Escape the Rat Race in the “Hamptons of South America”
My husband, Ralph, and I have always been prepared to reinvent our lives whenever we spotted a greener pasture. It’s a policy that’s served us well.
In 1996, we decided to immigrate to Toronto, Canada, where we have family on his side, to start a new business venture. After three years, this business took us to New York, where we spent another three years. Next, we headed out west to Rancho Mirage, California, which would be our home for the next 12 years.
We enjoyed our time in the desert, but ultimately decided it was time for a new chapter. So we started looking for a place overseas where we could easily secure residency and continue working, but enjoy a slower, more laidback pace of life.
First, we focused our attentions on Central America. We zeroed in on Panama, but after traveling extensively around the country, decided it wasn’t for us. Next, we turned our attentions to South America and one destination immediately stood out in our research—Uruguay. Ralph and I are both of Swiss origin, so the description of Uruguay as the “Switzerland of South America” really struck a chord with us.
Hedging our bets, we set off in December 2010 on an extended trip to explore Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. In our travels across these three vibrant, romantic countries, the location that captured our imagination was the coastal retreat of Punta del Este.
Known as the “Hamptons of South America,” this famed resort city stands on a sundrenched peninsula on the southeastern coast of Uruguay. What astonished us most was how European it feels. The city, like the rest of Uruguay, also boasts modern infrastructure and architecture and exudes this safe, relaxed atmosphere. When we returned to California from our trip, we were ecstatic about Uruguay. The country had confounded our expectations. We had been expecting a charming, yet developing country…but instead we found a prosperous slice of Europe, nestled between Brazil and Argentina.
Having visited Uruguay during the summer months, we decided to return in August 2011 to see what the country is like in winter. (Seasons are opposite in the Southern Hemisphere.) During that trip, we spotted a piece of land in a gated community outside of the beach town of La Barra, which neighbors Punta del Este. We paid around $130,000 for the 1.2-acre plot, which sits on a nature reserve with unobstructed views.
Back in California, we put our mid-century modern house on the market and it sold within 10 days. From that moment on, we were all in. We took another trip to Uruguay in December 2011 to find a rental house where we could live while we built a new home on our land. We finally made our big move in May 2012, along with our two Entlebucher Mountain Dogs and a 40-foot container with our household goods.
Construction on our new home was completed relatively quickly and in June 2013 we were able to move in. Today, we enjoy the best of all worlds. Outside our door, we have glorious countryside and a nature reserve, and just 10 minutes away lie the most beautiful beaches in the renowned Punta del Este area.
When we were living in California, Ralph had worked in the property sector, so we decided to launch our own property business here focused on the Montevideo and Punta del Este markets, and it’s been a big success. There are real opportunities here in Uruguay once you understand the local business culture.
Eight years into our Uruguay adventure and we’ve never been more confident that we made the right decision. This small country has handled the pandemic extremely well and the new government has created great tax and residency incentives for foreigners. As a result, more people are investigating and moving to the country.
There is so much to praise about this remarkable place, but what stands out for us are the friendly people, excellent air quality, laidback lifestyle, top-class infrastructure and health system, and complete lack of natural disasters like hurricanes. Before starting our research, we’d scarcely heard of Uruguay. Now it’s our home. Maybe it can be yours too. Uruguay is a hidden gem just waiting to be uncovered.
By Bettina Waldraff