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The New Uru-Gay Beckons
Despite being the smallest country in South America, Uruguay clearly has a big heart when it comes to gay tourists. The coast of Brazil in the north and Argentina in the west of Uruguay survived the competition from Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro to become the favorite destination for tourists from South America and from all over the world.
With an area of just 175 square kilometers and a population of 3.5 million of which almost 50 percent live in the capital city of Montevideo, beautiful sandy beaches and rugged mountains inland, Uruguay offers a wide variety of vacation experiences in this new destination. wave of tourists.
Five years ago this month in 2003, the government enacted a law to protect young homosexuals from being subjected to same-sex violence. This was followed in November 2007 by the recognition of same-sex marriages at the national level—the first country in South America to allow same-sex marriages. The legal age is eighteen and homosexuality in public is still not frowned upon but the general attitude in Uruguay is homosexual.
The cities of Montevideo and Colonia plus the beach resort of Punta del Este—Star of the Golden Coast—are home to many gay businesses. Although Punta del Este is little known to North Americans, it has star power and rivals many other popular destinations with the gay jet-set looking for somewhere different from the norm.
This small country has honestly earned the name Uru-Gay and the first time you visit it will help you understand how this happened.
The capital, Montevideo, is rich in 18th century Spain when it was established as a military fortress and Ciudad Vieja—Old City—offers many examples of original buildings built by the first settlers. This is the city’s most scenic spot and comes alive after dark as Montevideo’s entertainment district. Among these landmarks one can also find the recent addition of the Park Of Sexual Diversity and The Gay and Lesbian Persecution Monument which was erected in February 2005 in recognition of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. It is located on Policia Vieja St., between Plaza de la Constitución and Plaza Independencia. This is the first monument of its kind in South America and the fourth in the world after Amsterdam, New York and San Francisco. This was a big thing that the gay community is very proud to start with another Uru-Gay gay demonstration. Not surprisingly, you’ll also find many gay and lesbian clubs, restaurants and shops around the park.
Throughout the Old City along the cobbled streets and among the beautiful parks and resorts there are many interesting places offering hours of fun walking and stomach-churning fun. The Port Market is a collection of restaurants, bars and street-side restaurants that offer unique food and wine. Another local tradition that’s always fun is Medio y Medio—a complementary glass of champagne and local wine (red or white)—to enjoy while perusing the menu. Of course, Uruguay is famous for La Parrilla—local meats grilled on the barbecue grill—combined with a variety of locally grown vegetables to complement your meal. You’ll also be surprised how good and affordable local wines can be with a little advice from your waiter.
Next to the Port Market is the Perez Castellano pedestrian street which allows you to enjoy the shops and boutiques without too much noise and step back to the old part of Spain in peace and quiet. Outside the Old City the 18 de Julio street commemorates Uruguay’s Independence Day. It is the longest drive in the center of Montevideo and almost all the attractions are close to this road. It has parks, plazas, monuments and impressive examples of Belle Epoque and Art Deco buildings. The city of Montevideo publishes an excellent map with a tourist route that allows you to see everything in a few days at leisure while walking and stopping to enjoy the sights.
On Plaza Independence Square in the heart of the city is the Placid Salvo gay bar and coincidentally the Canadian embassy. Even the gay bars in Montevideo don’t open until late at night with the maple leaf flag flying over the edge of the place 24/7! Another gay bar is Cain — the oldest gay bar in the city — located at Cerro Largo 1833 in Arenal Grande. This bar is located in a very large building and has several tracks with three dance floors and is very popular with locals and tourists alike. Although there are only two gay bars in the city, there are plenty of gay clubs for straight, gay, bisexual and transgendered people to enjoy. Get ready to party the night away until the wee hours of the morning in this beautiful city.
Of course, any city in the south of the world that is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a large river on the other side must have spectacular beaches and Montevideo is no exception. Near the center of the city is Playa Ramirez and a bus or taxi ride will take you to Playa Pocitos or Playa Malvin. Apply plenty of sunscreen as the light here is very strong and in the winter months there are very few clouds and temperatures in the low thirties. However, you’ll find plenty of beach bars and street-side restaurants if you need to find some shade and refreshments.
Shopping in Montevideo offers a variety of options and prices are very low compared to Canadian prices. There are supermarkets, small shops, local craft shops, markets and leather factories. Make sure your plastic is ready for a big hit because there will be many irresistible things you will find while walking the beautiful streets of the city.
Finding gay hostels in Montevideo is difficult but hostel La Puerto Negra is a lovely gay bed and breakfast located in a residential area close to the old city and the Old City. The rooms are big, the old building is beautiful and the prices are very good. Otherwise the choices are easy and most rooms in Montevideo are cheap depending on your choice of style and location.
Outside of Montevideo the small town of Colonia is a short two and a half hour bus ride and will provide a complete change from the big city. Here you will find Portuguese architecture and cobbled streets similar to Lisbon, Portugal. The winding streets and beautiful buildings are arranged differently from many Spanish colonial cities, and are fun to explore. The famous Barrio Historica, on a small island in the river, was named a World Heritage Site in 1995. The town’s history begins in 1745 and you can see the famous bridge that was built at that time, the El Faro lighthouse was built. in 1857, or visit the Sunday market in Plaza Mayor. A day or two in Colonia is a great way to see another side of Uruguay’s unique charm and history. The town produces a lot of local textiles and has a free market that raises the already low prices.
Driving northeast for about 140 kilometers from Montevideo brings you to the town of Punte del Este on the Atlantic coast. This small coastal town with a population of over 10,000 has a population of around 10,000 during the months of December to February. Beautiful beaches, casinos and entertainment attract many repeat and new visitors making the South American Riviera not to be missed. The gay community is growing and now includes hotels, bars, restaurants and shopping centers for a full holiday experience. The beaches here offer everything from the cool Atlantic breeze on the calm waters to relaxing and sunbathing or surfing. No trip to Uruguay is complete without a visit to Punta del Este and the fun of Monte Carlo!
For a small country you will be surprised by the number of Uru-Gay and what you can find with the less known and unknown holiday resorts.
There is also an experienced GLBT tour company specializing in gay vacations in Uruguay but its headquarters are in the United States and can be found at gay-uruguay.com providing assistance and vacations anywhere in this small country with a large gay reception mat. They can arrange accommodations, tours and special events to suit your ideal gay vacation.
This winter treat yourself to a special holiday in the south of the world and find out why everyone is talking about one of the smallest countries in South America with a big heart and a welcome gay holiday.
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