There are many more things to do in Uruguay than you’d imagine.
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, if you travel to Uruguay you will fall in love with the country, and regret not visiting sooner-
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 back hurt from carrying around a backpack full of memories and (well, yes!) bottles I picked along the way. I enjoyed my time there, relaxing at some amazing Uruguay beaches, and never running out of things to do.
While after such a long time away I could not wait to board my flight back to Sardinia, I soon fell in love with the country.
Uruguay is locked between Argentina and Brazil, yet unbelievably different from its more famous neighbors. Uruguay tourist attractions are varied; and the country is yet untouched by mass tourism. Most visitors are Argentinian and Brazilian vacationers who travel there to enjoy its beaches between December and February. By the beginning of March, most are gone, the beaches are quiet, and you will have the place to yourself.
Curious to find out more about this lovely country? Then continue reading!
Read more about Argentina on my post Great things to do in Argentina.
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. Don’t skip a visit to the 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 Rambla – Montevideo’s waterfront: this is where you get to spot the locals sipping “mate”, a bitter tea made of dried and chopped up yerba leaves.
Tango lovers may be glad to find out that there are a number of good milongas in Montevideo: the city holds the title of “birthplace of tango” as much as Buenos Aires, and while not many know this, both cities have been granted the UNESCO title of intangible cultural heritage for holding the roots of tango.
Uruguay also has the longest Carnaval of South America, lasting a full 40 days. If you are in town for that, you should definitely go to 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.
Make sure to read my post 25 Cool Things To Do In Montevideo.
For an all local experience, go support your team at a “futból” match at Estadio Centenario. Football is the national sport here, and it is taken very seriously, so be prepared!
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 your asado, right?
To taste wine, consider booking this Tannat wine experience in Canelones
Visit the picturesque Colonia del Sacramento
If there is a place you should not miss during your trip to Uruguay, this is Colonia del Sacramento. Many visit Colonia on day trips from Buenos Aires, but I recommend spending a couple of nights to fully enjoy this lazy small city.
Check out my post 10 Fantastic Day Trips From Buenos Aires.
You can get there via a 3 hours bus ride from the Tres Cruces terminal in Montevideo. If you are coming from Argentina, you can get the Colonia Express or Buque Bus ferry from Buenos Aires – both have regular departures and take about one hour to cross the Rio de la Plata.
You could consider joining this Colonia del Sacramento guided day trip from Montevideo.
The Barrio Histórico of Colonia del Sacramento has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The pretty town was founded by Portugues colonisers in 1680. A walking tour will help you breathe in its history and charme – if you visit in the summer and find it hot, you can look for shade under the sycamore trees.
Stroll along the cobbled streets of the center, 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, walk 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 view over the Rio de la Plata. Finally, end the day with a tasty dinner of “rabas”, or fried calamari, in one of the cozy restaurants around the Plaza Mayor.
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. A 5 hours bus ride from Montevideo, this small fishing village is a world apart.
No more than 1000 people live in the winter months. But in recent years it has become increasingly popular among locals (and Argentines). 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.
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. If you are feeling more active, you can rent surf boards or horses. There are some good waves to be surfed.
If you like hiking, go to the beautiful Parque Nacional Santa Teresa, which is about 35 km south of the Brazilian border. It is guarded by the Uruguayan army and can be easily reached from Punta del Diablo. Once you get off the bus, head to the waterfront and then go North. In about half hour, you will reach 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. You can go 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 prepare home made pasta with a variety of sauces. The choices are limited, but the pasta delicious and the recipes authentic.
There hardly is any light at night so Punta del Diablo is also a great place for star gazing!
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. It 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 other 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”, thus being a favorite destinations of celebrities. You will find stylish hotels and restaurants, exclusive clubs, and a yatch harbor.
For a day trip to Punta del Este from Montevideo, click here.
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 people who visit. A protected region since 2009, it is hard to reach: you have to catch a bus that will leave you on Ruta 10, from where you must hop on a 4×4 that will take you across the sand dunes. The other option would be to hike the 7 km there, but if you do so, make sure to take plenty of water. 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!
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 you 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.
Consider spending some time in a “estancia”, a ranch where you can stay in old farmhouses, ride horses and learn new skills such as cattle herding. Estancias are mostly in the interior of Uruguay, giving you a chance to get away from the more well known coastal regions.
Have you been to Uruguay? Can you recommend more things to do?