Thursday, February 26, 2015

This One Just Came Up The Other Day...Uruguay

It's one of those places that I admittedly don't think about too often, but once in a while it comes up.  This time it was a random coin found at work, that people wondered about.  I told them that it came from Uruguay.  None of them even knew where that was.  So, for anyone wondering something like what and where is Uruguay, it's that little country between Brazil and Argentina in the south of South America.  It's a beautiful little country that has ancestral ties to Anthony Bourdain, but what else do we really know about it?

Montevideo is the capital, but I'm not big on capitals for this blog.  So, we will be talking about the second largest city in the country, which is only a little over 100,000 people, named Salto.  No, it's not named after a dog.  Salto is a district and a city on the inner Argentinian Border along the Rio Uruguay.  It's a lovely Spanish Colonial town with plazas, cathedrals, fountains, shopping areas, great food, hotels and resorts and great weather; especially in the winter when it's summer down there.

One of the most amazing venues in town is the Teatro Larranaga, the classic theater where all the local performances are.  They have all the old grand features, like the luxury boxes, amazing painted ceilings, and the grand stage for philharmonic, ballet, and opera.  It's an amazing place to visit, even if you only stop in to see the architecture.

Salto is roughly 300 miles from Montevideo.  Unlike most countries in South America, this is a nice day's drive.  I wouldn't normally tell people to rent a car in South America.  Roads are questionable in a lot of areas, bridges are unreliable, and seasonal rains can make some terrible problems.  But, in this area the roads are well maintained, as long as you stay on the main roads.  You will have to keep both hands on the wheel and have your lights on at all times per local laws, but the scenery is nice and the drive is something that you wouldn't normally want to do.  I say pick up the car instead of waiting on the bus to come along.  I don't want to say that the buses aren't regular, because they are.  They are fewer than we are used to in other parts of the world.  That's why I say go ahead and rent the car.  Enjoy the drive and see the sights.  You can also fly, but I like the drive in this case.  If you are driving from Argentina, you will get a great stop along the way at the border crossing which is the Salto Grande Hydroelectric Dam.  This amazing achievement is the border crossing.  You can stop here and get tours of the massive dam and find out how they built it.  It's educational and impressive.  I find that dams make great stops along the way.

A day trip or a stop on the way in Concordia, Argentina also gives you the opportunity to visit the Castillo de la San Carlos.  This failing castle was built by the French Count Eduardo in the 1880's.  It was abandoned not long after, and is now one of the more mysterious sites in the area.

But, why Salto?  Why the border of Argentina along one of the more beautiful rivers in the world?  Why would I send you somewhere that is a day's drive from the main drag?  Why would I recommend driving?  What's with all of this?  Well, sometimes you just want to get away and see how the other parts live.  Salto is a lovely town with great shopping, great eats, and wonderful colonial buildings.  The people there are down to Earth people who work for a living and love where they live.  They get together and have Carnival just like most other South American folks.  It's a relaxed place to lose yourself in the winter.  It's not overrun with tourists.  It's a great place to go and just be.

But, I wouldn't send you there for nothing.  Salto is another land of hot springs.  In the winter the days can be in the 90's and the water is never cold.  You can visit the hot springs in the summer or winter down there and they will still be great.  But winter is summer down there and the water is the draw.  There's the dam, the river, and the hot springs.  Dayman Hot Springs is the main spot for the locals and tourists alike.  There are fountains, pools, ponds, waterfalls, lazy rivers, jacuzzis and whatever other manner of hot spring you may like.  The area sits on one of the largest thermal springs in the world, and there is no end to the possibilities.  Several area hotel resorts have spas on the grounds for their guests, so you don't have to hang out with the locals, but I highly recommend it.  You can never do better than to have a cultural experience with the people who live there.

But, if you don't want to just swim and sit, Salto has you covered.  This place loves water, and they have a great water park in Acuamania Water Park.  This is also thermal, so you can visit pretty much any time of year.  They do have waterslides there.  They also have Finnish water massage.  They even have mini golf for the kids.  Acuamania Water Park was designed by some of the same people who brought you Wet N Wild.  it's a great time for all.

So, let's review.  Get your water on in Salto, Uruguay.  There are a lot of ways to do it.  When you're done, catch a performance at the Teatro Larranaga.  Take a ride over to Concordia, Argentina via the Salto Grande Dam.  Stop for a tour on your way to the Castillo San Carlos.  It's all worth it.  It's relaxing and pretty.  It's soothing and accompanied by good food and accommodations.  So, grab a rental car and head into the countryside of one of the least talked about countries in the Western Hemisphere.  Visit the interior of Uruguay and you'll have something to tell your friends about.


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