The Fearless Journeys community launched our fifth group trip – and the first in South America – as our travelers arrived in Punta del Estate, Uruguay on March 24.
Part A of our trip – 5 nights in Uruguay – included 16 of us. We came from seven U.S. states, including California, Florida, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia, plus Washington, D.C.
While some of our travelers had arrived a day – or even a few days earlier – most arrived on Friday, March 24, when our Fearless Journeys group trip officially began. Some used their free time that afternoon to explore Punta del Este, including getting on the water by renting a boat for a couple of hours. Others simply got some much needed rest after the long series of flights from the United States to the southern end of South America. Still others were finishing their time at the Atlas Network’s 2023 Latin American meeting, where among others, a former President of Mexico and a former U.S. ambassador to Uruguay were speaking.
A pillar principle of Fearless Journeys is building community. We did that right from the start with our opening night dinner at the Swiss Bungalow on Friday night. Swiss cuisine is not unfamiliar to Uruguay. Due to similar banking and tax laws, some consider Uruguay the “Switzerland of South America.”
That’s where the comparisons end, for the most part. After all, there are no Alps here or anything like it. But Uruguay has seen its share of Swiss immigrants, dating back more than a century and a half, and that means Swiss cuisine can be found in some parts – including at this really unique restaurant where we chose to start our journey. Bringing the community together proved even more successful with so many shared food items, including Swiss cheese fondue!
Punta del Este is a resort beach town on the most southeastern point of Uruguay on the Atlantic Ocean. Uruguay itself is a very small nation sandwiched just under Brazil and right across the water from Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is also considered the most democratic and free-market nation in all of the Americas. Therefore, its vibrant economy and respect for the rule of law makes it an exceptional standout in all of Latin America.
We arrived in Punta del Este in a bit of an “off-season,” as it is filled mostly with tourists from Argentina and Brazil during the summer months (which range from December through February in these parts). In mid-March, Punta is much quieter. Some days feel like summer, while others can feel like the beginning of autumn.
On Saturday, we gave our travelers free time during the day, including an optional lunch at a beachside restaurant called Muelle 3, where a bit more than half the group came during a three-hour time block. Luckily it was on a nice covered patio, because it rained on and off most of the day.
Our group stayed at the Enjoy Punta del Este Resort & Casino as well as the Ambar hotel (right across from one another). While these were both top notch hotels, there was definitely a contrast between the two, with the Enjoy being a very large, established resort and the Ambar being a brand new, small boutique hotel.
While the weather subdued some of the outdoor activities in this beach town on Saturday, the group was offered a nice, quick tour of Punta del Este, including stopping at a giant hand sculpture reaching up out of the sand. The purpose of this public art sculpture is to remind tourists of the strong rip tides they should be cautious of and the lives lost here with a hand reaching up out of the water.
Another pillar principle of Fearless Journeys is understanding that life has risks. Yet, despite those risks, we should not be afraid. However, we should also be prepared for the dangers that might lurk should we be careless. A helping hand is also necessary, because no one should journey alone.
Travel comes with many risks, yet we also do it to experience moments of wonder. On Saturday evening, the entire group was able to experience that wonder with a “wow” moment – as we visited the iconic Museo Casapueblo before sunset.
When we arrived, many of us wondered why we were there for a sunset on a cloudy and rainy day. Some strolled around this home built by an artist and began to unpack his story and the story of what is now called Museo Casapueblo.
The artist built this giant place one part at a time. Doing things in small steps is also a pillar principle every entrepreneur should take to heart. The artist of this home enjoyed the sunsets from this point – considered the best place for a sunset in Punta del Este. Over time, he continued to add to his creation. The place looks less like a home or hotel and more like a sculpture.
But that sculpture created by a creative human artist gave way to what was about to unfold before our eyes by the greatest artist of all time.
While the sun did not shine for us all day, just as it was ready to set, it came out of the clouds and provided absolute beauty. For over a half hour, the sky, the water, and the colors continued to change, offering each one of us one of the very best sunsets of our lives.
We never seemed to come together as a group all in the same room from the grounds of the Museo Casapueblo. Everyone was trying to get whatever great view they could of the place, while enjoying desserts and drinks, from any number of the many viewing areas this “home” has to offer.
After the magnificent sunset, we gathered everyone together and hopped in our private shuttle to head back into the center of Punta del Este for a fun and lively dinner at I’marangatu, a popular beachside restaurant. Our tastebuds were certainly satisfied – by the food and the wonderful Tannat wine that is unique to Uruguay.
The next day, it was time to check out of our hotels and venture on from Punta del Este. Our first stop was to enjoy a “Sunday Funday” at Bodega Garzon, which was named the 2018 New World Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast.
Bodega Garzon is a place made possible because of the same concepts one might find in the book Rich Dad Poor Dad. Why take your money and keep giving it to the government when you can employ it in new investments? Bodega Garzon is that investment for the Argentine family of Alejandro Bulgheroni.
He and his family created this amazing vineyard, with some of the best Uruguayan wines we tasted during our trip. However, a vineyard was not the first idea for this land. When the family initially acquired it, they thought about doing something there with animals. But a family friend from Italy told them it looked a lot like Tuscany and they should experiment with wine and olive oil. They did! Due to their taking a risk on this venture, today Bodega Garzon does indeed look like something out of Tuscany! From the viewing platform above, you can’t stop looking at it. In the very far back of the 550-acre estate, are also windmills – which are perfectly situated in this open, very windy environment – and help provide much of the energy for the facilities here.
Our guide there, Juan, told us he had been working there 3 months and this was his last day. We were also the biggest tour he had given in English (15 of us took the tour). Juan said he would be going back to his hometown of Mendoza, Argentina in a few days and kept in touch with us so he could possibly meet us when part of our group arrived there the following week (for Part C of this trip).
After the tour concluded, we had a 4-step lunch experience in a private dining room, with a menu designed by famous Argentine chef Francis Mallman. We enjoyed Uruguayan steaks, while wine continued to be served. We also used this special occasion to celebrate one of our traveler’s 50th birthdays. Avik Roy had reached this milestone in December but used this trip as a way to celebrate his first 50 years of life, with two of his friends joining him here in Uruguay.
Later that day, we took a nearly three hour drive to Uruguay’s capital city, Montevideo, where 2/3 of Uruguay’s population (of 3.2 million) live today.
We stayed at the Bit Design hotel, where rooms were offered as “bits” such as room 8.2 or 6.3.
After enjoying breakfast at the hotel on Monday morning, the group piled back into our private shuttle to visit Zona Franc Parque de las Ciencias, one of Uruguay’s 13 free trade zones, where many foreign businesses have relocated to take advantage of the tax incentives. This free trade zone is conveniently located just minutes from the Montevideo airport and 30 minutes from the center of the city.
Businesses located in this free trade zone pay ZERO corporate taxes. Foreign employees who work here (and reside in Uruguay) only pay a 12.5% flat income tax to Uruguay. The companies must employ at least 75% of Uruguayan nationals.
Google will soon be constructing an office here. However, we visited one major company here, Megalabs, which is a company that produces prescription medications in highly secured labs. Thanks to connections that Fearless Journeys established ahead of the trip, we got a full presentation of the free trade zone by one of its managers, Julio Luis Martinez Chiarino. He also led us on a behind the scenes tour of the massive facilities of Megalabs.
After our experience here, we went back into the center of Montevideo, where our afternoon was spent exploring Uruguay’s capital city. We had lunch at a restaurant at the famous Mercado del Puerto and walked through the historic quarter of the city, including a visit to the iconic Plaza de la Independencia, which features a monument of General Jose Gervasio Artigas, just above his mausoleum.
The evening concluded near our hotel in the Punta Carretas area of the city, at Garcia restaurant, where we enjoyed some of the best wines and steaks of the trip, and where the group really came alive on our fourth night together. During this particular evening, we also celebrated the actual birthday of one of our travelers, Patty Hohlbein.
The next day, we took a 2-hour drive to Colonia del Sacramento, a historic city dating back to 1680. Today the city’s entire population is around 27,000 people. So with 15 of us arriving there, we were certainly noticed.
We stayed at the Don Antonio Posada, a small 3-floor family run hotel with about 30 rooms. We took about 12 of them. The hotel features a nice pool in the center, and really personalized service.
Immediately after arrival, we ate lunch at a small cafe nearby called the Colonia Sandwich Coffee Shop. Then, we were treated to a 2-hour walking tour of the old city with a local guide who was born and raised there. We finished with a half hour drive around the more modern parts of the city. There are only two traffic lights in this entire town and it feels like a smaller, quieter, less touristy version of Antigua, Guatemala.
We finished the day with dinner at Charco Bistro, which is part of the Charco Hotel. It has a really nice garden and is situated right next to the water. Again, a very small, high quality place, with amazing food and very personalized service. It was the perfect place to end our final night in Uruguay. Everyone on our trip loved the city of Colonia so much they wished we could have stayed at least one more night here.
The next morning we took a 5-minute shuttle ride from our hotel to the ferry terminal. That’s where we boarded the BuqueBus ferry and completed a 1 hr, 15 minute ferry ride across the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires!
Once we were in Buenos Aires (and through the long immigration line), a shuttle was waiting for us to take the majority of the group to our accommodations. That was for those who were continuing on to Part B of our travels, four nights in Buenos Aires.
One of our travelers on Part A, Terry Kibbe, had left us on day 4 in Montevideo. We provided each traveler like her the flexibility of doing this so she could speak at a conference two days later in Washington, D.C.
Two of our other travelers on Part A, Stephanie Lips and John Smutniak, departed from Buenos Aires later that night, after our arrival there. But before they left Buenos Aires, they were able to enjoy lunch with the group at El Patio in the Palermo Soho neighborhood of Buenos Aires. They also had just enough time to get in a little bit of shopping in Palermo SoHo, which is filled with so many shops and restaurants.
One traveler from Part A, Avik Roy, stayed an extra 2 nights with us in Buenos Aires, and one new traveler, Jerome Hudson, arrived on March 29 to begin our experience on Part B of this group trip.
This Fearless Journeys group trip included three parts and we truly let each of our travelers live up to our motto, “Chart Your Course.” This trip provided our travelers with an array of organized activities with a good mix of free time – and the opportunity to join us for one, two, or all three parts of this Fearless Journeys group trip through two amazing countries in South America.
Stay tuned for our recap of Part B in Buenos Aires and Part C in the Mendoza wine country… and don't forget to consider joining us for our next Fearless Journeys group trip to the French Canadian city of Montreal!