Estancia Los Platanos lies in a remote spot of the rolling sierras of central Uruguay on the border between the rural provinces of Treinta y Tres and Florida.
At night the only light to be seen comes from the headlights of an occasional car travelling Ruta 7, the fireflies and the Milky Way.
Marina is the sixth generation of the Cantera family, owners of Los Platanos. She met her husband Andres at a local waterfall when they were teens.
Together with their own now teenage daughters, they welcome a limited number of guests who want to leave the twenty-first century behind and work and play for a while on a real South American estancia, tending cattle and sheep.
Step back in time in rural Uruguay
It’s believed that Marina’s ancestors, the Respeiros, emigrated to Uruguay from France in the 1850s. The ranch house features a central well and stone courtyard. The rooftiles still intact today came by boat from France.
For over a century, the estancia served as a general store and a stagecoach post on the Camino Real, the main route from the capital to the north-east Brazilian border (nowadays Ruta 7). Both Marina and Andres’ great grandparents fought in the civil uprisings of 1897 and 1904. The family share their history through a small museum in the living room.
The tombs of the estancia patriarchs can be seen in the cemetery at nearby Nico-Battle. The bust looking towards their lands. Look out for the formidable Respeiro-Zeballos.
The estancia was initially enormous but over the generations the land has been divided as family members and loyal employees inherited portions.
Marina’s grandparents owned almost 3000 acres (1200 hectares). When they died, Marina and her brother inherited a third each. Today Los Platanos has almost a thousand acres of land.
The other third was left to the grandfather’s Afro-Uruguayan foreman who had worked on the estancia from the age of fifteen. He had arrived with the railroad and a fourteen year old wife. Nowadays in his eighties he still lives locally.
The estancia only hosts a handful of guests
With just three guestrooms, the estancia only hosts a maximum of eight guests at any one time. The two courtyard guestrooms are decorated with natural fabrics and weathered wood.
The bathrooms –the latest improvement – are large with elegant fixtures and would not be out of place in a five-star hotel. Each improvement is treasured – it’s not easy to make a living out of tourism this remotely.
The family room (sleeps 4) is complete with turned wood bedframes.
Traditional country fare
Los Platanos offers traditional estancia-style meals –abundant, fresh, and tasty– lovingly prepared by Marina, ably assisted by the rest of the family. Breakfast always includes fresh home-made bread or pastries – a touch which I regret to inform is unusual in Uruguayan establishments.
Marina, who speaks good English, offers classes in typical Uruguayan country cookingfor adults and children. Rainy days call for breadmaking.
Experiencing the real life of an estancia
There’s plenty of time for relaxing and horse-riding at Los Platanos. But if you want a taste of rural estancia life, the family welcomes you to get involved in the daily work of the farm.
You need to throw away your watch for a while. If the pressing task of the day is to treat a cow with an injuredhoof, then first you’ll help Andres catch the full-grown beastie out in the field. Bring her in to the coral. Lasso her in order to lay her down. This is all before the treatment can begin.
Andres says, “We don’t invent work. If there’s nothing to do, then we’ll go out riding or trekking.”
Marina’s grandfather banned hunting on the estancia last century and the family still adheres to his wishes. So there’s an abundance of wildlife.
At dawn you can see lots of birds. Mid morning around 10am, the armadillos (mulitas) are out and about.
Mid afternoon down at the watering hole you may get to see otters sunning themselves. Otters in Uruguay are called lobitos del rio, which translates as little river wolves.
Close of day is probably the most interesting time of day to see wildlife at Los Platanos. Birds are returning to their nests. Other animals easy to spot around dusk includefoxes (zorros), nutria(a type of beaver), ñandú(the American ostrich), skunk (zorrillos), hurones (part of the ferret family) and opposum (comadrejas).
When is the best time to visit Los Platanos
Take into account the seasons. Spring from late August till late November is exuberant. The meadows are in full bloom. Chicks are hatching. You will be at in the birth of lambs and calves.
Autumn is “serene” – there is little wind and you can be out till late with temperatures hovering in the mid 70s (23-24 °C) during the day and pleasantly cool at night.
Summer can average the high 90s (36 °C) and reach the 100s (40-42 °C). From mid morning till four in the afternoon it’s too hot to do much. All you can do is read a book under a tree or head to the waterhole.
[Note: Uruguay is in the southern hemisphere so seasonal references are the opposite of the North. See my article on the best time to visit Uruguay for a complete explanation of when each season is in Uruguay]
What is the length of an ideal stay
The family recomments a minimum three-night stay. This will give you the opportunity of
a full half-day riding on the sierra
a day experiencing working on the estancia with the animals
a day to relax and enjoy the serenity of the countryside.
This video is in Spanish but gives you a good idea of what there is to experience.
What you need to know about Los Platanos
Los Platanos are eco-leaders on TripAdvisor and were off the grid until just two weeks ago! However they are still planning to make full use of their solar panels and to be self-sufficient as much as they can be. Like anywhere in the countryside, internet connectivity can be spotty. Some days the connection can be great, other days not so good. Don’t plan to go to the campo if you have an online deadline.
Great value. The cost per person per day for room, all meals and all activities is 120 USD.
All inclusive or not all inclusive? The family recommends that you book all-inclusive. Why? So whatever is going on you can jump in and take part. They have a policy, if poor weather limits what you can do, of waiving the all-inclusive charge.
Full board, half board or bed and breakfast? The nearest town is Cerro Chato, a twenty minute drive away. Cerro Chato has a curious history (it was the first place where women voted in South America) but restaurants are not its strong point. You’ll eat much better at Los Platanos.
Flexible mealtimes. The family will adjust mealtimes to what you’re used to. In fact as country people they are very happy to host Europeans and North Americans who go to bed reasonable hours!
Zero mosquitos. I was surprised to see no fans, AC or mosquito nets. Here we are on the sierras and relatively high up. This means – unless the summer has been really rainy– virtually no insects. Very unusual for the Uruguayan countryside.
How to get to Estancia Los Platanos
Estancia Los Platanos is close to the town of Valentines on Ruta 7. It is 3-3.5 hours drive from Montevideo. Driving in the countryside requires extra care. Ruta 7 particularly after Illescas is poor, has a few unexpected curves and lots of potholes.
Driving Coming from the centre of Montevideo, the simplest route is to take Ruta 5 to Florida, then Ruta 56 to Ruta 7. Drive along Ruta 7 till the 234 km marker. The entrance to the estancia is right at that marker.
Driving from the east of Montevideo and the airport, the most direct route is to take Ruta 101 to Ruta 8 till Ruta 11 to Ruta 7.
Bus There are five buses each day to Valentines from the central terminal in Montevideo, Tres Cruces. Check out the bus timetable for buses to Cerro Chato. Most bus drivers know the estancia and will know where to drop you off on the highway. Marina or Andres will drive down to pick you up from the road.
Airport Have Andres pick you up at the airport in the family’s roomy 4×4. As he knows the highway like the back of his hand, he will get you safely to Los Platanos in an astonishing two hours. For up to 4 people, the cost is 100 USD one way – an absolute bargain.
Contact Los Platanos
The Estancia Los Platanos website is currently only in Spanish. Marina and the girls speak English and Andres can get along with anyone regardless of language!