Quick, name 3 things about Uruguay. Name even one thing about Uruguay. If you’re like most people, including myself up to a couple weeks ago, I doubt you can. Before I came down to South America I’m not even sure I could find this tiny country on a map, let alone tell you the difference between it and Paraguay.
Now, after a week exploring this wonderful little country, I have a lot to say. I have the knowledge now and I can tell you that you are missing out. If you come to South America and ignore Uruguay for it’s flashier neighbors Brazil and Argentina, you are missing out.
Here are some things you probably didn’t know about Uruguay:
It’s the Most European Country in South America
This title usually goes to Argentina, and it’s true that Buenos Aires does have an elegant old world feel. Uruguay is similar to Argentina linguistically and culturally, with a large percentage of the citizens having emigrated from Europe in the past couple of centuries. You can see it in the cuisine, in the plentiful bakeries and the architecture.
Uruguay however has that more modern, socialized Europe vibe going on. It’s super clean, it’s super organized and it feels super safe. Drugs are decriminalized and church and state are kept apart. The people are friendly.When you cross the street, cars actually stop and let you by. Without honking! In South America this is nothing short of a miracle. Basically Uruguay is the Canada to Argentina’s USA.
They Eat Ridiculous Amounts of Meat
Again, I didn’t think anywhere would top Argentina for this, but Uruguay did it. They are one of the highest consumers of red meat per capita in the world and it shows. The country’s national dish is asado, or barbequed meat and it’s not abnormal to just order up a big plate of assorted cow parts.
Even though by the end of the week I was desperately craving a salad, I must say that the meat in Uruguay is probably the best I’ve ever had, anywhere, in my entire life. Yum.
There are Some Amazing Sunsets
I don’t really understand the science behind this, but despite Uruguay’s coast facing west, I captured some brilliant sunsets over the ocean.
There are a Lot of Hippies
Maybe it’s some sort of cultural movement, maybe it has to do with the decriminalized marijuana (which you’d often catch a waft of walking down the street), but Uruguay is full of young, twenty-something hippies. The further up the coast of Uruguay you go the truer this gets, with seaside towns like Punta del Diable and Cabo Polonio as laid back hippy havens.
I thought I’d encountered a lot of white guys with dreadlocks in Montanita, but Uruguay introduced my to a new hairstyle I’d never even thought to dream of: The white guy, dreadlocked mullet. I didn’t get any pictures but I swear this is a real thing. A disturbingly popular thing.
They are the Mate Kings
I wrote about mate’s cultural ubiquitousness (link) and it’s even more true in Uruguay. People carry thermoses of hot water and their stylish mate cups everywhere. You could see them on the bus, behind the counter at work, even school kids on their lunch break sitting on the stoop sharing a mate. I honestly can’t think of any equivalent in US culture to the obsessive nature of mate drinking (on the flip side barely anyone smokes, so I guess it’s a good trade off).
So there are five things about Uruguay that make it great. There’s more, which I’ll be elaborating on in later posts, but the point is that this is a special country, unique in South America, and it should not be overlooked.