Sitting beneath the canopy of a chic new restaurant overlooking the rambla, a jazzy cumba on the stereo softly keeping time with the ebb and flow of the waves beyond, I nurse a cold mojito and watch the sun slowly drop into the vast Atlantic Ocean.
I have to admit that I’ve been totally wrong about Uruguay. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do…figured it would be just another South American country struggling to catch up to the First World. I could not have been more mistaken.
In many ways, Uruguay is more “developed”…more “civilized” more “advanced” than the countries to its north. Pride is apparent and a squeaky clean affluence is everywhere.
For instance, just now, a giant SUV with a teenage boy at the helm rolls by, music blaring…I call it “happy music,” nice and light, none of that gangster stuff. He stops at the crosswalk to let two blond teenage girls and their mother pass by, loaded with shopping bags from Gucci and Ferragamo. These are just the bags I can see.
Sure, this is Punta del Este, where the moneyed set and celebrities come to show off their taut and tanned biking bodies during the South American summer months of January and February…but I’ve been all over the country by now—to the big city and the small towns and even the wild west beach frontier of Rocha, as far as the Brazilian border. And everywhere I’ve seen this same politeness, this same quiet confidence and affluence…
Everyone, it seems, knows that Uruguay is onto something. They’ve got it figured out.
Yep, spirits are high here. And why not? Uruguay is one of the most economically developed countries in the hemisphere (one of only two countries that did not go into recession as a result of the late-2000s financial crisis.) People have good jobs, and income levels are well-distributed which means crime is low and personal safety is high. The government is stable to the point of boredom.
And it’s clean. This may be what surprises me the most, having traveled Latin America for more than a decade now. I don’t know of another country where the city streets and highways, the shops and restaurants, the rivers, oceans, beaches are as tidy and attractive as they are here. Pride does that, and Uruguayans have a lot to be proud of…
Is it any wonder that locals who once left the country in search of opportunities overseas are now returning home? It’s also easy to understand why Uruguay is becoming ever more popular with foreign retirees, especially since they can live well here without breaking the bank.
Don’t get me wrong, Uruguay is not the least-expensive place on the planet. It’s a First-World country, after all. But still, expats say they live well here for $2,000 to $4,000 a month. And that includes costs for a first-rate health care plan. (Just $75 a month covers everything, one 60-something expat told me.)
And in a country that’s about the size of the U.S. state of Washington, but with half that state’s population, there’s plenty of room for the incoming…
I order another mojito and try to decide what to do next. Truth is, I don’t want to leave…
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