“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.” — Anaïs Nin
Despite traveling the world for several years — and even visiting other corners of Central and South America — one country that was never really on my radar was Uruguay.
But that all changed in the spring of 2016. While I was on an artists’ retreat in Norway, my path crossed with that of a Uruguayan architect named José, who was also on an extended journey through Scandinavia at the time.
During our first encounter, while José told me about life in his hometown — Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo — I had no idea we would begin dating in a few weeks’ time. Even more unexpected, though, I could never have imagined that just five months after meeting José, I would move to Uruguay and begin calling Montevideo home as well.
It’s now been nearly two years since I moved to Uruguay, and this previously unfamiliar little country, tucked away between Brazil and Argentina on the Atlantic Coast of South America, has taken on quite a bit of significance for me.
I’ve gotten to know its tranquil beaches and hidden beauty, its hill regions and historic towns, and I hope the sketches and photos I’ve shared here might make Uruguay a little more visible on yourradar, too.
Colonia del Sacramento
One of the easiest ways to get to Uruguay is from Buenos Aires, where a three-hour ferry ride will deliver you right to Montevideo’s doorstep. But an even faster route is a one-hour ferry journey from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento — one of the oldest towns in Uruguay and home to one of the country’s two UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Founded in 1680, the historic heart of Colonia is still beautifully intact. Footsteps still echo down winding cobblestoned streets, and flowering bougainvillea vines hang lazily over the walls and doorways of colorful colonial homes.
For me, arriving in Colonia always feels like stepping back in time — and because of this, it also feels like the kind of place where time slows down. Colonia is a place for exploring without a map, soaking in the sunset over glasses of sangria, and catching glimpses of troupes of drummers with their tambores— or candombe drums — as they fill the streets with their mesmerizing rhythms and songs.
From Colonia, my favorite place to head in Uruguay is past Montevideo, past the beach resort town of Punta del Este, to the far eastern coastline of the country — where the Rio de la Plata officially becomes the Atlantic Ocean and time yet again slows down.
Uruguay’s famed coast always makes me think of the beaches I grew up going to along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The sandy shoreline is vast and open, bordered with softly rolling dunes and wispy pampas grass. Leisurely lunches — perhaps at one of our favorite restaurants El Chancho y La Coneja in La Barra — are a necessity.
But while I knew to expect gorgeous beaches and coastline before arriving in Uruguay, one of the most unexpected discoveries my time here has held is the countryside.
Uruguay is not a tall country — its highest point is the Cerro Catedral, whose summit measures just 1,685 feet (or a little over 500 meters). This means that in place of soaring mountainscapes, what you get here instead are more properly identified as “hill ranges.”
And in between these verdant hills you get the countryside, where horses graze and roam across sweeping fields and breakfast always comes with a view. Once, we stayed at a beautiful boutique hotel and horse farm called, surrounded by layered hills on the horizon (perfectly enough, the nearest town is even called Edén).
One of my most unusual discoveries in Uruguay happened not along the coastline or in the countryside, but at a small chapel about an hour’s drive from Montevideo. Known as the Capilla de Susanna Soca, José read about the chapel in an architecture magazine and suggested we go there one weekend afternoon.
The story behind it was amazing to learn about: Susanna Soca was a poet who began the chapel’s construction in the 1950s in honor of her late father, a renowned doctor and politician. When Susanna sadly died in a plane crash in Brazil, her mother carried on finishing the chapel, which would now be in honor of both her husband and daughter.
Even more amazing was the chapel’s construction. All of its walls and windows were triangular, and the windows were made of triangular-shaped pieces of stained glass, in repeating hues of purple, gold, and orange. It was unlike any building I had ever seen.
This chapel will always be my favorite discovery in Uruguay, as it reminds me of the beauty and wonder that await us when we open ourselves to the world — and it reminds me of how a country that was once far from my radar is now the very place I call home.