Arriving in Uruguay, I was convinced that this had to be South America's best-kept secret.
That morning, I had left the Argentinian hustle of tango-crazy Buenos Aires to make the half-hour flight across the River Plate. The difference on the eastern side of the world's widest river was immediately apparent.
The orderly queue at passport control was dealt with efficiently at the small, if plainly decorated, airport. A taxi was easy to find, my driver was friendly, and the published tariff of fares was comforting for a traveller fed on tales of southern dangers. The clear September air added springtime sparkle to the bays and beaches as we drove along the coast towards the centre of Montevideo.
Montevideo offers miles and miles of bays and sandy beaches.
Uruguay has a more laid-back thirst for life compared to its larger neighbours.
There is tango here, but the city approaches life with a more sedate air than its larger neighbour to the west. Admittedly, the taxi that I hailed from the city centre a couple of days later was not as efficient. The driver mistook the address after refusing to check the hotel on my map, thus doubling the distance and the cost. But if a couple of extra euros on a taxi fare was the worst to happen to me in South America, I wasn't going to complain too loudly.
The villa and gallery of artist Carlos Paez Vilaro at Punta Ballena is a dreamy affair.
Uruguay also displays an endearing eccentricity. As well as unexpected architectural curiosities in Montevideo itself, there are the creamy curves of the Casapueblo art gallery in nearby Punta Ballena, and the enormous 'hand in the sand' in the resort of Punta del Este.
Uruguayan eccentricity is embodied in La Mano en la Arena in Punta del Este.
Punta del Este is Uruguay's playground for the rich and famous.
The latter is Uruguay's playground for the rich and famous, and the meeting point of the River Plate and the Atlantic Ocean. Its combination of subtropical skies, myriad beaches, and quirky aesthetics makes Punta del Este an attractive spot for a touch of relaxation.
And that is my impression of Uruguay in a nutshell. If your thing is South American zest but with a pleasantly laid-back charm instead of an overpowering swagger, then Montevideo may well be right up your street.
But don't tell everyone. Let's keep it that way!
Bruce Marsland has been working and travelling as an English language professional since 1991. He is the author of the English language teaching handbook Lessons from Nothing (Cambridge University Press) and the founder of the writing company The text biz