There are many more things to do in Uruguay than meets the eye, travelers are in for a treat.
Compared to the rest of the Spanish speaking countries in South America, Uruguay is tiny and often wrongly ignored by travelers. The common misconception is that there aren’t many places to visit in Uruguay. However, all those who travel to Uruguay will fall in love with the country, and end up wondering why they did not consider visiting sooner and staying longer as there are so many things to do in Uruguay.
I certainly did. I arrived in Uruguay at the very end of a long backpacking trip that took me from Mexico and Guatemala all the way down to Chile and Argentina. I was tired and just needed a place to relax and rest my sore backpacker’s bones. My back hurt from carrying around a backpack full of memories and (well, yes!) bottles I picked along the way. For as tired as I was, I enjoyed my time there, relaxing at some amazing Uruguay beaches, and finding some incredible things to do in Uruguay.
Read more about Argentina on my post “Great things to do in Argentina.”
I could not wait to board the flight that would have taken me back to Sardinia. I did not expect much from this small country, although some Uruguayan friends told me that Uruguay beaches were some of the best in South America.
Uruguay is locked between Argentina and Brazil, yet unbelievably different. Uruguay tourist attractions are varied, although the country is yet untouched by mass tourism. Most visitors are Argentinian and Brazilian vacationers who travel to Uruguay to enjoy its beaches between December and February. By the beginning of March, most of the traffic is gone, the beaches are quiet, and you will be able to enjoy peace and quiet.
There are many places to visit in Uruguay, and I could have easily spent weeks exploring the coast and its interior. But I had very limited time. So, the following destinations and activities gave me a good feel of the country and allowed me to leave with some great memories. So, here is my list of the best Uruguay tourist attractions and must dos.
Things to do in Montevideo: a walk on the rambla
7 Incredible Things To Do In Uruguay
Dance, eat asado and support your favorite team in the lively Montevideo
The capital city of Uruguay, Montevideo, is also the biggest city in the country, with roughly 1.3 million inhabitants. It is a place of contrasts, where the modern offices of downtown sit next to the old buildings of the historic centre (such as in Plaza Indipendencia).
There are many things to do in Montevideo, but while there, I definitely did not skip a visit to the Mercado del Puerto, where I could gorge on a great “asado” (barbecue). Since I happened to be in town on a Saturday afternoon, I took a walk along the Rambla – Montevideo’s waterfront: this is where I got to spot the locals sipping “mate”, a bitter tea made of dried and chopped up yerba leaves.
Eating a good asado at Mercado del Puerto: one of the things to do in Montevideo – courtesy of flickr.com
Tango lovers may be glad to find out that among Montevideo attractions, there are a number of good milongas: the city holds the title of “birthplace of tango” as much as Buenos Aires, and both cities have been granted the UNESCO title of intangible cultural heritage for holding the roots of tango.
Tango in the streets of Montevideo – one of the things to do in Montevideo – courtesy of www.tangocity.com
Also, I found out that Uruguay has the longest Carnaval of South America, lasting a full 40 days. One of the best things to do in Montevideo is experiencing the Desfile de las Llamadas – an all night long parade accompanied by the drumming of candombe, an instrument brought to Uruguay by African slaves in the 18th century. Carnaval is so big in the country that there even is a Museo del Carnaval. There even are packaged tours that offer dinner, tango and candombe all in one day.
Make sure to read my post “25 Cool Things To Do In Montevideo.”
These are some of the best tours and activities in Montevideo:
And these are some of the best places to stay in Montevideo:
Attending the Carnaval is one of the most fun things to do in Uruguay – photo courtesy of Jimmy Baikovicius (flickr)
One amazing, fully south-american thing I managed to do in Montevideo is go support my team at a “futból” match at Estadio Centenario. Football is the national sport here, and it is taken very seriously, so I was prepared to support my team of choice. This was a full local experience, and perhaps one of the best things to do in Uruguay.
Things to do in Montevideo: support your football team – courtesy of Dante Pribaz
Drink up some Tannat
Yup, the word has got out that Uruguay has some great wines! Wine has been produced in the country for over 250 years – an inheritance of the Italian, Spanish and French settlers who brought vines from their homeland.
But only recently Uruguayan wines have become more well-known. About one hour north of Montevideo, mostly between Canelones and San José, the wine region is home to some great “bodegas”, wineries that offer some of the best wines of South America. Nothing better to accompany my asado, right?
Here are some of the best wine tours in Uruguay:
Colonia del Sacramento – one of Uruguay tourist attractions
Visit the picturesque Colonia del Sacramento
If there is a place to visit in Uruguay, this is Colonia del Sacramento – perhaps Uruguay top tourist attraction. Many visit Colonia on day trips from Buenos Aires, but I actually preferred a couple of nights to fully enjoy this lazy small city.
Check out my post “10 Fantastic Day Trips From Buenos Aires.”
It is possible to get there via a 3 hours bus ride from the Tres Cruces terminal in Montevideo. However, I was coming from Argentina, so I opted for a ferry. Colonia Express and Buque bus both have a regular ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia that takes about one hour to cross the Rio de la Plata.
The Barrio Histórico of Colonia del Sacramento has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. A simple walking tour of Colonia, a pretty town founded by Portugues colonisers in 1680 allowed me to breathe in its history and charme, and if my breath was taken away by the heat, I could rest under the shade of the sycamore trees.
These are some of the best tours of Colonia del Sacramento:
I strolled along the cobbled streets of the centre, such as Calle de los Suspiros, where the bouganvillea bushes pop out from colorful and beautifully kept colonial houses. For a nice view over the mighty Rio de la Plata I walked up the lighthouse located near the Plaza Mayor.
Vintage car lovers will be able to spot many ‘50s cars parked at the side of the street. At sunset, there is nothing better than sipping a cold Pilsen beer while admiring the sunset over the Rio de la Plata. Finally, I concluded my day with a tasty dinner (“rabas”, or fried calamari, are delicious here) in one of the cozy restaurants around the Plaza Mayor.
Travel to Uruguay – via a vintage car?
It’s easy to find a good place to stay in Colonia del Sacramento, although it may get crowded at weekends and in the summer when lots of people arrive on day trips from Argentina. I stayed at Posada Las Barrancas, a bit outside the centre. It is a lovely brand new hostel, with clean dorms, good beds, a fully equipped kitchen and good wifi.
These are some of the best hotels in Colonia del Sacramento:
For more information about Colonia, check out my post “15 Great Things To Do In Colonia Del Sacramento Uruguay.”
Relax, surf and hike in Punta del Diablo
In terms of Uruguay beaches, nothing can beat Punta del Diablo, in the region of Rocha, and visiting this beach is one of the things to do in Uruguay that I loved the most. A 5 hours bus ride from Montevideo, this village is a world apart.
This used to be (and to a great extent still is) a fishing village, where no more than 1000 people live in the winter months. But in recent years it has become increasingly popular among Uruguay tourist attractions. Holiday cottages and hostels have sprouted, but thankfully the coast has remained untouched. Punta del Diablo keeps being one of the best beaches in Uruguay, with its sand dunes and the fishermen still going by their usual business.
Uruguay beaches? Punta del Diablo!
The top thing to do in Punta del Diablo is being lazy under the sun. It simply is the perfect place to relax, go for a walk at sunset, enjoy the sea breeze, breathe in the clean air. The beach is large, sandy and clean. There are plenty of friendly dogs running about, and they often decided to befriend me. In my case, they even liked to pose for pictures too. If I felt more active I went to rent surf boards or horses. There are some good waves to be surfed.
Punta del Diablo – among the best beaches in Uruguay
I like hiking, so I went to the beautiful Parque Nacional Santa Teresa, which is about 35 km south of the Brazilian border, is guarded by the Uruguayan army and can be easily reached from Punta del Diablo. Once I got off the bus, I headed to the waterfront and then go North. In about half hour, I reached Playa Grande, a long sandy beach that leads to the southern limits of Parque Nacional Canta Teresa.
There is a natural reserve that hosts various species of animals, a camping ground, and the Fort of Santa Teresa, built by the Portuguese and the Spaniards between 1762 and 1793.
Punta del Diablo is quiet at night. I headed to the waterfront for a walk and some live music. That’s also where most restaurants are. My favorite is Resto Pub 70, in Avenida de los Pescadores, right in front of the police station: owned by an Italian family, they prepared home made pasta with a variety of sauces. The choices are limited, but the pasta delicious and the recipes authentic (they passed the Italian-picky-eater test, so you can be sure). Which reminds me that eating is one of the yummiest things to do in Uruguay.
I like star gazing, and I soon realised I was in for a treat: there hardly is any light at night, which makes Punta del Diablo perfect to stare at the sky in search of my good star.
There are many cabañas, charming hotels and budget hostels in Punta del Diablo. December to February are busy months and one may have to book well in advance. March is definitely quieter. I opted for Compay Hostel, a cool surfers spot. The wooden building has a good kitchen, lovely outer areas full of cozy couches and hammocks, spotless common bathrooms and good wifi. The owners also run a twin hostel in La Pedrera, Uruguay, another great beach popular with artists, surfers and families and one in Montevideo.
These are the best accommodation options in Punta del Diablo:
Punta del Diablo – Rocha: one of the best Uruguay beaches
Act VIP like in Punta del Este
Completely different from Punta del Diablo, Punta del Este is THE place to visit in Uruguay to feel like a real socialite. Punta del Este has some of the best beaches in Uruguay, and it is where people go not only to lay in the sun, but also to peek at the glamorous people wandering about.
It is perhaps the most expensive destination in the country, and is in fact considered to be the “Hamptons of South America”, Punta del Este is a favorite destinations of celebrities, packed with stylish hotels and restaurants, exclusive clubs, and a yatch harbor. Visiting Punta del Este is for sure one of the things to do in Uruguay.
These are the best tours of Punta del Este:
And these are the best places to stay in Punta del Este:
One of the coolest things to do in Uruguay is visiting Punta del Este. The Hand is it’s symbol
Get lost in Cabo Polonio
A world apart from Punta del Este, Cabo Polonio may well be the wildest spot in the country, and never disappoints visitors. Sure enough, visiting is one of the top things to do in Uruguay. A protected region since 2009, it is hard to reach: I had to catch a bus that then left me on Ruta 10, from where I had to hop on a 4×4 that will took me across the sand dunes. The other option would have been to hike the 7 km there, but I forgot to carry plenty of water with me so I did not. An alternative is that of joining a guided tour.
Read more about why I recommend taking a guided tour at times on this post.
A colony of sea lions populate Cabo Polonio, but they are not the only residents. From August to October it is also possible to spot austral whales. There are a few shacks and wooden houses scattered alone the shoreline. However, most don’t have electricity or running water. This makes Cabo Polonio the perfect place to escape modern life and return to nature, and a must when it comes to the things to do in Uruguay!
Visiting Cabo Polonio is a must for those who travel to Uruguay
Cabo Polonio can be visited on a day trip from the nearby Barra de Valizas (a bit over 4 hours by bus from Montevideo), from where one can enjoy a 12 km walk along the beach, on a wild path that follows the ocean line.
Learn the skills of a gaucho
Uruguayans love the thought of a cowboy riding off into the sunset: it speaks of a time when life was simpler, when gauchos could lead cattle on the vast open plains of the country, helping create one of the greatest industries that would help it become one of the most prosperous states of South America. Riding horses, anywhere in the country, is surely one of the coolest things to do in Uruguay.
Things to do in Uruguay: learn some gaucho skills – courtesy of Carlo Alcaraz Pribaz
Among Uruguay tourist attractions, there is the possibility of spending some time in a “estancia”, a ranch where guests can stay in old farmhouses, ride horses and learn new skills such as cattle herding. Estancias are mostly in the interior of Uruguay, giving visitors a chance to get away from the more well known coastal regions.
These are the best estancia experiences in Uruguay:
Things to do in Uruguay: visit an estancia – courtesy of Carlo Alcaraz Pribaz
Now that I know the main Uruguay tourist attractions, I think I should hurry up, before everybody discovers them!
Have you been here? Do you have your own list of things to do in Uruguay? Let me know in the comments below!
If you need assistance in creating your personalized itinerary in Uruguay or care to know about more things to do in Uruguay, you can contact me in private through the contact form.
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Best beaches in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords of Cala Domestica
Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sartiglia in Oristano – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia
Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sant’Efisio parade of traditional Sardinia costumes – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia
Where to go in Sardinia: Roman ruins and lighthouse in Nora
Visit Sardinia: Su Nuraxi – Barumini
At the heart of the Mediterranean, Sardinia will make you feel like you are a world apart from the rest of the world. Here you can switch off from your daily routine, without having to cross an ocean; you can enjoy lush nature, incredible beaches, wild mountains, tasty food and a secular cultural traditions. The good news is that although it is almost mythologically described as a place for a few rich people, it can actually be visited on a budget and there are so many things to do in Sardinia that you could spend a year without ever getting bored.
Here are a few simple rules for your low budget holidays. For more ideas on things to do in Sardinia, check my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia”.
Do book your flight in advance, making sure you catch one during the week (avoid weekends) and playing around with the dates (be flexible). This way you can even catch a round trip ticket for less than €50. There are three airports: Alghero, Cagliari and Olbia, all a great starting point for a tour of the island. Most budget airlines have fights to Sardinia from a number of cities in Italy and Europe.
Do use public transport: it links the main cities, villages and tourist destinations. While a bit slow, it is cheap enough, and once you get to your destination you can walk, rent a bike, or participate in organised tours that offer pick up services. For information on bus and train schedules visit the pages of ARST and Trenitalia.
Do consider a car rental. A splurge if travelling alone or as a couple, but if there is a few of you it may actually turn out cheap and you will have the opportunity to roam around independently. Most well known agencies have stands at the airport and are quite convenient. But book in advance to catch special deals.
Do book your accommodation early. Most cities have budget places and all tourist destinations provide camping sites. Rooms are easy to find in the low season, but during the summer, when Sardinia is at its peak season, it may be harder to get cheap accommodation. Camping sites are good options if you can carry your tent, and they often have bungalows for rent.
If travelling in a group, do consider holiday home rentals: prices are surprisingly cheap and estate agencies and apartments can be easily found online. Considering you will have your own kitchen, your budget will benefit in the end.
Do enjoy your days at some of the best beaches in Sardinia, which all have free access: carry your umbrella, towel and plenty of sunblock and relax for free.
Do go on a boat tour: some of Sardinia best beaches, especially in the Golfo di Orosei or La Maddalena, can only reached this way. Although not too cheap it is completely worth it. Do book a day or two in advance!
Best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Luna
Do go on a free trekking: hiking is one of the best ways to visit Sardinia. There is a gorgeous path to Cala Goloritzé leaving from the Altipiano del Golgo; a well signaled hike to Cala Domestica; a roughly 2 hours walk from Cala Fuili to Cala Luna; or try any of the trails in Isola dell’Asinara.
Do enjoy free festivals and cultural events. If you are searching for what to do in Sardinia and feeling in the mood for some cultural activity, you will be glad to know that on first of May Cagliari hosts the spectacular “parata di Sant’Efisio”: people from villages all over Sardinia, wearing their traditional dresses, go on a march in honour of the Saint patron of the island (Sant’Efisio). In February, the beautiful Sartiglia takes place in Oristano: men (and women) wearing traditional carnival costumes gallop down a street mounded with sand as fast as they can and attempt skewering a hanging star using their foil – pure adrenaline.
If you are a jazz and nature lover, don’t miss Time in Jazz in Berchidda, patroned by trumpet player and native Paolo Fresu. Picture a whole week of jazz, across a number of villages in the area, with open air concerts (free to attend) and the possibility to stay in camping sites. This is only one of the many jazz festivals here: listening to live quality music is one of the things to do in Sardinia.
Do enjoy nightlife in Cagliari: locals go out no earlier than 10 pm. You can either walk around Largo Carlo Felice, or, for some fresh air, Libarium, in Castello, which has a great terrace and view of the city; or Caffè degli Spiriti or De Candia in the Bastione – the lattest occasionally have some live concerts: look for local bands such as Sikitikis for real fun. Cocktails cost between € 7 and 9, wine and beer are cheaper (around 3 or 4 euros).
Do enjoy a romantic dinner at Quintilio, right outside Alghero, and admire the great view of the city, the bay and Capo Caccia. Sunset is the best time to go. Do book in advance to seat outside.
Do try traditional Sardinian food: piglet on the spit, malloreddus (small gnocchi), mussles soup, fregola (a sort of cous cous made with seafood), pecorino cheese, seadas (sweet fried pastries filled with cheese and topped with honey)… There is a lot of variety.
Don’t miss Isola dell’Asinara, originally a fishing community, later on a criminal colony, a peasant colony and leprosy centre, and a maximum security jail; it was finally turned into a National Park in 1997. Should you not have much time to sleep on the only hostel in the island (highly recommended!), book a guided tour on a jeep. This will allow you to visit the sites of historical and natural importance, such as the historic jail of Cala d’Oliva and of Fornelli, and some of the best beaches in Sardinia, such as Cala Sabina, Cala Trabuccato and Cala d’Arena. You can also go on one of the many hikes (free and well signaled) or opt for a bike tour.
Where to go in Sardinia? Asinara, for sure!
Donkeys are the only inhabitants of Asinara, together with boars, cats, goats…
Don’t miss a sunset walk on the beautiful bastion overlooking the sea in Alghero. The same goes for Cagliari and its lovely bastion or the Poetto beach: they are gorgeous at sunset. You can’t visit Sardinia and miss a sunset here!
Don’t think Sardinia is only beautiful in the summer. It is just as nice in the winter, although weather in Sardinia can be brutal in the winter months. But of course summer is the best season to enjoy the beaches.
Don’t litter: all beaches have bins for garbage and if they don’t, carry your garbage back with your and throw where appropriate.
Don’t forget to try “gelato artigianale”: ice-cream made from scratch. Tip to know it is the real thing: it melts really fast!
Don’t miss a sip of mirto or fil’e ferru: the first one is a strong liquor made of myrtle berries. The second is more like a grappa. They are very much Sardinian!
Don’t miss the archeological sites such as the beautiful roman ruins of Nora, are easy to access from Cagliari, or the many “nuraghe” which are unique to Sardinia such as that of Barumini. Take lots of pictures!
Don’t miss some off the beaten path places, such as Is Aruttas beach, with its incredible white tiny pebbles; S’Archittu, with a rock formation in the shape of an arch, Masua Pan di Zucchero, Buggerru and Cala Domestica, and Porto Pino, famous for its sand dunes.
Sardinia best beaches: Masua Pan di Zucchero
Don’t be afraid to communicate with Sardinians, as they are very friendly. They may not all speak English, but they will always help out.
Don’t forget to read my other posts on Sardinia for more information and to ask me if you have any more questions!
Things to do in Sardinia: admiring a pink flamingo eating in the Stagno di Molentargius
Basilica di Bonaria
What to see in Cagliari:
If you are thinking of where to go in Sardinia, think Cagliari. Not only it is a great place to begin your visit, but also a perfect starting point for many more things to do in Sardinia. Once here, if you took the ferry you will land directly at the harbour near Via Roma, which is the main centre of town. If you took one of the cheap flights to Sardinia, catch the train to the city centre (Piazza Matteotti)– it takes no longer than 7 minutes. You can then reach Via Roma and start a walk that will take you through the picturesque neighborhood of La Marina, and then eventually lead you to the Bastione di S. Remy.
Visiting Cagliari is one of the things to do in Sardinia: here, Bastione di San Remy
It is a bastion, a fort built at the end of the 19th century on the old walls of the city (dating the beginning of the 14th century), in order to link the neighborhoods of La Marina and Villanova with the one of Castello, above. Walking up the stairs of the Bastione, take a look at the spectacular view over the Golfo degli Angeli. Right in front of you, you will see the Sella del Diavolo, a cape at the south of the city that separates the beaches of Poetto and Calamosca. The legend says that demons, headed by Lucifer, were impressed by the beauty of the gulf and attempted to conquer it.
However, God sent its army, under the lead of archangel Michael, in order to fight Lucifer. In the battle, Lucifer was unsaddled and lost his saddle which landed on the water and turned into stone, thus giving the cape its saddle shape. Another legend says that Lucifer, during the fight, fell on the cape giving it its shape. Right next to the Sella del Diavolo there is Sant’Elia Stadium, historic stadium of Cagliari Football Club and currently being renovated. On the left, you can see Molentargius pond which is a colony for pink flamingos. If you want to take a look from above, go to Monte Urpinu. Otherwise, take a walk in the Parco di Molentargius to see them up close.
Going up some more stairs from the Bastione, you can enter the neighborhood of Castello, and see the Cathedral and the Palazzo Vice Regio, till you reach the San Pancrazio Tower, built during the Pisan domination of the island. The view from up there is spectacular. You can then visit the nearby Museo Archeologico di Cagliari and, exiting Castello, go towards the Roman anfitheatre, of imperial times, which could host up to 10000 spectators and were the main shows were those of gladiators. Going back, walk along the Ghetto degli Ebrei admiring the view of the roofs of Stampace and the Elephants’ Tower.
Other sites of interest include the Basilica di Bonaria, the lighthouse of Sant’Elia (which you can reach through a free hike offering an incredible view over the Poetto beach), the necropolis of Tuvixeddu and the Castle of San Michele.
If you would like taking part in a guided walking tour of Cagliari, Musement has day and night tours in English, French, German and Spanish and takes you to some of the most important attractions. It also organises guided treks and kayak tours to the Devils’ Saddle.
Cagliari is a good starting point for many more things to do in Sardinia. One excursion could be that to the Castle of Siniscola. If you are interested in a unique archeological site (a must see when you visit Sardinia) go to the nuraxis village of Barumini, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ruins of Nora, near Pula, are impressive. Other day trips could be to the beautiful beaches of Santa Margherita, Chia, Tuerredda and Cala Cipolla. If you would like a wine tasting experience, go to Cantine Argiolas in Serdiana, where you can also visit the Romanic 11th century church of Santa Maria di Sibiola, fully immersed in the countryside. There are more Romanic countryside churches near Monastir and near Sestu.
Where to stay, eat and have a drink:
For a relaxing walk and an aperitif right before sunset, walk along the Poetto beach. It is easily reached by bus and there are many bars where you can have a drink and enjoy the cool breeze coming from the sea. If you can afford a taxi, go to La Paillote, at the top of Calamosca beach: it is a beautiful lounge bar with a view over a tiny beach and the harbour.
Poetto beach Cagliari: sunset view
There are restaurants and accommodation for all budgets and taste. Fussy travellers can opt for the modern and comfortable T Hotel, which also has a good restaurant and is right in front of the beautiful Parco della Musica. For something in between, there are many bed and breakfast in the city centre. If you are on a budget, opt for Hostel Marina, beds in dorm of 4 to 6 beds are €22 per night: it is right in the heart of the city and near all attractions, restaurants and bars.
Craving seafood at lunchtime? Go to the fish market (Mercato di San Benedetto, in Piazza San Benedetto) and have freshly fried calamari, fish and shrimps for a few euros. For an excellent pizza (and pasta, meat and desserts!) go to L’Oca Bianca. Nearby, La Stella Marina di Montecristo in via Sardegna 140 offers an excellent seafood menu for no more than € 22 per person – including appetizers, pasta, seafood, fruit, dessert and wine and spirits. It is very popular among the locals, including Gigi Riva (former player of Cagliari who led the team to win the championship). If you can, book in advance. In the streets of the city centre you can also find many kebab places, pizzerias, and ice cream parlours.
Nightlife is lively – but locals tend to go out no earlier than 10 pm. The heart of the movida is around Largo Carlo Felice. Libarium, in Castello, has a great terrace and view of the city; Caffè degli Spiriti or De Candia in the Bastione are lovely. A cocktail normally costs between € 7 and 9, wine and beer are cheaper (around 4 or 5 euros).
Enjoying a drink at Caffè degli Spiriti
Here’s my post about the best beaches in Sardinia. Also, check out my Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.