The first thing that got my attention in Mercedes, Uruguay was the motorbikes…rows of motorbikes with keys dangling from the ignition.
I know it’s an odd first impression. Especially because there were plenty of other things to notice in this small, clean town of 40,000 people.
Situated on a curve of the wide, lazy Río Negro, Mercedes is a town whose visitors come from both Argentina and Brazil… but it’s also a popular holiday spot for Uruguayan boaters and vacationers. People here pass the time sailing, fishing, or enjoying the sun and water from its nice (but small) sandy beaches. It has a quiet, sheltered cove that serves as the marina (mooring) for local boaters.
It’s known as a yachting center (the river is navigable here) and health resort. And Mercedes also has a well-known musical society, which hosts an internationally-famous jazz festival each year.
There is a wide rambla (waterfront road) running along the river, perfect for cruising or strolling past the beaches and the boat harbor, or just admiring the beautiful homes along the water. Most any time of the day or evening, you’ll be captivated by the procession of antique cars from the 30s and 40s that join the normal fleet of Vespas and small motorbikes.
A short causeway connects the Mercedes mainland to a long island that’s preserved as a large, well-kept park…enjoyed by many of the town’s residents on weekends.
The Mercedes town center is clean and attractive, with a wide array of shops, supermarkets, and restaurants. In fact, the restaurant offerings improve every time I go to Mercedes, and now they boast a number that are quite nice.
The town square sports a beautiful fountain in its center (which is quite dazzling at night), and is one of the most attractive squares you’ll find in Uruguay.
But despite these obvious benefits of Mercedes, it was the bicycles and motorbikes that got my attention. I could not remember the last time I’d seen unchained bicycles or a row of motorbikes in Latin America with the keys left in them…and it told me plenty about how safe it must be to live here.
All in all, Mercedes is my favorite small city in Uruguay. It’s a middle-class, working-class town, without the classic theaters or architecture, fine dining, or night clubs of Montevideo or Punta del Este. It reminds me of living in a small town in the American Midwest…where most everyone knows everyone, and people are friendly and honest, and dinner out is normally at the local parrillada or pizza shop.
And the affordability of homes here is remarkable.
When I first visited Mercedes in 2004, I found only one realtor in town. He had no e-mail and no website. Even as late as 2008—when I authored the Uruguay Owner’s Manual—I had to travel six hours to Mercedes in person to get property examples by looking for signs in people’s windows.
But today, I see that my favorite little city in Uruguay is growing up, with respect to real estate.
When researching properties for the upcoming Uruguay E-conference, I found contact info for eight realtors on the Internet…and over 100 listings.
But as far as I can see, the prices haven’t changed much.
In fact, one guy has 59 listings, organized by price. His first price category is “Under $20,000”…with 11 listings. His highest category is “Over $70,000”, with 14 listings.
Based on properties I’ve seen personally, I’d plan on spending around $50,000 on a colonial-style fixer-upper, and around $90,000 for a large, move-in condition home in Mercedes. You’ll see plenty of cheaper listings…but for neighborhoods I’d like to live in (with some hope of resale) this is what I’d expect to pay.
When you hear about Uruguay in the media, or read about it on the Internet, you’ll find tons of coverage on Punta del Este, Montevideo, or Colonia. But when you come to visit, be sure to save time for downtown Mercedes. If small-town living is your style, then it may be just what the doctor ordered.
Editor’s note: Get the inside track on Mercedes…and our other favorite Uruguayan cities…at the Live and Invest in Uruguay E-Conference. You’ll hear from our top real estate experts…local expats…residency specialists…legal professionals…offshore banking experts…and more.