Minas the Alps of Uruguay
During his journey to the region of Maldonado in 1832, Charles Darwin encountered the distinct terrain of Minas, which starkly contrasted with the rest of Uruguay. He described it as an alpine region from the perspective of a Pampas dweller.
Today, Minas offers a picturesque setting nestled among rolling hills and valleys, boasting stunning vistas of western horizons. Situated just over an hour from Punta Del Este, this captivating town is not only the administrative center of the Lavalleja department, one of Uruguay’s 19 divisions, but also an ideal base for exploring the surrounding scenic hills and rich natural landscapes.
Exploring Minas and the surrounding Sierras by car is the most convenient option, although the town itself is compact enough for its key points of interest to be accessible on foot. Visitors to Minas can discover an array of locally crafted goods and sample regional culinary delights, including traditional sweet milk biscuits.
The town’s heritage as a mining hub contributes to its distinctive appeal. Originally founded as Villa de la Concepción de las Minas on June 16, 1783, with forty simple stone dwellings amidst the mineral-rich hills, the town provided sources of copper, granite, and marble. This settlement, commissioned by the Spanish monarchy, boasts a history dating back to its community origins in 1805.
The historical significance of Minas is twofold. Firstly, the region was inhabited by the Guarani and Charrúa tribes well before European settlers arrived. Additionally, it is the birthplace of Juan Antonio Lavalleja, a prominent figure in the fight for independence, born there in 1784.
Each year on April 19th, the city commemorates Lavalleja with festivities that coincide with the anniversary of the Thirty-Three Orientals’ landing, a pivotal moment in Uruguay’s independence movement that occurred in 1825. This date also aligns with the celebration dedicated to the Virgin of Verdun, whose shrine is situated on a hill just four kilometers from the town of Verdun Mine. Consequently, April becomes Minas’ most jubilant month, offering residents a moment to embrace their heritage and providing visitors with an opportunity to experience the local culture.
Routes To The Clouds
Every route that traverses the scenic hill range toward Brazil is delightful and worth exploring, as the terrain transforms throughout this area.
Among the most picturesque routes is the circuit connecting Minas, Aiguá, San Carlos, and then returning to Minas via Routes 8, 13, 39, 9, and 12. It might sound complex, but it’s quite straightforward.
Northeast of Minas, the first sight to behold is barely five kilometers from the city center, where a rightward path leads to northern-facing cliffs that offer an astonishing view, especially in the afternoon at Penitente Falls.
Continue for another 17 kilometers to a junction heralding the beginning of the Carapé Hills, where you’ll be captivated by a waterfall that punctuates the quiet with its presence. Encircled by rugged hills that hint at past travels to the stream and waterfall, the area invites exploration along footpaths. Here, the chorus of bird calls, highlighted by the distinctive calls of lapwings signaling the arrival of visitors, blends with the sound of cascading water among the rocks. The stream culminates in a natural pool. In the summertime, this pool, affectionately referred to as The Pot, is encircled by hills and becomes a popular bathing spot for visitors.
Myrtle bushes line the creek, their leaves used by locals to brew tea, and setting up camp by its banks with the waterfall nearby is a nature enthusiast’s dream.
Located a mere five miles from Minas and nestled amidst a lush green environment, Villa Serrana stands as a testament to thoughtful planning. In the 1940s, a collective of individuals and investors saw the potential in the northern hillside area near Minas and enlisted the renowned architect Julio Vilamajó to spearhead the development of a picturesque villa.
Vilamajó, collaborating with an international team of landscape architects, masterminded the creation of a village perched on the slopes, carefully curating the surrounding scenery. During the development, more than 100,000 trees were introduced to the area. The resulting architecture is a diverse mix of stone, wood, and straw constructions, carefully positioned not atop the peaks but close enough to complement the natural contours without disrupting them. Among these structures are two notable works by Vilamajó himself—Meson de las Cañas and Ventorrillo de Buena Vista. Both have been declared national monuments and are now beautifully preserved and in full operation.
Villa Serrana’s meandering streets, each bearing the name of different tree species, reveal a constantly changing vista. The man-made reservoir formed by the dam is a prominent feature that can be viewed from various vantage points throughout the village, and the locale provides simple access to two quaint waterfalls: the Bath of India and The Pot.
The town boasts numerous amenities including a youth hostel that provides both sustenance and lodging, along with a spectrum of offerings and promotional discounts.
Embark on Route 8 toward Aigua in the east, and find yourself amidst breathtaking vistas. Only seven kilometers past the junction, between kilometer markers 157 and 158, cast your gaze to the left and behind to capture a magnificent panorama of rolling hills and memorable terrain that accompany your travels.
Nestled between the 163rd and 164th kilometer is one of the region’s most stunning outlooks atop Pororo Hill. Make a point of stepping onto the grounds of the old hostel to your right off the route. The view from this vantage point holds unique charm and is sure to etch itself into your recollections.
Continuing a mere five miles further, Route 12 meets Aigua Creek, demarcating the border between Lavalleja and Maldonado departments. Press on to the serene town of Aigua, home to just 2,676 residents and a mere 54 kilometers from Punta Del Este. Close to Aigua, a forested path leads you through a diversity of wildlife and indigenous flora to the hidden natural sanctuary known as the Caves of Salamanca. Revel in this driving adventure, immersing yourself in the variety of natural beauty along the way.
Points of Interest
Minas is a small town with a picturesque setting, but despite its size, Minas offers numerous attractions for visitors who enjoy nature, history and cultural events. Here are some notable points of interest:
- Cerro Arequita: This isolated hill located near the city (12 km) is a popular spot for hiking and camping. On its summit, there is a beautiful viewpoint of the surrounding landscape.
- Parque Salus: This beautiful park is home to the famous Fuente del Puma, a natural spring water source that is bottled and sold throughout Uruguay. The park offers picnic areas, walking trails, and lush greenery.
- Salto del Penitente: A beautiful waterfall located in the outskirts of Minas, which is a popular spot for picnics, hikes, and enjoying the natural scenery.
- Theater Lavalleja: The city’s cultural hub, where local plays, concerts, and other performances are staged.
- Museo de Réplicas en Miniatura: A unique museum in Minas which features miniatures of various important historical buildings from Uruguay and around the world.
- Plaza Libertad: The main square in the city where you can find the Cathedral of Minas. It’s a pleasant place to relax, surrounded by historic architecture.
Remember that specific attractions may have varying hours of operation and some might be seasonal, so it’s a good idea to check the latest information before you plan your visit.
Real Estate Market in Minas
The real estate market in Minas, like many places, can fluctuate based on a variety of factors, including the local economy, interest rates, and demand. Here are a few general points regarding the real estate in Minas, Lavalleja:
- Property Types: In Minas, you can find a range of property types, from residential homes and apartments to rural estates and farmland. Due to its scenic nature, there may also be opportunities to invest in properties that have tourism potential, such as country houses or cabins for short-term rental.
- Market Trends: The real estate market in Uruguay, including Minas, is influenced by both local and international factors. There is demand from both domestic buyers and foreign investors looking for a second home or to relocate, sometimes driven by Uruguay’s reputation for political stability and a high quality of life.
- Prices: Real estate prices in Minas are generally more affordable than in the capital city of Montevideo or the Punta Del Este area. However, prices can vary greatly depending on the property’s location, size, and condition. Rural properties might offer more land for a lower price compared to urban properties.
- Legal Considerations: Uruguay has a relatively straightforward process for buying and selling property, and foreign buyers have the same rights as Uruguayan citizens. It’s advisable to work with Team Haverkate, a reputable local real estate agent who can help navigate the purchase process, including due diligence, contract negotiation, and the transfer of property titles.
- Investment Potential: Some investors are attracted to Uruguay for its potential as a rental market or for land appreciation, especially in growing tourist areas. However, as with any real estate investment, it’s essential to conduct thorough research and consider the risks versus the potential returns.
- Living in Minas: For those considering living in Minas, the city offers a peaceful environment with a strong sense of community. There are necessary amenities such as schools, hospitals, and shopping areas, but for more extensive services or international flights, one would typically travel to Montevideo.