everything a beach town should be. Laid back (you could walk barefoot and sandy into any store you wanted to). It has a community feel. It is close enough to other beaches, in case you get bored of the one right out front, to be able to make endless day trips up or down the coast. And the surfing, definitely the world class surfing.
Where to stay: The best of the best to really enjoy the laid-back vibe of La Pedrera is Pueblo Barrancas, www.pueblobarrancas.com. Choose from cozy cabins or ‘glamping’, all within a couple of minute walk to the beach, which is just far enough from central La Pedrera to keep tourists away. You may very well have the beach all to yourself – a luxury.
Where to eat: Again, Pueblo Barrancas. www.pueblobarrancas.com. As much of the food as possible is grown in their organic gardens, and the chef seems to consistently cook with enthusiasm and love, always making for a relaxed, enjoyable, delicious meal.
Surf: Peteco surf shop in La Paloma is about as friendly and helpful as a surf shop could be. They can help you with rentals, wet suits, finding an instructor (Highly recommended is Sebastian Zunini. He teaches at La Pedrera Surfing School) https://www.facebook.com/PETECOsurfshop.joaco , https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Pedrera-Surfing-School/173418026032629