By Lisa Mercer
Few travelers, including Baby Boomers, can resist the lure of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Visitors arrive from all parts of the globe and immerse themselves in the culture of tango, wine, and late night parties. They visit the Recoleta and stand in awe of the elaborate graves of famous Argentinians. Those with an Evita obsession can learn everything about her life at the Evita Museum.
Once upon a time, Argentina was one of the budget travel capitals of the world. But times have changed. While still a relatively inexpensive destination, Argentina has made some recent changes that might cause you to dig deeper into the piggy bank.
The Reciprocity Fee
In simple terms, since the United States charges citizens of Argentina $140 to enter the US, the Argentina government now charges US citizens entering their country by air the same $140. Note the two important key words: “by air.” The reciprocity fee does not apply if you arrive by boat. And just across the Rio de la Plate sits a charming little country called Uruguay, which does not charge reciprocity fees. Uruguay also has convenient boat service to Buenos Aires, and tickets cost less than $140.
Buquebus offers boat service between Buenos Aires and two Uruguayan cities: Montevideo and Colonia. The large ship offers a comfortable ride with onboard cafes and snack bars in case you get hungry. The ride from Montevideo takes three hours. The ride from Colonia takes about one hour. Reserve your tickets online to smooth the boarding process.
Montevideo and Colonia are not just stopover cities, however. They are fascinating destinations in their own right, well worth adding to your South American itinerary. Unlike countries that require a car in order to reach the more interesting destinations, the buses in Uruguay go everywhere. Given that the country is about the size of Washington State, much can be seen in a short period of time.
Now Is the Time
In case you weren’t paying attention during geography class, Uruguay is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means if you are reading this in May of June, the country is in its fall season. Uruguay, however, has a temperate climate, which means that the winters are cool but never uncomfortably cold. As temperatures drop, so do the prices, so anticipate deep discounts on lodging rates between May and September.
Your flight will probably land in Montevideo, a vibrant city that blends the ancient and the modern. Journey into the city’s past and visit Ciudad Vieja, or the Old City. Its history dates back to 1885, when a Spanish man bought 3500 feet of retail space on a tract of land in Montevideo. He named the building Mercado del Puerto, or Port Market. This photogenic Art Deco structure houses a crafts, jewelry and art market, as well as the famous parillas, or grills.
If you have the energy, indulge in a beginner tango class at Montevideo’s 1856 grand opera house, called Teatro Solis. Then, meander along the Rambla until you find Castillo Pittamiglio. It’s hard to miss its entrance, which features a replica of the Victory of Samothrace, a statue commemorating an ancient Greek naval victory. Humberto Pittamiglio, a student of mystic arts, built the castle in 1911 and adorned it with Alchemist, Templar, Masonic, and Rosicrucian symbols. Tours of the castle are available.
Colonia Del Sacramento never fails to put a smile on the faces of history buffs. This UNESCO site occupies a peaceful location along the River Plate, and features a drawbridge and an ancient wall. These have been restored to their original condition and create the feeling of being transported back in time.
The town’s historic district houses a variety of small museums. The Portuguese Museum boasts an extensive collection of 18th century weaponry and furniture. The Tile Museum shows off a detailed selection of 17th and 18th century tiles from France, Spain, and Portugal. And the Indigenous Museum houses an array of artifacts from all of the cultures that occupied Colonia before the European explorers arrived and took over the city.
Whether you take the bus from Montevideo or Colonia, departing from Uruguay adds an extra dimension to your journey, while allowing you to save money on reciprocity fees.
Do you have a have a favorite memory of, or must-see, in Buesnos Aires, Montevideo or Colonia? Share it with us in the Comments section!