Minas the Alps of Uruguay
When Charles Darwin traveled to Minas in the region of Maldonado in 1832 he discovered a different landscape compared to the rest of Uruguay. “An inhabitant of the Pampas would see in it an alpine region,” he wrote.
In fact amidst the hills and valleys with outstanding views of western sunrises, Minas is a town with its own charm, only an hour and a bit away from Punta Del Este. It is not only the capital of Lavalleja, which is one of the 19 regions of Uruguay, but it is the perfect starting point for outings to the hilly landscapes and natural heritage around the town.
The best option to visit all the attractions of Minas and the Sierras is by car. The city is not very big and its main attractions can be seen walking around the town, but there are many tourist spots located a few miles away.
Within the city you will find regional handmade craftwork and a huge range of local delicacies, such as sweet milk biscuits for example. The great tradition of mines is part of its unique charm. It was founded as Villa de la Concepción de las Minas on June 16, 1783, with forty rustic stone houses among the hills, an area rich in mines where copper, granite and marble was obtained. The “Villa” was built on the direct orders of the Spanish crown. The community dates back to 1805.
History of the City of Minas
The history of Minas is valuable for two main facts. On the one hand, it was a region populated by Guarani Indians and Charrúas long before the arrival of settlers. Furthermore, Juan Antonio Lavalleja, one of the greatest heroes of the liberator, was born in Minas in 1784.
Traditional celebrations are held every year on April 19th remembering Lavalleja to commemorate the landing of the Thirty-Three Orientals, a key event for the process of Uruguayan independence in 1825. Celebrations coincide with the day of the Verdun Virgin, which has its sanctuary in the Cerro four kilometers from Verdun Mine. That is the reason why April is the most festive month in Minas, where local reconnect with their roots and tourists have the possibility to get to know the identity of these people.
Routes to the Clouds
All routes that travel through this range of hills in direction towards Brazil offer beautiful scenery and all of them are well worth to see, as the landscape changes in this region.
One of the most beautiful circuits is linking Minas to Aiguá, San Carlos and back to Minas through routes 8, 13, 39, 9 and 12. It may seem complicated, but it is not.
Towards the northeast the first attraction can be seen on the route and is just five kilometers away from the city center in a path that opens to the right cliffs facing north and a wonderful scene can be watched in the afternoon of the Penitente fall.
If you continue traveling 17 km further to a crossroad where the Carapé hills start, a waterfall impacts the sight and the silence of the place. The place is surrounded by rocky hills suggesting previous journeys to the stream and waterfall inviting visitors to walk on trails by foot. The singing of birds, including the unmistakable voice of lapwings announcing visitors, mixes with the din caused by the falling water among the stones. The stream flows into a natural pool. In summer many visitors bathe in this pool surrounded by hills, which they call “The Pot”.
The creek is bordered by myrtle (with which the locals make tea) and camping at its banks, with the waterfall is a delight for nature lovers.
Villa Serrana is just five miles away from Minas, surrounded by an intensely green landscape. In the late 1940’s people and private investors hired the architect Julio Vilamajó to plan the construction of a villa in the heart of hillsides north to Minas and they right on track.
Vilamajó, along with a group of foreign landscapers, conceived a hillside village and designed the landscape. Over 100,000 trees were planted. The houses there have a varied architecture made of stone, wood, straw which are the elements of the place. The houses were built near the peaks but not in them in order not to alter the landscape. There are two constructions built by Vilamajó; Meson de las Cañas and Ventorrillo of Buena Vista that are national monuments and fully restored and operational.
The winding streets of Villa Serrana, with names of trees, always show a different landscape. The artificial lake of the dam is visible from almost everywhere and is also easy access to two small waterfalls known as the Bath of India and The Pot.
The town has many places including youth hostel offering food and accommodation, a variety of offers and discounts.
In the east take Route 8, heading to Aigua, the road runs through an area of beautiful scenery. Just seven kilometers after the turnoff, between markers 157 and 158, looking to the left and back, a spectacular view of the hills and unforgettable landscapes join the visitor’s journey.
One of the best views is located between kilometers 163 and 164, on top of the hill Pororo. It is worth to enter the grounds of the former hostel, a building that appears to the right of the route. The scenery you see from there is of singular beauty and will remain in your memory.
Five miles later, the Route 12 crosses the creek Aigua, which limits Lavalleja departments and Maldonado. To continue the circuit it is necessary to enter the quiet town of Aigua with a population of 2,676 inhabitants only 54 km from Punta Del Este. Very near Aigua following a wooded trail surrounded by the vast wildlife and native flora is this true ecological reserve called Caves of Salamanca. Enjoy this roadtrip and enjoy the nature and different scenery.