- Location - Uruguay sits between Brazil and Argentina, with hundreds of miles of Atlantic coastline. You can hop a ferry to, or from, Buenos Aires for a day, or shoot up into Brazil. It’s also place well for grape growing and wine production.
History - No other part of South America has felt the push and pull between the Spanish and Portuguese influences as much as Uruguay.
Culture - Uruguay is a very accepting place. They have a rich culture of inclusion and diversity, foster entrepreneurship and gender equality, and remain steadfastly open minded about how they regulate cannabis consumption and research, thereby mitigating the criminal aspect of it. This has influenced its neighbors, and the rest of South America, in a very positive way. Uruguayan art, especially music, has also had a massive influence.
Site-seeing - Uruguay has some of the oldest colonial architecture in South America, as well as pristine coastlines.
Food and Wine - One look at our shelves and you’ll get how much we love Uruguayan wine. Whether it’s Tannat, Albariño or Tempranillo, Uruguayan winemakers are proving world-class. For food, they loooove their asado (“barbeque,” in the grilling sense), mate tea, and an absolute ringer of a sandwich, the “chivito.” Usually served with a side of fries, the monster sandwich comes on a bun and includes a thin slice of tender cooked churrasco (steak), with tomatoes, mozzarella, mayonnaise, and olives. You’ll often find it with bacon, fried or hard-boiled eggs and ham, as well, delicious. Oh, and you can grab one in DC at Del Campo.
Music - We basically listen to Jorge Drexler on repeat. And did you know there was an “Uruguayan Invasion” mirroring the “British Invasion” that hit Argentina in the 1960s?
Politics and Economic Stability - Uruguay, like many South American countries in the 20th century, endured a period of military rule. Luckily, however, it was shorter lived than many of the other military regimes on the continent, and after it fell, the country was able to rebuild the stability it had fostered before. Today, Uruguay enjoys a level of political and economic continuity that much of South America does not. This makes it a model for other nations, as well as a welcoming place to visit.
So, that’s the short version of why we love Uruguay. If you want to take a deeper dive, keep reading!
You may have noticed recently that we have been giving a lot of love to Uruguay. Besides allocating significant shelf space to the incredible wines from this beautiful country, we’ve also co-hosted a wine dinner and in-store tasting with Pablo Fallabrino, a renowned winemaker from Estación Atlántida. And to top it off, we’ll be tasting Alto de la Ballena this weekend!
But why all the love? Besides that they make exceptional wines there, Uruguay has a rich history, incredible music, and gorgeous cities and coastal regions. In addition, understanding its politics, both contemporary and historical, will give you a perspective on the region as a whole (it is also one of the safer place in Latin America to travel, due to 30 plus years of economic and political stability). As a whole, Uruguay stands as an example of success in Latin America.
To begin, it’s important to know exactly where Uruguay is, because this will help make its history clearer. Uruguay helps comprise what is often referred to as the “Southern Cone” of South America, an area that covers at the minimum all of Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, and sometimes can include Paraguay and southern Brazil. Situated below the southeastern tip of Brazil and next to the the southeastern elbow of Argentina, Uruguay has a massive influence on the shared culture of this region. Historically, Uruguay served as an important strategic area for the Spanish and Portuguese empires precisely because of its location.
You should also take note of a couple things about the above map:
Look how much coastline Uruguay has! That means beaches!!!
The very narrow gap created by the “Rio de la Plata” (actually an estuary, not a river) between Buenos Aires and Uruguay. Directly across from Buenos Aires is one of Uruguay’s treasures, Colonia del Sacramento
Colonia del Sacramento, a UNESCO world heritage site, played a major role throughout the colonial period, at times under Spanish rule, at others under Portugues. In fact, between 1620 and 1828, the city changed hands 11 times between first the Spanish and Portuguese, then Brazil to Uruguay when it gained its independence in 1828.
Today, Colonia del Sacramento offers the opportunity to spend a few days relaxing in a low key, picturesque historic town. Its greatest draw is the Barrio Histórico, where serpentine medieval cobblestone streets zig-zag back and forth between 400+ year old buildings filled with restaurants ranging from the ultra-casual to some of the region’s top rated. You’ll notice as you walk about that the locals seem to have an affinity for (gorgeous) retro cars. Some additional sites, all quite close to each other, include Portón de Campo – the City Gate and wooden drawbridge, the lighthouse and convent ruins of the 17th century Convent of San Francisco, and the Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento by the Portuguese in 1808. Finally, make sure you take advantage of the exceptional views of the Rio de la Plata, which separates Uruguay from Argentina, and is so large that you cannot see across it.
Next, let’s have a look at Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. Situated on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, about 110 miles towards the Atlantic, Montevideo has historic and cultural jewels that are not to be missed. The city has dozens of sites and adventures, but make sure to visit the Ciudad Vieja, which you enter through the Puerta de la Ciudadela at one end of Plaza de Independencia (itself a must see). Spread across five historic houses, the National History Museum will help you grasp the country's history (best part: it’s free!). To give you another clue about the progressive nature of Uruguayan culture and politics, the sexual diversity monument, built in 2005, reads "Honoring diversity is honoring life; Montevideo is for the respect of all identities and sexual orientations," and is also a must see. It's South America's first monument dedicated to sexual diversity.
To finish off with regard to Uruguayan cities, we have to talk a bit about the country’s beaches. Now, Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento both have lovely beaches. But if you really want to experience the best, Punta del Este is a must. This stunning resort city sits on a narrow peninsula in southeast Uruguay, right above the mouth of the estuary of the Rio de la Plata. If surfing is your thing (and it is many Uruguayans’ thing) Brava Beach has excellent waves. It also has “The Hand,” a giant sculpture of 5 fingers that give the impression Poseidon himself wants to grab a handful of sand for a sandcastle. On the west coast, Mansa Beach has calm, shallow waters. To catch views of the Atlantic, there’s a 19th-century lighthouse at the peninsula’s southern tip with a viewing platform.
To finish this blog, we have to tell you about Uruguay’s incredible music. To start, at least once a week, if you visit Grand Cata, you will hear us jamming out to the tunes of Jorge Drexler. Jorge fuses traditional Uruguayan instruments, genres and sounds, often adding an addictive rhythm that practically forces you to dance. Add in his soothing, accurate vocals and poetic lyrics, and you have something very close to musical perfection. His new album Salavidas de Hielo, explores new sounds and stylings without losing his sound. Bailar en la Cueva, however, remains our favorite.
Uruguay also has a tradition of exceptional rock music, much like its neighbor, Argentina. Fun fact: after the music of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones touched down in Uruguay in the early ‘60’s (yes, the British Invasion was global), several Uruguayan bands adopted the sound, sang in English, and launched what came to be known as the “Uruguayan Invasion” in Argentina. Los Shakers and Los Mockers are two bands that exemplify the era. In modern times, Uruguayan acts such as No Te Va Gustar, El Cuarteto de Nos, La Trampa have massive followings throughout the Southern Cone.
In a more traditional vein, Uruguay also has a history of Tango music, evolving its own version over the years. Candombe, a genre which has played a significant role in Uruguayan culture for over 200 years, utilizes drum ensembles known as cuerdas in which dozens of drummers work together to create intricate rhythms. Have a listen to Hugo Fattoruso and Rubén Rada if you want to get a feel for Candombe. Be prepared to move and groove!
Phew! There is so much to cover about Uruguay, we could write a post a day and never cover everything! However, we hope this dive into the culture, geography, music and politics whets your appetite and curiosity about this wonderful country. If you ever catch the travel bug and decide Uruguay is the cure, please reach out to us so we can help you plan a trip! (Photos below courtesy of Michelle Marshall)