FRAY BENTOS, Uruguay – Uruguay means “the river of the painted birds” in Guarani, the language of its former inhabitants, and the country east of the waterway harbors a treasure trove of winged hues with great tourism potential along its banks.
A four-hour drive northwest of Montevideo and by the Uruguay River, a district in the city of Fray Bentos, designated last July by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is part of a developing tourism route.
The route passes through the six western Uruguayan provinces on the river and seeks to promote water tourism, offering visitors who arrive by boat or land a peaceful environment, an impressive variety of landscapes and Uruguayans’ hospitality.
The old Anglo Beef Packing plant, the site chosen this year by UNESCO, still stands tall over the river, embracing it with its piers from which millions of tons of canned beef were shipped to feed Allied troops and civilians during the two world wars.
Seventy years after World War II ended, the cannery and packing plant’s machines have been idling for four decades.
“Many times, we say that we lack a sailing vocation, a call for our rivers,” Andrea Schunk, tourism director of Rio Negro province, told EFE, adding that the Uruguay River was “a key resource” for tourism in the region located 310 kilometers (193 miles) from Montevideo.
From Fray Bentos, where visitors can find first class hotels and restaurants, a land tour can go to Nuevo Berlin and San Javier, less than a one-hour drive away, to enjoy boating, hiking and cultural centers.
Nuevo Berlin and San Javier, also part of the “Painted Birds Corridor,” are within the protected area of Esteros de Farrapos and the Uruguay River Islands National Park, sprawling over 22,000 hectares (54,320 acres) of estuaries, wetlands, islets and forests containing “one of the most biodiverse places” in Uruguay.