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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A trip to Uruguay - Day 3 cont.. - Punta Ballena y Casa Pueblo !!!

Punta Ballena is a small peninsula (punta) and a resort (balneario), as well as an important tourist attraction on the coast of Río de la Plata in the Maldonado Department of southeastern Uruguay. It was created by Uruguayan artist Paez-Vilaró in a kind of mediterranean surrealistic architecture, making the whole place to look like a giant sculpture. He is the father of one of the survivors of the infamous plane crash on the Andes. It comprises an approximately 12 kms (7.5 mi) long stripe of beaches and landforms. 


Punta Ballena is around 15kms from Punta del Este. You can rent a car to reach here or can opt any other options like bus. You just need to tell the driver that you are getting out at this destination.

Points of interest : The town's best-known point of interest is the Casa Pueblo citadel, sculptor Carlos Páez Vilaró's onetime residence. 



Casa Pueblo :

Casa Pueblo is around 2.5-3 kms inside Punta Ballena. If you are coming Punta Ballena by bus, please keep in mind that you may have to cover this 3kms by walk. You may get lift over there but that is not so usual as to find people over that road is not that usual.
But once you reach that place, scenery is worth watching. The view of wide coast of Rio del al Plata gives immense pleasure to your eyes and soul.

Casapueblo is the house of Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, located in Punta Ballena (Whale Point). It is a homage to the artist's son Carlitos Paez. Casapueblo is now a citadel-sculpture that includes a museum, an art gallery, and the Hotel Casapueblo.


A few years ago Páez Vilaró added a hotel called Hotel Casapueblo or Club Hotel Casapueblo to the house, following the style of the original construction. It now includes a restaurant named Las Terrazas (The Terraces). It also offers you the recreational activities like horseback rides on the beach or through the woods, golf and tennis practice, aqua sports such as Jet Ski, Water Ski, Banana or Traditional Boat Trips (depends on the season).

Travelling options :
As I discussed earlier, you can rent a car to reach Casa Pueblo or can come by bus. The only problem is bus drops you till Punta Ballena and then you have to walk 2kms to reach CasaPueblo and again these 2kms to come out to reach main road (Punta Ballena) where you can board another bus.

From Punta Ballena, you can get bus till Montevideo and from Montevideo to Colonia. I reached Colonia by 7:30pm and I had to catch my ferry by 10pm. I went to that mini subway (in front of bus stand in Colonia), had an amazing sandwich and beer to chill out and relax to end up my trip of Uruguay. Colonia port is hardly 500meters from there. I gulped the last sip of my beer, clicked last photo of Uruguay, packed my camera in bag and headed toward the port.


Back to Buenos Aires:
It’s a 1 hour journey from Colonia to Buenos Aires but you will reach at the same time you start from Colonia (remember the 1 hour time zone difference J). You can also find a duty free shop over the ferry where you can buy something of your interest if you get. All currencies are acceptable there but only in cash. There is no POS machine where you can swipe your card.

Pics : You can visit my facebook album to check for few of the pictures I clicked at this link.

Well, this was my experience of trip to Uruguay. Please share your comments and let me know if you need any more information. I would love to share if it’s under my scope.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A trip to Uruguay - Day 3 - Punta del Este !!!

Once we had covered all the major spots in Montevideo, we started our journey for Punta del Este. We opted the COT bus service from Montevideo to Punta del Este. The cost was around 300UYU for one side. Frequency of Cot bus service (from Montevideo to Punta del Este) is in every hour. Buses are really comfortable and free wifi throughout the way adds another plus point.

Bus Service – You can check for the schedule of bus service here :
COT bus            - http://www.cot.com.uy/site/index.php
TURIL bus         - http://www.turil.com.uy/horarios.php

Punta del Este is a beach resort town in Uruguay complete with casinos, beaches, yachts and lots of tourists. You can rent a moped (scooter) or car at several places. You can go to the beaches, being a peninsula you have two coastlines, one of them is pretty quiet and calm (called "mansa"), and the other one is windy, with some surf spots (called "brava"). La Barra the Bikini Beach is famous because of the models and famous people that go there. The endless beaches, beautiful seaside mansions, tree-lined streets, chic boutiques, stylish people.

The upper crust of Punta del Este has its yachts there and if you want to rent a boat, this is the place to ask. You can also rent sea bikes, windsurf and kite-surfing equipment, and surf boards.
Punta del Este has an island nearby, that is called the Isla Gorriti. It is protected because of its nature so there are no great buildings or anything like that. You can take a 20 minute ferry at the port that will drop you off at the island where you can enjoy the fun atmosphere, paradisaical beach, and good food at the restaurant. It is also possible to take private yachts, speedboats, or sailboats to the island and anchor by the shore. Renting a boat is nice in good weather. Isla de Lobos is another island that is also protected because of its sea lion population.

How to Start :
Like all other places in Uruguay, it is best to hit tourism office at first (at bus stand). You can get the map of Punta del Este and information about places you need to visit. Our hostel was walking distance (just 5-6 blocks) from there. I stayed in El Viajero Brava beach hostel. The hostel is present at the perfect location, near to bus stand, most famous attraction point ‘La playa de los Dedos’ (The finger beach), casino, market.

Attraction Points :
  • La playa de los Dedos (The finger beach) — This beach is near to main street of Punta del Este, close to surf spot, and it has a giant hand emerging from the sand.
  • Casa-Pueblo – From Punta del Este bus terminal, ask for a bus to Punta Ballena. Tell the driver that you are getting out at this destination. Casa-Pueblo is a beautiful resort-museum near Punta del Este. It was created by Uruguayan artist Paez-Vilaró in a kind of mediterranean surrealistic architecture, making the whole place to look like a giant sculpture. He is the father of one of the survivors of the infamous plane crash on the Andes. 
  • Candelaria Church. Candelaria Church, or Saint Mary of Candelaria Parish Church, is the most important catholic temple in Punta del Este. The building is located in the Lighthouse square, in which facade impacts the sky blue color and in its interior it is an image of Candelaria Virgin who was brought from Spain.
  • Museo del Mar - Marine museum
  • Museo Ralli  - A large collection of contemporary Latin American art
  • Maam  - A museum based on the private art and archaeology collection of the Uruguayan artist Vilaro (architect of Casapueblo).
  • Port - With the fish market and a lighthouse.
  • Isla de los Lobos - The largest seals colony in the southern hemisphere. Tours leave at the port.
  • Arboretum Lussich - A botanic garden displaying mainly exotic species. It is one of the most important botanic gardens worldwide.
  • Uriburu Museum of Contemporary Art  With Argentine and Uruguayan artists on display.
  • Museo del Indio y Megafauna
  • Reserva de Fauna Autoctona - Pan de Azucar - A zoo of indigenous animals on Uruguay's highest hill.
  • Castillo Pittamiglio
  • Cuartel de Dragones - Historical site


Money Exchange :
 Like anywhere else in Uruguay, money exchange is not a problem in Punta del Este. Almost all currencies are welcome at official rate except ARS (which I know). For instance, when I visited (Nov 2013), official rate was 3.6UYU/ARS but we got deal as 1.9UYU/ARS. Few of the restaurants accept ARS too but exchange rate can vary. But still I would recommend you to get some money convert to UYU (bus stand).

Pics : You can visit my facebook album to check for few of the pictures I clicked at this link.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A trip to Uruguay - Day 2 - Montevideo !!!

We had covered almost all places of Colonia (which I wanted) and then started for Montevideo. You can either rent a car from Colonia to go to Montevideo or can choose another option Bus. Bus service in Uruguay is really good. I found the best option of Cot bus service (around UYU 300 pesos from Colonia to Montevideo). Frequency of Cot bus service (from Colonia to Montevideo) is in every hour. Buses are really comfortable and also free wifi throughout the way adds another plus point.

Bus Service – You can check for the schedule of bus service here :
COT bus            - http://www.cot.com.uy/site/index.php
TURIL bus         - http://www.turil.com.uy/horarios.php


A Little about Montevideo –
Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay but not a very large city like Buenos Aires. it boasts a very efficient public transportation system so getting around is not difficult at all. If you are not bashful about your Spanish, feel free to ask people which bus route you need to take to get to your destination. It is be the most effective and cheap option because cab is really costly over there. Alternatively if you know some Spanish there are two websites similar to Google Maps that are useful: Cómo ir andMontevideoBus.

It is useful to know that if you choose to ride a bus, upon boarding you will pay either the driver or the assistant who sits on the right-hand side of the bus (door-side) a few seats from the entrance. There is a small device that will dispense your receipt, make sure you hold on to it for the duration of your ride as sometimes company supervisors board buses checking for these receipts (making sure no one is riding unauthorized). If you are unsure where to get off you can always ask the driver or assistant to let you know when your stop is coming up and they'll be happy to oblige. Just try to remain visible so they can tell you (though if the bus gets full and you've moved to the back they'll yell out the street name). It is also important to note that you do not need to have the exact fare as the driver or the assistant carry change.

How to Start –
Like in Colonia, you will find tourism office in Montevideo bus stand as well. They provide you all the information you need and also map (which covers every inch and place). This service is free of cost and people are of very welcoming nature. And from here you can start for the places you want to visit. I booked a cab directly to my hostel (El Viajero Ciudad Vieja Hostel). It was around 5kms (somewhere in downtown) from the bus terminal and cost me 170UYU pesos. Frankly speaking, I didn't like that hostel at all. That was the worst hostel I have stayed till date. The rooms were not in good condition and the location (downtown) added a negative point into it. The streets around were hostel were totally empty and scary in the night.


Attraction Points :
Montevideo is not a large city, and most of the sites can be seen in about a day as they are clustered together. Most of the places are museums. I have listed the few of places, you can find more on google.

  • Ciudad Vieja — Montevideo's Old TownEnter through the portal called Puerta de la Ciudadela at one end of Plaza de Independencia.
  • Plaza de Independecia — The square at the end of 18 de Julio Ave., with the latter being the main commercial artery of the city.
  • Palacio Salvo — Next to Plaza Independencia. Once South America's highest building, the Palacio Salvo still dominates Montevideo's skyline. You can take an elevator to the top at no cost for an excellent view of the city.
  • National History Museum — Spread between five old historic houses, holds important bits of the country's history.No entrance fee.
  • El Día del Patrimonio, — On the last Saturday of September (or beginning of October), all the museums and historical places of interest around the Plaza de Independencia open for free to the public. There is also a large "Murga," or a traditional South American parade in which all the Uruguayan political parties take part.
  • Barrio Reus - a small neighbourhood with charming coulorful houses.
  • Palacio Legislativo - national parliament, the first one in South America and an iconic symbol of Uruguay´s long lasting democracy.
  • Palacio Taranco - seat of the Museum of Decorative Art.
  • Mercado del Puerto - this is a covered market full of restaurants and some shops selling handicrafts. The main market is open every day during lunch hours. The restaurants around the exterior offer both indoor and outdoor seating, and they remain open for dinner.
  • Cathedral
  • Old Sepharadi Synagogue
  • Teatro Solis
  • Penarol - not only the name of the world famous football team but also an old well preserved railway district among the oldest in South America.
  • Museo Blanes - museum of early Uruguayan art from the 19th to early 20th Centuries
  • Tiles Museum (Museo del Azulejo) - exhibiting around 3000 tiles
  • National Museum of Anthropology and National History
  • Central Cemetery - a historic cemetery with sculptures
  • Punta Carretas - a shopping centre located in a former prison
  • World Trade Centre
  • Parque Rodo - Montevideo's main park with numerous amusement facilities
  • Castillo Soneira
  • Pittamiglio Castle, Rambla Gandhi 633, Interesting Castle. Must pay for a 45-mins tour to enter. Better to call and check the opening hrs.  


To EAT :
·         El Inmigrante (address – across the streets of Colonia y Rio Negro) – Run by two ladies, and open for 24 hours (this is what she told us), they work on shift basis which change in every 8 hours. It is like the mini subway where you can customize your sandwich with whatever stuff you want. They have a wide variety of items like chicken/ham/beef, tomato/sweetcorn/capsicum/onion, sausages (spicy) etc. It is the best option I could find in Montevideo and its quite cheap too.
·         La Taqueria, (Jose Marti 3373), La Taqueria, situated just a few steps from Pocitos beach, offers excellent Mexican food at very reasonable prices. Run by two friends, this is a great place to eat and drink in Montevideo among the locals. Service is excellent and English spoken as well. Try the Taco del Diablo and the mojitos!
·         Fainá — It's a mixture of corn flour and milk, which is baked in the pizza oven. Quality is variable among pizzerías, most delicious is the thin or de orilla ("from the edge") part which is crunchier!

Money Exchange :
 Like Colonia, money exchange is not a problem in Montevideo. Almost all currencies are welcome at official rate except ARS (which I know). For instance, when I visited (Nov 2013), official rate was 3.6UYU/ARS but we got deal as 1.9UYU/ARS. Few of the restaurants accept ARS too but exchange rate can vary. But still I would recommend you to get some money convert to UYU at bus stand.

Pics : You can visit my facebook album to check for few of the pictures I clicked at this link.


Please check for the Next post for details on Punta del Este activities.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A trip to Uruguay - Day 1 - Colonia !!!

As I mentioned in my earlier blog, I did a lot of research on the place before I visited. I thought it would be better to pen down few points which I had jotted down for me and also the experience I had there. Probably it can help someone who is planning for this trip.

I would start with a small history of Colonia which attracted me - 
History Colonia (aka Colonia del Sacramento) was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese (Manuel Lobo), sandwiched in between the Portuguese colony of Brazil and the Spanish Vice Royalty of the River Plate (later Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil). For years Colonia was a smuggling port, evading the strict trade measures imposed in the Americas by the Spanish. Due to this situation, the city changed hands many times between the Portuguese and the Spanish. Even Brazil controlled it for a short while, until the new country of Uruguay declared independence in 1825.

How to get In to Colonia from Buenos Aires :

There are a 3 famous boat connections from Buenos Aires, Argentina throughout the day and these are - Buquebus, ColoniaExpress and Seacat.
-       Buquebus – As per people’s comment, this is the best option to travel. Buquebus runs 2 types of service, one faster and more expensive which takes around 1 hour (BsAs to COL), slower is cheaper and takes around 3 hours (BsAs to COL). I would recommend slow cruise only in case you have plenty of time. But the only problem I found was that it was bit costlier. It was costing me around 700ARS for round trip Buenos Aires to Colonia in Oct 2013 (for fast cruise). You can inquire more at - http://www.buquebus.com/cache/HomeARG.html
-       Colonia Express – This is the best suitable option I found for me. The price was quite reasonable and reviews I read were also good. It costed me around 470ARS for round trip Buenos Aires to Colonia in Oct 2013. I didn’t bother about seats and comfortabality that much as it was just 1 hour journey. My overall experience was quite good and I will give 4 starts out of 5 (1 star less as they don’t allow to go out, at the deck – to capture Titanic style pose J ). You can inquire more at - http://coloniaexpress.com/ar
-       Seacat – I didn’t find much reviews for this service. Moreover price was not less than Colonia Express. So, I didn’t research much on this. You can inquire more at - http://www.seacatcolonia.com/index.php?sitelanguaje=ES&sitecountry=AR


What to do in Colonia :

Once you arrive into Colonia del Sacramento, a calm environment, cobblestone streets, cafés and historical sites will greet you. You can visit the historical sites of Colonia in two hours by foot. Either take a walking tour with a local guide or walk around on your own with a map.

How to start :

I would recommend to visit tourism office first, which right in front of the port of Colonia when you come out (near to bus stand). They provide you all the information you need and also map (which covers every inch and place). This service is free of cost and people are of very welcoming nature. Then you can make your plan according to time you wanna spend in Colonia.

You can hire transport as well if you want. There are plenty of services available outside the port. Where you can rent a car, motor or bicycle for whole day for hourly based. One of the very famous are Thrifty. I have attached the photo for reference. They charge you around 35USD for 1 day (rates can vary as per season). You will require your driving license and a credit card to hire.
  
Attraction points :
The main attraction of Colonia is its historic center. Eight small museums can be visited with only one cheap entrance ticket which must be purchased in the Museo Municipal (50 Argentinian Pesos). Seven of these museums are in the town center itself but it must be said that although not costly the museums have little to recommend themselves - most only consist of one or two rooms of very uninspiring exhibits.

-       Calle de los suspiros : This is most famous point of Colonia. This street has cobblestone streets and alleyways and colorful old houses on the left after you enter from the drawbridge. Most of these houses are used as restaurants, museums, art galleries and souvenir shops.
-       Light House : The entry ticket to this light house is around 20UYU. The lighthouse is located between Plaza Mayor and Calle de San Pedro and was built on the foundations of the destroyed Francisco Javier Convent. The 88.5 feet structure though not tall compared to many lighthouses of the world, but offers a view of Colonia del Sacramento, the Rio de la Plata and the skyline of Buenos Aires. From here you can get a 360 degree unobstructed view of the whole area surrounding Colonia del Sacramento. The best time to visit this place is right before sunset.
-       Dining in one of the cafes : Colorful chairs are arranged outside most restaurants and cafes for visitors to stop by for coffee, beer or lunch. You can visit any of the restaurant according to your choice of view you want to enjoy.

Food :
-       You can eat on cafes or restaurants.
-       But I found the best option as Farolitos, it is just opposite to bus stand (or information centre). It is like the subway where you can customize your sandwich with whatever you want. They have a wide variety of items like chicken/ham/beef, tomato/sweetcorn/capsicum/onion, sausages etc etc…

Money exchange :
-       Money exchange is not a problem in Uruguay (specially for USD, GBP or ARS). Almost all currency are welcome at official rate except ARS. For instance, when I visited (Nov 2013), official rate was 3.6UYU/ARS but we got deal as 1.9UYU/ARS. But we still thought it as a good deal as ARS is not acceptable in many counties. Most of the people (restaurants) accept ARS too but exchange rate can vary. But still I would recommend you to get some money convert to UYU (on port or bus stand).

Language : Spanish is the official language of Uruguay but I could find few people who speaks English there. I won’t say many but still ratio was better than in Argentina. My hand is bit tight in Spanish but 1 year experience in Argentina taught me well to handle such type of conditions. Still I would recommend to carry a pocket or mobile dictionary of Spanish if you don’t speak Spanish.

Pics : You can visit my facebook album to check for few of the pictures I clicked at this link.

Please check for the Next post for details on Montevideo activities.