Tiny in size, Uruguay is a country that is often overlooked as Brazil lays to the north and Argentina is to the south. The common misconception is that there aren’t many places to visit in Uruguay. Travel to Uruguay and you’ll fall in love with the country. You’ll end up wondering why you did not consider visiting sooner and staying longer as there are so many things to do in Uruguay.
3 Reasons to go
- Tango. Uruguay is the birthplace of tango. The most famous tango of all, La Cumparsita was written here in 1916 by Gerardo Matos Rodriguez and some experts claim that tango’s most famous crooner, Carlos Gardel, was born in the northern town of Tacuarembó.
- The people. Uruguayans are officially the nicest people on the planet. From sales clerks to fashion designers, waitresses to construction workers. Everywhere you go, you’ll notice people will greet you with smiling faces and helpful directions. Uruguayans are commonly laid-back, down-to-earth people.
- The unique mix. Where else can you find a South American destination that feels decidedly European, but with the sprawling, big-sky feeling of the American Midwest?
Destination A: Colonia
A charming town with strong Portuguese influence, Colonia sits just on the opposite side of the Rio de Plata from Buenos Aires. The old world charm is what attracts visitors here.
Destination B: Montevideo
The capital of Uruguay, Montevideo is a vibrant, eclectic place with a rich cultural life. It is a place where old and new world meet. Visitors here come to explore the capital and get a feel of Uruguayan culture.
Destination C: Punta del Este
Not only Uruguay’s premium beach resort but Argentina’s as well, Punta del Este is a strange mix of surfers, party animals celebrity spotters and curious tourists wondering why the others spend their holidays in such an overpriced madhouse during the summer. Come here in the winter and it’s the complete opposite.
Destination D: Punta del Diablo
Further north of Punta del Este are coastal fishing villages, tranquil and less populated. This area has a bohemian feel, a place that you’d find in the 1970’s. The essence of the charming balneario, known for its eclectic architecture and traditional artisan fishing industry, differs greatly from summer to winter.
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Day 1: Arriving in
The country’s largest airport and primary hub is Carrasco International Airport in the suburb of that name east of Montevideo. Many long-haul flights to Montevideo stop in Buenos Aires, Santiago, or São Paulo before going on. Therefore, many travellers choose to fly into Buenos Aires. If you’re arriving from Buenos Aires, it might be a good idea to start by arriving to Colonia by ferry on Buquebus for $226 Argentina Pesos ($25 USD).
Day 2: Historic Colonia
Colonia sits just on the other side of the Rio de la Plata. There you can get a taste of the coast over the Uruguay River, visit the old town that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A walk through this charming town founded by Portuguese colonizers in 1680 will give you a glimpse of its history and charm. Stroll along the cobbled streets like Calle de los Suspiros at the center of town, where the bougainvillea bushes pop out from colorful and beautifully kept colonial houses.
Continue on to Montevideo, which is the Capital city, by regional bus or car rental. You can get there via a 3-hour bus ride, arriving into Tres Cruces terminal in Montevideo.
Day 3-4: Montevideo
Montevideo is not a hard city to get along. A trip from Ciudad Vieja (old city) all the way to Carrasco along the coast will give you a nice overall view of the nicest side of the city. Pay a visit to Mercado del Puerto, where you can gorge on a great “Asado” (barbecue). If you happen to be in town on a Saturday afternoon, take a walk along the Montevideo’s waterfront the Rambla. This is where you will get to spot the locals sipping “mate”, a bitter tea made of dried and chopped up yerba leaves.
On your way down to Punta del Este, you might want to consider going east (more popular summer destination), or you might be interested in seeing the countryside.
At this time of the year, the “Sierras” (low, undulating hills) in provinces Minas and Lavalleja are particularly beautiful but don’t expect a developed tourism infrastructure there. A very nice spot is Villa Serrana. If you opt to this, then Punta del Este will be your final stop before returning home.
Day 5-6: Punta del Este and surrounding areas
In the summer, the Atlantic coast is unmissable but it’s unquestionably not the same in winter. Punta del Este might still be interesting in winter although it could feel somewhat deserted. In summer, it’s a whole other story, teeming with luxury, nightlife, and packed with people. It’s the place “to be seen” for regional celebrities as well. In Punta del Este check out the famous Los Dedos (the fingers) at the beach, which is near the main street. This place is a perfect photo op.
Close to Punta del Este you can find José Ignacio where you can get away from the noise without losing the luxury. Pack a picnic, lay out a blanket and watch the sunset here. Take a taxi or bus to Casapueblo in Punta Ballena. This stunning museum and hotel in a white-stucco castle that displays works by Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró—touted as South America’s Picasso and Gaudi.
Day 7: La Pedrera, Punta del Diablo, or Cabo Polonio
You should also check out smaller towns in Rocha like La Pedrera, Punta del Diablo, and Cabo Polonio. Mostly fisherman villages which became tourist destinations, all very rustic and bohemian. Cabo Polonio is a true beauty hidden among kilometers of sand dunes and only accessible through specialized trucks that get you there. Punta del Diablo is served by regular bus service to Chuy (the border with Brazil), Rocha (departmental capital), and Montevideo. From Montevideo there are three major companies COT, CYNSA and Rutas del Sol all around 500$ per person, take a bus headed to Chuy. During the summer, there is also seasonal service along the coast to La Paloma, La Pedrera, and Punta del Este.
Day 8: Make your way back home
Tips & advice
- Spanish is the primary language in Uruguay. You’ll find that not many people speak English.
- It’s good to note that water is safe to drink in all major cities.
- Although Uruguay has become The Netherlands of South America, it’s drug laws are completely different from that of the Netherlands, as there is more government regulation. Do note that non-Uruguayans aren’t allowed to partake in the drug recreation.
- The Uruguayan cuisine is typical for temperate countries, high in butter, fat, grains, and low on spice and salt. It is primarily Spanish with a very strong Italian influence (pizza and pasta) due to Uruguay’s long history of Italian immigration.
- Think Argentina and Chile are the only South American countries producing good wine? Uruguay is getting a strong reputation for producing good ones, too.
Valerie Fidan is the author and creator of Let’s Regale. In 2014, this yoga loving Californian and her husband sold their things, packed their bags to travel the world indefinitely, along with their two dogs. Valerie’s unique insights into the digital nomad life, provide a resource for Millennial travellers to help inspire and plan their next adventure. Follow her on:
Photo credit: Valerie Fidan