If you are a chocolate addict and are looking to satisfy your sweet tooth with some proper stuff while in Uruguay, look no further than Nueva Helvecia.
Formerly known as Colonia Suiza, this town in the Colonia area (South-West Uruguay) was founded in 1862, having received a large influx of immigrants mainly from Switzerland.
However do not expect to see wooden chalets like in the Swiss Alps. The town looks quite Uruguayan – in my opinion – although most buildings display shields representing the Swiss cantons. A walk around town doesn’t take more than an hour and to be honest is not particularly interesting.
Entrance to Nueva Helvecia
Shields representing the Swiss cantons
Seen in a shop
But then there are the chocolaterias! Taken to one of them (called Tante Eva) by a fellow backpacker, I tried a few different home made chocolate bon bons and medallones, with a variety of fillings from dulce de leche to coconut. Absolutely delicious!
That final touch made the brief visit to Nueva Helvecia totally worth it.
Before this trip I had never really heard much about Uruguayan beaches. Now I know why they are such a drawing factor for tourists!
In Punta del Diablo there are four main beaches: Playa Grande (north), Playa del Rivero (in town), Playa de los Pescadores (in town), Playa de la Viuda (south). Windswept, long and empty, they have soft and fine sand, and offer plenty of opportunities for long walks and/or just lazying in the sun. Most of the time you’ll have long stretches of the beach to yourself, which is definitely a plus.
The rocky parts of the coastline are great for watching the waves crashing or exploring rock pools (a passion of mine), so don’t hesitate to go for a wander.
To my surprise during my several beach walks I saw a few dead sea animals stranded on the shore: a turtle, a seal, several penguins and a couple of large seagulls. Never experienced that before! Apparently there are also whales in the Punta del Diablo waters.
The huge waves make Punta del Diablo perfect for surfing, which is one of the main activities here. You’ll always see people heading to the beach wearing a wetsuit and with a surf board under their arm. Sit and watch them as they try to catch the waves, it’s quite cool!
Catching the waves
One warning: if you want to go for a dip in the ocean, be aware that the wind is always very strong and the waters choppy and cold, so be careful…
A balmy 19C degrees, blue sky and sunshine. Despite the strong wind, which seems quite common here, in my brief experience of Montevideo, the day is perfect for a long walk along the promenade.
Las Ramblas. One of the main features of Montevideo, they offer great views of the city and the coastline. By the way the water body that borders the city is a river, the Rio de la Plata. As huge as it may be, it is not the ocean.
For the start of my walk I choose the stretch of the ramblas that goes from Pocitos to Punta Carretas. This is a wealthy area and some of the apartment blocks facing the waterfront seem quite expensive. A large beach in Pocitos increases the resemblance with the seaside. There are also a lot of green/natural areas along this part of the coastline.
La Rambla in Pocitos
Playa de Pocitos
Playa de Pocitos
La rambla is crowded: cyclists, joggers, mums pushing prams, tourists, locals enjoying a walk in the sun. It is really an enjoyable part of Montevideo.
The lighthouse in Punta Carretas, built in 1876, marks the southernmost point of Uruguay. It offers good views of the city and coastline, once you have climbed the steep and narrow staircase leading you to the balcony (all for UR$25).
Punta Carretas lighthouse
Punta Carretas lighthouse
From Punta Carretas, the ramblas continue all the way to the Ciudad Vieja (you will first encounter the Parque Rodo’, a nice green area where you can rest for a while) and further more. The view changes a bit and you will see a lot of fishermen too, but walking along the ramblas remains a not-to-miss experience when in Montevideo.
La Ciudad Vieja, or the Old City. This is the oldest part of Montevideo, once surrounded by walls. Since 1829 all that remains is the Puerta de la Ciudadela, the main gateway to this part of town.
The best way to get to know the Ciudad Vieja is to explore on your own then join a free walking tour. The young guides will give you loads of useful information about the area as well as tell you interesting anecdotes (did you know that Montevideo has a small Walk of Fame similar to the one in Los Angeles?).
The starting point would be the Puerta de la Ciudadela, which gives access to Sarandi, the main tourist boulevard. This is where most shops, cafes and restaurants are located and it is always very crowded.
As soon as you move away from it and venture into other alleys, you’ll find yourself surrounded by rundown buildings reminiscent of Cuban architecture. Dodgy characters sitting or walking around do not make the area particularly appealing so I wouldn’t recommend going there after sunset, but during the day it is fine.
Sarandi, Ciudad Vieja
Walk of Fame
Amongst the main sights that you will want to visit are: the Catedral Matriz (the cathedral), Teatro Solis, the Museo del Carnaval (the Carnival in Montevideo is similar to the Brasilian one but lasts longer!).
Teatro Solis, Ciudad Vieja
Museo del Carnaval
Lots of small and quirky art galleries and arts&crafts shops are another way to spend your time in the area.
Then when you are tired and hungry, head towards the harbour area: the Mercado del Puerto, an old and beautiful building that looks like an English train station, is where the main restaurants are. Eating here can be expensive but it’s definitely worth it: the meat barbecues are fantastic!
Just over 60 miles from central London (1.5 hours on the train from London Victoria) and on the north coast of Kent, Whitstable is a small seaside town mainly famous for oysters. The Whitstable Oyster Festival takes place here every year during the summer.
With its sandy and peaceful beaches, its 19th-century buildings and even a castle, Whitstable is a very enjoyable destination for a day trip from London.
2nd July 2005.
A string of concerts took place in 10 different locations around the globe. Watched by an estimated 3 billion people, it was defined the greatest show on Earth!
Someone from the London hostel where I was staying had a spare ticket for the “Live 8 screens area” in Hyde Park. I took it. The opportunity to be part of this huge event couldn’t be missed, and it didn’t really matter that we were not allowed into the area where the Live 8 concert itself was held. It was only a few hundred meters away anyway.
So armed with bags of crisps, snacks and drinks we went. And from 2pm until late night we watched world famous bands and singers appear on stage and deliver some of their best music (check out the line up here). The crowd sang and danced all the time, and the atmosphere was incredible!
For a non festival-goer like me, Live 8 London remains a great memory, and its upcoming 10th anniversary a good excuse to post this photo of my (now long lost) ticket!
Located 28 Km south of the historic centre of Mexico City, Xochimilco is a borough mostly famous for its 170 Km network of canals. These canals, together with a series of artificial islands, have made Xochimilco a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Colourful gondola-like boats called trajineras are very popular with tourists and the canals can get very busy on Sundays, when also the locals enjoy spending some relaxing time here.