Colonia del Sacramento – Uruguay
Colonia del Sacramento - Uruguay

Colonia del Sacramento – Uruguay

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Best preserved colonial city in Uruguay

One of the highlights of coming to Uruguay is taking the chance for visiting the oldest and best preserved colonial city in the country, the small Colonia del Sacramento right along the Rio de la Plata estuary and directly opposite Buenos Aires. You can see one each other from the shore. But before continuing, let me define a bit more what best preserved and oldest city means here: basically, do not expect a wonderful city like the ones you can see all over Central America, notorious example of glorious Antigua in Guatemala. Colonia is very small and lacks that opulence and flair. Take a remote, small and possibly unknown village in Spain or Portugal, and you have what you are about to visit here. Yes, it is a nice place, with a charm, but little more than that. In the other hand, expect lots of tourists from all over the world, it is the most visited place in the country.

Colonia was founded and developed by the Portuguese who had several posts along the Rio de la Plata, coexisting with the Spanish where several times conflicts and wars changed the hands to the Spanish and back to the Portuguese. Destruction and reconstruction until the early 18th century when after the Treaty of Utrecht it was handed back to Portugal who transformed it into the most wealthy and best defended city in the Rio de la Plata region. Fallen in the hands of Spain on several more occasion through the century, it can be said that it was never part of the Spanish Empire for longer than 20 years. Uruguay became an independent nation in 1828.

Considering as an average tourist you can fully explore in one day Montevideo, the country’s capital, then why not enjoy a day out here! Easy to come, bearing it’s 3 hours away by bus or car from Montevideo, or merely hour and a half from Buenos Aires by high speed boat and easy cross-country border formalities. What’s best, no need to scramble your head thinking what to do, what to see and how to plan a best route. Everything, everywhere is walking distance next to each other, plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes.

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Montevideo – Uruguay
Montevideo - Uruguay

Montevideo – Uruguay

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The Very Loyal and Reconquering City of San Felipe y Santiago

Country 101 in the list so far, Uruguay. Although not for a wider tour, but merely sticking to its capital city, Montevideo. After all, this was not just only temptation for being that near Buenos Aires, it was as long overdue as visiting Argentine. It was always meant to be this way whenever coming to this part of the world: visit the two countries. Both capitals do complement each other and share a lot in common. One can easily take a speedboat at one or the other and reach the opposite counterpart in 2 hours, or get on a short flight across the Rio de la Plata. We opted for the second option, and while we departed Argentina the following day after a trip to Salta, we would return in 2 days to continue the tour with Cordoba next in line.

Montevideo is the southernmost capital city in South America. Founded in 1724 by the Spanish soldier Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, its boundaries remained mostly intact until the late 19th century when the fort at the eastern edge of the old town was dismantled and built in place the Independence Square; the heart of the city ever since, dividing Ciudad Vieja (the old town) at the west with the Centro district at the east. Both areas are the main tourist spots, easy to navigate with such a great urban plan of perfect avenues and streets in an orthogonal grid where distances are not too large between sights.

As an important tip, this is not the kind of city you come if you are having great expectations in enjoying some colonial flair and old architecture. For that you head elsewhere, noteworthy the former Portuguese post of Colonia del Sacramento west of the capital and literally right across the river opposite Buenos Aires. Still, there are lots to enjoy in Montevideo to keep you busy an entire day, adding longer should you want to enjoy some of the fine beaches along the southeast coast, even the short ride to the “Saint-Tropez of South America”, the upscale Punta del Este, farther to the east. On the bright side, Uruguay ranks number one of the safest countries in South America. Don’t judge some districts or streets as dangerous places; just because they are in a state of disrepair does not mean they are unsafe. (more…)

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Buenos Aires – Argentina
Buenos Aires - Argentina

Buenos Aires – Argentina

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Paris of South America

Argentina, for a very long time a dream waiting to become true, but the wait was well worth it. Marking precisely the country number 100 that I’ve visited so far; just being a bit slightly overdue from the goal I set myself of having reach 100 countries by the age of 35 but not to worry too much, it’s merely few months that I turned 36. The most important to me has never changed: if I travel, I like to visit the most and enjoy to the maximum. I hate to say how much I disagree with the people who rush their trips so they can say they have been to the most places. Their travel experiences described into a checklist! I prefer to take the time and explore the countries.

Starting with Buenos Aires, the stunning capital, and terminating at the southernmost point in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, I can easily confirm how huge the country is. 3690 kilometres long no less, and 1400 at its wider point; crossing through different climate regions from subtropical at the north to subantarctic at the far. Hot to cold, wet to dry; forests to deserts, mountains to sea. Nature, wildlife, richness of resources, history, art… Simply too much for such a short time. You would need months here and perhaps that might not be enough.

Nailing down this guide into the main subject, the capital city. Thanks to its climate, the position right at the mouth of the world’s widest river, the Rio de la Plata and continuous development since its foundation in 1536, it has grown to become one of the largest and most populated across the Americas, being one of the oldest and most complete in architecture preserving heritage from the colonial times to the modern period, with an unique European flair. It’s the second most visited in the entire Latin America only after Mexico DF. As a tourist, these are all good news of course, a place with so much to see and do that time will actually be your major limitation. (more…)

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Porto – Portugal
Porto - Portugal

Porto – Portugal

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A Cidade Invicta: The Unconquered City

Over 6 years have passed since our first and only time in this incredible city, and still not sure how so much time have passed to return only for the second time. There are certain cities in Europe where does not matter how many times you return, there is always a fun in coming back and always something new to see and enjoy. Porto is one of them for sure, and now that there are better and more frequent choices of airlines and timings, will be easier to find another good deal in the near future. However, as pretty much everywhere else in Europe, during high season it is generally cheaper to fly farther away to more exotic destinations to the rather “around the corner” Porto. Anyway, this was about time to revamp the guide for this city, since what I wrote years back was not so complete and already getting obsolete.

Have in mind that a weekend for this city can be short. There is simply too much to see and do, and our plan this weekend also included visiting the nearby cities of Braga and Guimaraes, or at least that was our initial intention, if not both, then just Guimaraes. On literally every corner there are sights and amazing buildings everywhere. The old town core is very large considering the overall size of the city, one of the most historic cities in Portugal, no wonder it is listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet despite this fact, it is unfortunately in much need of restoration. Many buildings falling apart and many others totally ruined. Thankfully the city is slowly revitalising and regenerating bit by bit which surely in few years time will make a huge difference. It does already in these 6 years lapse, nothing to compare to the rather run down city we once knew. The current gentrification is perhaps too fast, with trendy and chic shops, cafes and bars popping everywhere but with an ideology I don’t quite share: skyrocket prices.

While distances in the city seems “small” on a map, they are not in truth. The city was built among steep hills, and the up and downs are considerably, not to mention the gorge the river Douro marks along its length, cutting the city in 2 and connected by high bridges. Among them, the iconic and symbol of Porto, the Ponte Dom Luis I, and the Maria Pia Bridge by Gustave Eiffel. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, and Porto this masterpiece of a bridge.
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Santander – Spain
Santander - Spain

Santander – Spain

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Roman Portus Victoriae Iuliobrigensium

A short visit to another of the cities I have less travelled too, however good enough to be back after probably 7 years if not more since the last time. Although we planned this weekend for visiting Burgos and Atapuerca, we actually ended up with enough time to head back to Santander from where our plane would depart later at night to London, and enjoy a stroll remembering the beautiful and elegant capital city of the autonomous community of Cantabria in northern Spain, right by the Atlantic coast (the Cantabrian Sea).

Not only that we had a nice time in Santander, but also stopped along the way from Burgos at the birthplace of the River Ebro in Fontibre. That was truly unique to be honest, or at least for myself. I’ve never seen before the very beginning of an important river as Ebro is, and it is actually shocking how this all happens. From that tiny river with water coming from under the earth, to what then becomes the second largest river to flow in the Iberian Peninsula and its large delta by the Mediterranean coast at Amposta, Tarragona.

When visiting Santander, however, it is highly unlikely you will be coming here to Fontibre unless you are doing a bigger tour through Cantabria or northern Spain, but hey, if you are on your way to/from Burgos or other places in norther Spain and you have the chance, do not hesitate in sliding off the motorway, it is less than 5 minutes on the national road. (more…)

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Isle of Man – British Isles
Isle of Man - United Kingdom

Isle of Man – British Isles

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Ellan Vannin. A Self-governing Crown Dependency

Glad to finally manage great flight tickets to Isle of Man, long time in the bucket list of the “nearby” destinations to go. And with the ongoing shortage of new destinations across Europe still pending to go, it was once more, a perfect choice and a great weekend. Landscapes, nature, city and culture road trip through the entire island which surprisingly has a lot to see and do, and an incredible history and past behind through the millennia. An entire weekend is just perfect time, enough to enjoy every corner of the island which is really pleasant to drive all around. Easy roads and short distances, with many sights along the way: megalithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age monuments; castles, beaches, idyllic villages and impressive Victorian engineering at its purest with the largest water wheel in the world, horse trams in Douglas, a mountain railway, steam train and electric tramways from the past century, just to name a few of the places we would visit.

Starting at Castletown and Douglas, we split between north and south, one area for Saturday, the other for Sunday. Our hotel however, was in Douglas since it’s the capital and largest city in the island and with majority of facilities, entertainment and nightlife. We did not want to be “stranded” in the middle of nowhere and having to depend on the car to even go and find dinner.

The island, on the Irish Sea, is one of the self-governing Crown Dependency of the British Isles where the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, but not part of the United Kingdom. It is an independent country on it’s own, and the people of the island are happy about this. Sometimes people are mistaken in thinking they are part of the United Kingdom but is not. The other such self-governing islands are the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey in the La Mancha Canal. (more…)

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Tangier – Morocco
Tangier - Morocco

Tangier – Morocco

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The door of Africa

The second part of this weekend trip to northern Morocco and after visiting the UNESCO city of Tetouan, we returned to the base where we landed (and from where we would depart the following day back to London), Tangier. Although one of the most modern cities we’ve been in Morocco, nothing to compare with the beautiful historical 4 Imperial Cities of Marrakesh, Rabat, Meknes and Fez, it is still an incredible nice city to visit, especially if this is your base for exploring the nearby famous tourist magnets of Tetouan, Chefchaouen, the beach resorts or one of two of the small Spanish posts in Moroccan’s soil, Ceuta.

While the city heavily relies on tourism in search of beach and sun which is one of the most important figures of its economy, it is way more than just sandy beaches. It does have a rich history through the millennia due to its very desired key location at the tip between the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, and its colonial history goes back to just some dozen of years when both the Spanish and French occupation ended in 1956. While Arabic is the main language, Spanish and French are widely spoken and understood. Signs can still be seen in dual language, mostly for its proximity and relation with Spain.

The old Medina is one of the smallest in Morocco and it is still on the process of restoration and modernisation after many decaying years. It is also pretty much everything the city has to offer in the sense of sights hence why you do not need much time in this city. The beaches, however, if that is what you are looking for, are quite deserted and recently revamped. The Sables D’or Beach is beside the harbour and just few minute’s walk from the southern edge of the Medina. (more…)

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Casablanca – Morocco
Casablanca - Morocco

Casablanca – Morocco

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Berber Anfa

It is nice to be back in Morocco, specially since we’ve only been to Marrakesh 3 years ago and that city is probably the exception to the rest of the country, quite annoying in the sense of the hundreds of people trying to sell you anything or trying to make you go to their shop or restaurant. On and on and on! What a relieve to be honest not to experience such a hassle in Casablanca, nor the rest of the cities we would visit in this trip.

Although Casablanca is one of the cities with the “less sights” compared to most of the other large and medium size cities in Morocco, it is still a nice city very worth to visit. We’ve heard before from people and friends saying there is only the Great Mosque and nothing else, but as usual in these cases we prefer to rather trust more our experience and intuition and see for ourselves and boom!, we were right. It is in fact a modern city with many things to do and see. Already it is nice just to walk the wide avenues and admire the pretty French colonial buildings everywhere, most of which are in immaculate state of preservation with hundreds more being restored. A very clean and elegant city, nothing to compare with the rather messy and stuck in time Marrakesh of our previous experience.

The location of the city also makes a difference. Right by the Atlantic coast, although it does have in fact a very Mediterranean flair, even though this is the other coast! But the white colour of the buildings, the nice Corniche promenade by the coast and beach, and the very long daylight are all a great bonuses. (more…)

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