Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The NYT Finally Gets It: Buenos Aires, Santiago & Montevideo

Traditionally, Sunday travel sections in daily newspapers, at least in the United States, are stunningly Eurocentric. I have no statistics to support my contention, but I would estimate that upwards of 75 percent of all foreign destination coverage is European, with another 15 percent devoted to Asia and the remainder to the Americas and Africa. Coverage of the Americas is most often Mexico and the Caribbean, while that of South America and especially the Southern Cone countries is almost nil.

That’s why it was such a surprise to see last Sunday’s New York Times Travel section devoted exclusively to Latin America, including pieces dedicated to Argentina (reviewing a new design hotel in Buenos Aires), Santiago
(a brief hotel review and a longer piece on the city), and Montevideo (the section’s weekly feature “36 Hours”). Buenos Aires, along with perhaps Rio de Janeiro, is probably the South American city that most frequently appears in the Times, but Santiago and Montevideo are relative novelties.

The Santiago article, more than half a page long, bore the headline “Chile’s Capital Awakens From Its Eternal Sleep” - quoting Nobel Prize poet Pablo Neruda as to the city’s seeming somnolence - and describes it as an “electrifying place of vibrant contrasts, with lush new parks, renovated Beaux-Arts neighborhoods, and blocks of glamazon-thronged galleries and cafes clustered around ‘Sanhattan,’ the soaring financial district.” As Chile’s 2010 bicentennial approaches, the article implies, Santiago is an underrated destination worthy of a visit in its own right, rather than merely a transfer point to the Atacama desert or Patagonia. Attractions such as Neruda’s La Chascona home (pictured above) and the Museo de Arte Precolombino merit lengthy explorations, and it’s even possible to arrange bicycle tours through La Bicicleta Verde (English spoken). Although the author barely mentions it, the city has a thriving restaurant scene, especially but not exclusively in the Bellavista neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the Times devotes nearly an entire page to Montevideo, an almost equally underrated city in the shadow of Buenos Aires (just as Uruguay lies in the shadow of Argentina). There are excellent choices for sightseeing such as the Museo Gurvich, displaying the work of one of Uruguay’s top 20th-century artists (it’s worth noting that Uruguayan banknotes feature artists and writers rather than pompous generals on horseback) and the Palacio Salvo (pictured above), and for lunch at the classically carnivorous Mercado del Puerto (pictured below), which is a sight in itself. In addition, it suggests taking in tango (Uruguayans love it as much as Argentines) or candombe at Baar Fun Fun, an informal bar and night club.

For those continuing to Uruguay’s No. 1 destination, though, there may be some glitches this summer. According to the Buenos Aires daily Clarín, hotels in the beach resort of Punta del Este are embroiled in a bitter dispute with credit card companies and are not accepting American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard or Visa. Given hotel prices in January and February, Argentines and others planning to summer in Punta could have to carry lots of cash.

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