Top tour guide, LSM, has plans to make and tickets to book for our next move. On this basis I have been invited to guest write a post on the website. I think I've only one chance to impress both you and the CEO so here goes.
I think protocol is to start with facts and practical information (in case useful).... Uruguay (the smallest Spanish speaking country in SA) is probably best known in recent times for being a football mad (twice World Cup winners), mate drinking, atheist, liberal country (it recently hit headlines for its cannabis laws ("In no part of the world has repression of drug consumption brought results. It’s time to try something different,” President Mujica) and same sex marriage was legalised back in 2013). Uruguay is just a short ferry ride from BA across Rio de la Plata (a ginormous river).
We travelled from the "BuqueBus" ferry terminal (Colonia Express and SeaCat also run ferries). The ferry terminal isn't far from the city centre (just along from the red fortress) (we took a taxi from San Telmo which cost the equivalent of a few English pounds). The Buquebus terminal is new and professional. Your bags are checked in airport style and your exit stamp (Argentina) and the entry process (Uruguay) is all dealt with on dry land before you board (we got there a bit late! Get there 1h 30 minutes before to avoid any stress). We were told that you must print out your tickets in advance (i.e. a mobile phone screenshot won't suffice) but only need one printed copy each.
We had originally planned to visit Uruguay by bus from Brazil but in hindsight our re-jig was great because we found the ferry super easy and efficient. A lot of hostels offer to arrange day trips for you but at a mark up, LSM (top tour operator) sorted our trip hans solo but said it wasn't at all hard (it's a well trodden route by both gringos and Argentinians at weekends/bank holidays).
My top tip is to just get on the ferry. More than that, I'd recommend you book the cheap, slow ferry which takes 3.5 hours from BA to Colonia del Sacramento (we paid circa $36 USA each and booked with BuqueBus online). You can sit on the top deck with the wind in your hair and look out over the river. You'll see BA's tower blocks fade and then Uruguay's coast line come into view. (You'll also have time to try out all the products in the duty free shop. I used a Clarions serum, a Body Shop hand & nail cream, the touch d'eclat and a deep purple lipstick. LSM was shocked at the transformation).
On arrival at Colonia del Sacramento you will immediately change pace. Founded by the Portuguese, its one of the oldest cities in the country. Off the boat and into the town, you walk along cobbled, leafy streets (it's only a 15 minute walk with a big backpack). No one seems to rush in Uruguay. It's great.
We had a slightly hairy moment as our 8 man dorm room was pretty dark and grim (though gorgeous tiled floors) but hesitated only for second before our back packs were dumped and we were out and pottering round the little town. We ate empanadas in the sunshine and it was gorgeous.
I've since heard other backpackers say that one day is enough in Colonia but I disagree. Whilst "promenade" is a bit of stretch, there's a path all the way along the coast which is great fun. You can stop at the little beaches (stretches of sand that lead onto the river). We rode out on rented bikes (£7 each for the day) and found this cool, ruined bull ring. I climbed an old light house. A few we met also complained at the expense compared to other SA countries. There's no denying this (one day we paid £12 for two fruit smoothies) but it's all so pretty (the smoothies came in kitsch jam jars) I just went with it.
That evening LSM directed me onto a bus to the capital, Montevideo. (He bought the tickets that same morning at the bus station (right next to the ferry terminal)). The bus goes every day, pretty much every hour (it's about 180km / circa 3 hours from Colonia to the capital by bus). We checked into another hostel room in Montevideo (the purple cell of doom). Luckily the Uruguay spell can't be broken that easily. Montevideo's main square is the Plaza de la Independencia (it separates the old town from down town). It's fringed with palm trees and I loved it. As we only had one full day in the city we joined a walking tour (it's an addiction) (tours in Spanish and English, look for red T.Shirts at 11am in Plaza de la Independencia) We laughed and laughed. I felt so welcome. In fact, our guide made a running joke about it. It seems that cows outnumber the 3.3 million population 4:1 and the Uruguayans want us all to move there so they can feel safe from a cattle takeover. I'm keen.
Wandered the streets, explored the squares and markets, ate empanadas (from the Mercado del Puerto, a busy old market packed with steakhouses) (NY Times say that insiders prefer La Otra but we ran out of time to try both) and dulche de leche ice cream (another addiction). I did not want to leave.
Gutted the next day we had to take the (this time super fast 1.5 hour) BuqueBus ferry back to BA (whilst the mahogany flip tables were impressive, there was no upper deck and there were more watchful eyes in the duty free). (Just to note this ferry is quite expensive and we got stung (circa $89 USA each) so it would be better to book in advance or else get the slow cheap one, if you're not pushed for time).
Some backpackers say Uruguay is dull and lacking the fizz of BA. The small town vibes, relaxed pace and welcoming atmosphere of Colonia and Montevideo suited me perfectly. We only had 4 days and I wish we'd had triple that to explore. I'd also love to visit the north of the country (we were told there's hot springs in the north west) and the beach towns on the coast. Next time.