FIRST-TIME visitors are often taken aback by how flat the South American country is. Much of its topography features rolling plains that rarely rise above 650 feet.

And yet, despite a distinct lack of mountains, sport climbing is a growing activity in Uruguay once people realize it's possible.

''When I came here, I didn't climb because I didn't know they had rock faces - I thought it was totally flat,'' said Lorena Prado, an Argentine who thought she would have to give up her passion when first arriving in Uruguay.

But now she makes regular trips to the Cerro Arequita hill just outside the city of Minas, around a two-hour drive from the capital Montevideo.

''When I discovered Cerro Arequita, it was my favorite place in Uruguay,'' added Prado, who works in IT systems.

While the options are limited, there is an indoor climbing venue in Uruguay that caters mostly to bouldering - climbing without safety equipment in a gymnasium with thick crash mats on the floor and walls that rarely get above 15 feet high.

The Montevideo Bouldering Club is run by three friends, including Venezuelan born Pablo Veloso. His parents ate Uruguayan, so five years ago he took advantage of his dual-nationality to escape Venezuela economic meltdown and study in Montevideo.

''Climbing called me more than academia : it's a radical change of life. Then I got together with some friends to open a gym because it's something that once you start, you can't stop,'' he said.

While Uruguay has little climbing culture, and only a handful of clubs, Veloso believes there are a lot of untapped rock faces out there waiting to be discovered.

''Like many countries in Latin America, Uruguay is a country that has the possibility to develop climbing because it has a lot of rock faces and a lot of hills with potential such as Arequita, which is the closest hill and the ones where there's been the most work to service sport climbing,'' he said. [AFP]


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