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The Magical Island

Pablo Etchevers Pablo Etchevers

Martín García Island is a magical island. Under Argentinian jurisdiction at present, but lying only 3.5 kilometers away from the Uruguayan shores, its nature and history make this place totally worth a visit.

Visit to Martín García Island (Argentina)

For a while, the jurisdiction over the island was shared by both countries. A treaty signed between them in 1973 established the island as Argentinian territory. But hundreds of Uruguayans visit it regularly at weekends due to the history and nature it shelters and due to some details that have made this place famous, such as the panettones baked at the old island bakery. All through history, much has been said about Martín García Island and about its proximity to Uruguay.

But what are the attractions on Martín García? A theater and cinema, an old prison, a small museum, an ancient lighthouse, trails that still preserve untouched nature, the political history of the region, as well as the most delicious panettones are the usual answers given by anyone who has already been there.

Visit to Martín García Island (Argentina)

Beautiful and Lonely

Martín García Island is strategically located on the Río de la Plata in the mouth of the sandy Uruguay River. Even if it belongs to the Republic of Argentina, it lies closer to Uruguay than to the port of Tigre, in Argentina, which lies 35 kilometers away across the river.

It was discovered in February, 1516, by Juan Díaz de Solís, who came across the fresh waters of the Río de la Plata while searching for a passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Feeling quite disappointed to see such a large sea with low concentrations of salts, it was not surprising that Solís should refer to it as the “Mar Dulce” (Sea of Fresh Waters) and it was during these explorations that the island was found. One of the most beloved members of the crew died during this expedition coming from the high seas. As a tribute to him, the newly found island was called “Martín García”.

Visit to Martín García Island (Argentina)

The island is a rocky detachment of the Pre-Cambrian fold from the Brasilia Massif and it is 1,800 million years old. Its origin is different from the rest of the delta islands, which were formed by the accumulation of sediments dragged by the Paraná and Uruguay River.

It lies 27 meters above sea level and is humid enough to shelter extraordinary vegetation. The rainforest has the shape of a gallery and it is dwelled by the typical wildlife of the littoral area.

Like a Lighthouse Overlooking the River

The island has always been in the same place, immutable. But, unlike these days, when it may be reached on private boats in a matter of minutes, years ago, it took not hours but days, several of them, to reach it.

Visit to Martín García Island (Argentina)

In colonial times, the place was ideal to hold the most dangerous prisoners from the Cities of Montevideo and neighboring Buenos Aires. No one could escape this place, as in this area the Río de la Plata is brave, intolerant and extremely wide, and the Uruguay empties its waters into it with such fury that it is impossible to swim across it. Maybe that is the reason why the ancient prison was the first thing to come to mind whenever the island was mentioned in the past.

The prisoners used to work in the granite quarries (today flooded by a beautiful lagoon teeming with aquatic pants) and to dump the production of cobblestone into large carts that would reach the island pier through a system of reels, so that the rocks would be loaded into the boats.

These first cobblestones gave origin to the streets located in the area known today as the historical shell of Montevideo, both in the port lanes and in the old city markets.

Visit to Martín García Island (Argentina)

Martín García witnessed countless battles in the river over the strategic domination of these waters. It watched Almirant Brown flee towards Montevideo and then saw him invite the Spanish troops to sink in the place known as Bajos del Temor (Feared Shallow Waters). It delayed the crew of the Graff Spee battleship. It worked as leprosarium and quarantine port during the cholera and yellow fever epidemics that hit Montevideo and Buenos Aires and saw poet Rubén Dario walk about its streets, amongst many other remarkable facts.

Accordingly, when visiting the Cities of Colonia del Sacramento, Carmelo or Nueva Palmira, an excursion to this island is mandatory.

Visit to Martín García Island (Argentina)
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Bear in mind

There are regular river services leaving from the Cities of Colonia del Sacramento, Carmelo, Nueva Palmira and the port of Tigre (Argentina) which take visitors down to the island. However, if you wish to visit this place on your own, Martín García features a huge pier to moor sport watercrafts, a very common custom during the summertime. Visitors must bear updated passport or the corresponding Uruguayan identification card.

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