Saturday, February 22, 2014

Last stop: Piriápolis

No trip to the South American Atlantic coast would be complete without a trip to the beach. Sure, Colonia and Montevideo had beaches, too. But both of those cities have plenty of other attractions to lure you away from the seaside. It's something else to go to a town where the beach itself is the reason to be there.

By the time we got around to visiting a resort town like Piriápolis, the weather wasn't very beach-worthy. To be honest, though, we didn't mind too much. With a few exceptions, the majority of the travels we've taken over the years have not tended to include the beach so much. We've instead favored historic and cultural destinations for the most part. When we do choose to head for the sand, however, the first choice is typically far from coastlines crowded with people and highrise hotels. In fact, the fewer people, the better. Better to walk that ever-shifting line where land meets sea, and to feel a little closer to nature, rather than being too close for comfort to waterskis and speedboats.

That said, it was nice to take a stroll through the yacht harbor, a short walk around the bay from the beach. While I'll probably never spend much time on one, I won't deny the attraction of a ship at sail, or the way a view over the sea from land is somehow completed by the sight of sailboats cutting their way gracefully through the water. Most likely because the weather wasn't conducive to it, we didn't see any ships out on the water while we were there. In fact, quite a few of yachts in this harbor were out of the water and sitting up on blocks. I began to wonder how often these boats got used at all.

Across from the harbor was a chair lift leading to the top of a hill overlooking the town and the surrounding coast.

It was starting to look like rain! Despite the ominous skies, you can get a feel for both the smallness of the resort town, with only about 8,000 permanent residents, and the beauty of the surrounding forests and hills. I imagine the beach packs out quite a bit more on sunny days, but even then, Piriápolis has been eclipsed by the popularity of nearby Punta del Este. There, you've got your beachfront hotel skyrises, bronzed beachgoers, all-night clubs, and high-speed watersports. I have no doubt that it's exciting, if you like the energy of crowded beaches. What can I say? Secluded beaches are much more my thing. Thankfully, there are still as many of those as there are places like Miami Beach and Punta Cana.

The view over the other side of the hill. If you zoom in closely, far off on the horizon, you can see the tall buildings poking up from the peninsula of Punta del Este.

What goes up, must come down. The chair lift was, naturally, a round-trip ticket. Also featured, a view of the harbor, and a better perspective of the boats of various sizes/levels of ambition.

What a long day! The rambla, the picturesque Hotel Colonia with wooded hillside in the distance, slender palm trees, and, if you look closely, a modern white hotel with a cluster of solar panels on the roof. Not that they would be doing much on a day like this.

A close-up look at the Argentino Hotel, completed in 1930, by Francisco Piria, the founder for whom the town was named. Judging from the name of the hotel, Uruguay in the 1930's was as much a destination for vacationing Argentines as it is today. It's still in operation today, but with the rain starting to fall, we didn't take the time to inquire how much it cost for a room.

Besides, we had our own place to stay, a two bedroom house with a comfortable patio complete with a quincho for outdoor grilling. We didn't get a tan, but Piriápolis made for a relaxing experience on the green, tranquil and scenic Uruguayan coast. It was the end of a trip that included several busy days of visiting the cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, as well as the historic town of Colonia. Ahead of us lay a bus ride back to Colonia, a trip on the ferry across the Río de la Plata to Buenos Aires, and finally a flight across South America, through the turbulent air over the Cordillera de los Andes, and finally landing in Santiago. But for the time being, we were very much enjoying the peace and quiet of Piriápolis.