Lucy Gibson and her husband took their three young children on a magical South American road trip through Uruguay
When I told a friend I was travelling to Uruguay with the children she looked at me, bemused as she asked ‘why?’ At best I think she envisioned nothing but cows and at worst a dangerous backwater. Many are unaware of the beauty of this small country on the east coast of South America; a land of low rolling hills, peaceful lagoons, at Pampas plains and 410 miles of coastline. With their summer season from December to March, it’s the perfect place for an unforgettable Christmas holiday.
With three small children we wanted a direct flight so we chose to go with British Airways to Buenos Aires which is only an hour’s drive from the border, rather that y to the capital Montevideo, where you need to change in Madrid. The flight is 13 hours but overnight and the time change is only three hours, so it’s a relatively easy long haul with kids in tow.
It’s fun to spend a few days in Buenos Aires. Take a taxi down to El Caminito in La Boca. Touristy yes, but the full-on spectacle appeals to children – tango dancing in the street, vibrant colour- blocked houses and endless food stalls. Try alfajores, the traditional dulce de leche biscuit sandwich, and be prepared for the sugar rush! We stayed at Alvear Palace in the affluent, residential Recoleta. BA was once labelled the Paris of South America and this hotel transports you there with beautiful architecture and elegant boulevards. We walked through the Recoleta Cemetery and encouraged the children to look for angels while we marvelled at the large and ornate mausoleums. Beautiful but de nitely morbid, we stayed just long enough to nd the famous bronze door to the crypt of Eva Peron that’s still adorned with fresh owers and notes.
Next up was Colonia del Sacramento, a magical, historical haven. We had pre-booked the Buquebus (the ferry that connects Argentina to Uruguay), advisable in the summer months. We based ourselves at the family-friendly Charco Hotel in the old town. With just eight beautiful rooms, a good restaurant and cool, verdant gardens it was an oasis after the heat of Buenos Aires. From here you can explore the small, safe and peaceful historic quarter with its enchanting mix of Spanish and Portuguese post-colonial architecture, cobbled streets and hidden squares. It’s a place to simply stroll around and eat ice cream and, if that doesn’t sound charming enough, there are vintage cars everywhere that the children loved.
From Colonia we drove along Route 1 towards Punta del Este where the River Plate meets the Atlantic. For Argentinians and Brazilians this coast has long been one of the most glamorous destinations in South America. ‘Punta’ as the locals call it, is a region that includes about 40 beaches, though Punta del Este itself is a towering mass of high rises that’s de nitely dated. We were glad to stay at a house on the shores of Laguna del Sauce (Lagoon of the Willow) nine miles west of the city with our own pool. From here we spent a couple of hours walking through the Lussich Arboretum with stunning views across the sea. Canoeing on the lake, water sports and horseriding at a nearby estancia were all on offer. The nearest beach, Playa Solanas, was a 10-minute drive. Golden sand further than the eye can see and perfect for playing in the surf.
The Uruguayan coast is made for a road trip. Route 10 follows the coast for over 100 miles. Where once there were only shing villages, now the landscape is dotted with breathtaking modern houses. This spectacular architecture came as a surprise. Travelling on, we passed La Barra, a place where the party starts after 1am, driving onwards to reach Jose Ignacio. Stay here if you can and find sandy streets, colourful homes and a stunning beach. Boutique hotels have arrived but the town still has an alluring bohemian, laid-back vibe.
When we visited in December the season had not yet got going so we were alone to admire the view from the 19th-century lighthouse and spent the day with the beach to ourselves. Long and wide, it was blustery but this added to the majesty of the place. We watched the kite surfers and enjoyed a long lunch at legendary La Huella. Positioned on the edge of the dunes, this is a beach bar, albeit the chicest in the world, serving incredible seafood.
From Jose Ignacio you can drive inland to Garzon where the celebrated Argentine chef Francis Mallman has a hotel-restaurant. On the drive up you appreciate the scale of the Pampas (or plains) dotted with cows and horses. A old mill and railway town, Garzon, founded in 1892, was deserted by the 1980s as residents left in search of work. Mallman has since restored it so the hotel, its villas and restaurant feel like being on an early lm set. We went for lunch but wished we had stayed the night. The children can go out riding with a guide and there are bicycles to borrow. I’d have loved to have taken a picnic out onto the Pampas on horseback.
Just a few miles on from Jose Ignacio is a wilder and more deserted coastline. Even in summer these beaches are invigorating. You can feel the power of the Atlantic. It’s quite extraordinary knowing Antarctica is the nearest land mass. We wished we had had more time to go on to explore La Paloma and Punta del Diablo. If you are lucky enough to have time on your side, drive on and on until you reach Brazil.
Lucy and family travelled independently and stayed: