Uruguay was a blank slate for us. We had no idea what to expect, no preconceived notions, no prejudices whatsoever. We had only heard only one thing; they moved at a slower pace there, and that’s exactly what we needed.
When we disembarked the ferry into Colonia Del Sacramento we sought out the customs agent to obtain our temporary vehicle import permit, and he immediately confirmed our suspicions. NEVER had we met a more laidback border agent. It was more of a causal conversation than a formality. When he asked what duration we wanted the permit, Rob said “maybe a month”? He laughed, and said “Naw, it’s Uruguay, let’s make it a year”! That first impression set the tone for the remainder of our visit.
We set out from town along the palm tree lined highway with the music turned up and smiles on our faces. The local drivers were noticeably slower and more courteous, although there was a steady stream of speeding Argentinian vehicles weaving in and out of the lanes to keep us on our toes. Soon enough, we rolled into the little beach town of Salinas and found the Playa Escondida (hidden beach) campground. The kids were in the pool before the van had even stopped running. We were extremely happy to settle in for the next 6 days, including Christmas. We even made ourselves a paper Christmas tree and decorated it with little paper decorations!
We ventured out of the campground for one day-trip into the nearby capital city of Montevideo. This city had been on our bucket list for a while and we were intrigued to see what it was about. We followed the sinuous and picturesque beachside rambla into the heart of the old city and stumbled upon a parking spot at the central square, immediately below the maple leaf flag waving proudly from the Canadian embassy! The city was as charming as we hoped it to be. The combination of old colonial architecture, palm tree lined pedestrian malls, and Uruguayan hospitality provided a unique and welcoming atmosphere. After an expensive and delicious Swordfish lunch at the harbour market we found time to watch “The Last Jedi” at the theatre before returning late to our campground.
We’d been enjoying ourselves so much that we decided one week in Uruguay was not going to be enough. We were compelled to see more, so we departed Salinas and continued East toward the resort city of Punta Del Este. The towering hotels, moored cruise ships, and busy oceanside restaurants were a stark contrast to the quiet serenity of Salinas, but we were content to enjoy the tourist atmosphere. We were even stumbled upon by some other Canadians who were very surprised to find a vehicle with Alberta plates parked along the beach.
Halfway back towards Salinas we found a campground called Paraiso Suizo (Swiss Paradise) operated by a nice Swiss couple who had been Uruguay for the last 25 years. We enjoyed the beach for a few days, played their amazing mini golf course, and 3 nights later headed back to Playa Escondida, yet again.
It was the day before Christmas Eve and we couldn’t help but notice the fireworks stands that had popped up on every corner, so we thought we should probably partake. The next night, we kept the kids up as late as we thought was reasonable and, after hearing a few other fireworks being ignited around us, we set off our small selection on a sandy hill in the campground and went to bed. Then, precisely at midnight, while we were sleeping, the whole sky lit up! For the next 45 minutes it was a continuous barrage of fireworks from all directions. After the smoke cleared, the drums began. Up in the town above our beach there was clearly a good party going on until the early morning.
On Christmas morning the kids were vibrating as usual! They were so excited to see that Santa had visited our van/home to put some candy in their stockings and deliver a couple of new LEGO kits. We had also wrapped (with hand-decorated paper) a couple of small gifts that we had sneakily purchased for the kids during some market visits in the weeks prior. The day was spent mostly as it would have been at home; feasting on banana pancakes, building new LEGO in pyjamas, and messaging with friends and family. The main differences was the 30 degree weather and multiple swimming pool breaks.
We spent the afternoon grilling several kilograms of meat and drinking some of the local brews. Including our new favourite; Medio y Medio (half and half), which is a delicious mix of sparkling and white wine.
We were a little sad to depart Playa Escondida, but felt ready to keep moving. We bypassed Montevideo, and immediately found a service station back in Colonia Del Sacramento to obtain El Condors first oil change. This appeared to go smoothly and so we lazily explored the charming old port town for the rest of the afternoon.
With the evening approaching we sped out of town towards a campground to the North. As we pulled into the gate we could smell a problem. Burning oil! We jumped out to see smoke emanating from under the chassis. Rob crawled under to find oil spraying from a hole in the brand new oil filter directly onto the hot exhaust pipe! What luck.
Luckily, we had a spare oil filter and some tools to remove the failed one. After much swearing and a scalded hand, the filter was replaced and we had lost less that 2L of our 6L of fresh 5W30 synthetic. It was a very close call. If more oil was lost, we could have been stranded at the campground unable to start the engine or, much worse, we could have easily had a fire which certainly would have been trip altering. Thankfully, the next morning we only needed to double-back 20km into Colonia to purchase yet more oil and another spare filter before we could be back on our way North towards the Argentinian border.
All in all, our Uruguayan experience was fantastic and left us wanting more. We’ve already begun to dream up plans for a return visit. Certainly in conjunction with a visit to Igugazu Falls, which we have somehow managed to miss after two trips to Argentina, and perhaps with at least a small stopover in Brazil. One way or another, we will be back to see more of this intoxicatingly laidback country. Hasta manyana Urugay.
To see more photos of our time in Uruguay check out the links below.
Video: Overlanding Uruguay