The Uruguayan government's been famously benevolent to its people lately.
Remember former President José Mujica? Better known as "Pepe," the head of state from 2010-2015 donated 90% of his salary each month to local charities. And under new president Tabaré Vasquez (skinny Henry Winkler), the country continues to provide free education and computers for its children, while setting prices on basic commodities.
Here's another initiative, only this one's aimed at non-Uruguayans. Last September, the government decided to temporarily waive its value-added tax on payments from foreign credit cards. (Also known as the IVA tax, it's basically a hefty 22% sales tax on a range of "goods" in the country.) Translation: If you can manage a trip to Uruguay before April, when the tax kicks in again, you can save big on restaurants, car rentals and hotel fees.
If this has been around for several months, why are you just hearing about it? Well, Uruguay is under-the-radar and underrated. This is a smart tourism grab by a country that has the sights and support system to handle it, but has historically been left off South American adventure lists, particularly those Stateside.
That's why this is the perfect time to visit the country. Uruguay is sure to invite all manner of "haven" cliches — beach, wine, weed — and they'd be accurate. It's Eden with a coastline. And a sustainable paradise at that. The continent's second-smallest nation ranks top of the list on peace, low corruption perception, economic freedom, absence of terrorism and sustainable energy. A stunning 95% of the country's energy comes from renewable sources.
Before you visit, we'd like to offer seven must-hit spots for your edification.
Club Hotel Casapueblo
Club Hotel Casapueblo
Two hours along the coast from capital Montevideo, facing the South Atlantic, sits Casapueblo. It looks ripped from a Santorini postcard, but it's the work of legendary local artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. The resort has a spa, a gym, a pool, tennis courts and quite possibly a Guinness World Record for terraces.
Sacromonte Landscape Hotel
Don't sleep on Uruguayan wine. Over half of the country's wine is actually produced just outside the capital, but there are nine grape-happy regions to know and over 200 prominent wineries. Head here for more information, and consider a couple nights at the Sacromonte Landscape Hotel, an eco-resort on a Maldonado vineyard with 13 front-mirrored cabins.
Punta del Diablo
It's named for the Devil's trident (based on the coast's sharp point into the water), but that's where the Hellish comparisons drop off. This fishing hamlet is home to mouthwatering dining options, old Portuguese military forts, top-notch surfing, and a national park (Saint Teresa) bursting with endemic flora and fauna.
Punta del Este
Welcome to Brava Beach, here's a hand. The sculpture was installed by Chilean artist Mario Irrazábal in 1982, and blends a steel framework with metal mesh. What does it mean? Bring along a friend who double-minored in Philosophy and Art History and sit on the beach for a bit.
Put aside a few hundred bucks now — there's just no chance you're making it out of this boot shop heaven without spending it. Capita handcrafts a variety of brogues, Oxfords and slip-ons from Uruguayan cattle leather, and counts Metallica and bourbon among its inspirations. Oh, and only 12-14 pairs are made for each style.
Bud & Breakfast
Casa Wirth Bud & Breakfast
Uruguay officially legalized weed in December 2013, and was a natural inclusion when we rounded up our favorite properties on Bud & Breakfast (Airbnb for ganja). Casa Wirth, pictured above, made our list. As if that backyard needs to get more relaxing.
Buenos Aires is not in Uruguay, we are aware. But Argentina's happening capital is definitely worth the brief jaunt if you're Southern Hemisphere'ing. Catch the ferry from Colonia, Uruguay, to Buenos Aires; it should take a little over an hour.