Hotel La Baguala - Montevideo, Uruguay
I am not trying to get out of it innocently, however would I have traveled on myself, I never would have actually made this huge decision to change 40 per cent of our trip. Instead of Deep Patagonia with the world famous Catedral de Marmol, Futalefu and Chiloe, Lukas and me decided on the spot in El Calafate to skip northern Patagonia and discover Argentina and Buenos Aires. How did we end up in a country as small and unknown (for international tourism standards) as Slovenia? Well if you just book a flight last minute to Buenos Aires - super cool city by the way - and plan a week for this layover you begin to make second thoughts on what to do not to get bored. We had an entire week, seven nights, seven dinners, two ferry rides, a rental car, four horses, three of the world’s best steaks in our life and a sunburn. Does it sound tempting enough? But first let‘s face the geographical facts: Uruguay is located between Brazil and Argentina and while one of the smaller countries in South America, it‘s the richest and wealthiest of all of them. No wonder why you might have never heard of it: no recent civil war, political problems (their corruption index is the lowest in entire Latin America) and on the other hand not much of a touristic environment YET (!).
It took us roughly 50 minutes to get from the bustling Argentinan capital to Colonia, Uruguay‘s ancient city offering the easiest connections to Argentina (there are daily services to Montevideo too, tough take 2-3 hours). No need to worry about old and dusty ferries as they seem brand new (once we were asked to wear slip-on not to bring dirt on the boat) and offer all amenities as you would expect them from Central Europe. From Colonia we took the bus (bad decision by the way, either get a rental or a cab) to Montevideo. Not just did it seem like we lost a day, but the bus smelled terribly bad and old. Having arrived in Montevideo we got a rental car finally and made us on the way to the La Baguala estate. The hotel market in Montevideo developed extremely in the last two years with the Sofitel in Carrasco, the Hyatt Centric on the coast and now with the La Baguala a bit outside the city but my personal favorite in terms of ambiance and location. It doesn‘t just feel very tranquil and private, it also has amazing sunset views of Rio de la Plata and the beach below the estate. If you compare it to cars, I would say the Hyatt Centric is a Porsche, the Sofitel a Ferrari and the La Baguala a Bugatti - elegant, unique and extraordinary. Plus side: the streets in Uruguay are one of the best ones in Latin America and renting & driving a car is no big deal.
La Baguala is located a 20-minute drive from the heart of Montevideo along an illuminated highway in the west of the capital. Once you leave the highway it‘s just another 5 minutes until you reach a gate where you will only be granted access once you have a reservation at the hotel or restaurant. After another 3-4 minutes driving on the vast grounds of La Baguala, we finally arrived at the main estate consisting of the pool area, rooms and restaurant area along a living room with front desk and gaming room. Once we entered the door at 10 am, the room was of course not yet ready so we decided to chill a bit in the picturesque yet tranquil garden overlooking the river that seemed like the Atlantic Ocean already. Thank God, I have passed my exams, we had another great reason to order a bottle of champagne which we had at 11 am or so without having had proper breakfast under the South American sun... you guess how this story continued. We decided to enjoy a lavish dinner on the terrace with an excellent seafood risotto and another bottle of wine, this time a white wine from Uruguay. I have to admit you can stop reading at this point if you feel this hotel was experienced under the influence of alcohol. I cannot say the opposite, however it‘s only once a year you get to know such great news and I love celebrating when traveling as it makes the trips even more memorable!
A few minutes later, the friendly lady from the front desk passed by and handed us over the key to our room. What we found looked like the complete opposite of hotel rooms in Paris, New York and London: a room so spacious and vast you could even consider dancing tango to fit the very Latin environment. Equipped with two twin beds that also serve as a king bed normally, a cool armchair, a writing desk along a wardrobe and sideboard with a brand new television that looked very artsy - the main bedroom was chic, nothing over-the-top but did fit absolutely perfect into this estancia in the heart of Uruguay. Right next to the bedroom was the bathroom which looked quite new with a walk-in shower (yay!), a toilet and bidet along a vanity desk with hotel branded toiletries. There was one bath towel per person however they provide towels for the pool at the front desk. We didn't have a closer look onto the room details as we were out all day to enjoy the facilities and benefit from their complimentary horseback riding. Having had first encounters in Jamaica last summer, Lukas and me were totally eager to give it another try with real gauchos. So we signed up for the tour on the first day and had a breathtaking hour sitting on two beautiful and brave horses guiding us around the vast grounds of La Baguala. Actually we felt very safe and secure after a few minutes which is not the case normally, thanks to our guide Martin who we could trust well.
After the first horseback ride we enjoyed the relaxing pool side under the shade of the palm trees. Everything was well maintained, the pool refreshing and in excellent condition - so that I felt more like lying in Tuscany instead of a countryside residence 11.000 kilometers from home. Besides the fact that you need to bring the towels from the front desk, the relaxation area around the pool was flawless. If you arrive by rental car (again: I very much recommend doing that due to the magnificent things to do in this country), do like we did and drive into Montevideo for the best beef steaks you have ever had. For approximately 10-13 USD we had nearly half a kilo of best meat along with some side dishes, in a place that is even smaller than a butcher shop. For all those that don‘t mind the queue (we waited for around 30 minutes that felt like 15) for one of the best meats in the world, head to La Pulperia. Again, even if you are not mobile or prefer to have a glass or two, taxis are still affordable here in Uruguay. Bear in mind that Uruguay is not considered Switzerland of South America by chance: government regulations and rules are similarly strict - that means zero-tolerance for alcohol when driving.
The next morning we woke up and went towards the restaurant to find a lovely buffet setup with only homemade stuff including several cakes, croissants and bread but also fresh fruits, excellent juices and a selection of muesli and yogurt. You can either have breakfast on the terrace or in the main dining area, however service was on the slow side and we ended up without any egg or coffee order just because we were fine with the offered products. Soon afterwards we packed and checked-out as we headed towards Punta del Este and José Ignacio - the Cote d’Azur of South America including all the dazzle and glamour. Generally La Baguala is a wonderful place to stay with beautifully matching interior design (a lot reminded me of Four Seasons Casa Medina), lovely staff (if not always as good as international expectations), a wonderful setting just off the city, a familiar feeling and the possibility to ride horses without paying anything additional. I would say value for money is (still) very good but don’t expect Uruguay to stay at that level - they constantly improve and higher prices so in the future I say it will be one of the best places to travel - therefore a big YES to your travel plans on going to that amazing country.
We were guests of La Baguala however all above written expresses our own opinion as usual and has not been influenced.