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?
69 thoughts on “7 Best Things To Do In Uruguay”
I’ve never been but I want to go. South America appeals to me but Uruguay even more so.
Never been, but I’d love to pair up some of the tannat wine with a great asado!
One of my high school friends Marcel was from Uruguay. I never realised it had such beautiful beaches though! Worth a visit for those beaches alone (and the seals. I love seals!) 🙂
Those beaches are absolutely gorgeous! I can just imagine pulling together a picnic (with the local wine of course!) and heading there for the day!
It is a beautiful country, you should!
That’s what I call doing it right 🙂
It is one of those countries that leave you somehow speechless. I did not know what to expect, I only knew I wanted to go. I had close to zero expectations and I fell in love with it!
Ooooor, you can do what I did: have breakfast, head to the beach, spend all day being lazy in the sun, interacting with dogs, swimming a bit, reading a bit, falling asleep, then when it is time to go, pass by a small bar and see that they do 2 for 1 caipirinhas and suggest your friend to have some. Sun, relax and alcohol, and I was good to go! But shhhhh don’t tell anybody! 😉
I really loved my time at Colonia de Sacramento, it’s such a nice colonial town plus it’s right next to a beautiful beach, I loved it there 😀
Your rambla selfie reminds me of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Never heard anybody rave about Uruguyan beaches before, steaks yes. So thanks for showing me another side to the country.
I am from Sardinia, so I am hardly impressed when it comes to beaches and sea. Punta del Diablo is definitely different to what I am used to. But the beach gave me the feeling of something a bit wild, out of the world. It was VERY clean, the water clean too. All those dogs running about, so happy. I just had such a great time there, so relaxed. I would just love to go again. The perfect place to relax 🙂
It took me a while to actually get that the sea is not actual sea – it is the Rio de la Plata!!!
You are so correct. I recently started planning a trip to Latin America and I totally did not even consider Uruguay. I can see that was a mistake. Thanks for the recommendations.
Next time 🙂 that’s why we have bloggers around, to tell us about amazing places!
I’ve never really thought of going to Uruguay before but this has changed my mind – it looks like a really vibrant place.
Wow, this was so cool! I’m really attracted to places that aren’t quite “famous” and Uruguay is a big one on the list for me! I’m glad to have learned these things. A 40 day carnival?! That’s crazy!
See? You have to go!
Uruguay sounds like my kind of country. This is a great little guide! I’ve been told before how good their steak and red wines are. Sounds perfect to me.
We spent some time in Uruguay a few years ago. It is a very underrated country. Lovely people and very easy to travel in.
Steaks, wine, countryside, amazing beaches and relaxed people. What more do you want? 🙂
Indeed. Wifi on ALL buses! It was hilarious, I met other travellers who looked forward to their bus ride to catch up on emails and whatsapp!
Beautiful country and wonderful people. I lived there for 2 years, while serving a Mormon mission around 15 years ago. From Montevideo to Punte Del Este to San Jose to Melo, I’ve experienced it. The Asados are truly incredible! Futbol (soccer) is so big throughout the country, I enjoyed playing a lot with kids on the streets or in a field. Atlantida & Piriapolis are also both unique and beautiful beach towns between Montevideo and Punte Del Este. I look forward to going back and visiting lifelong friends that I’ve, fortunately, been able to reconnect with on Facebook.
Ah, the magic of facebook. Yes, there are so many things to do in Uruguay, that one never gets tired. I, for sure, want to go again – possibly when all my Uruguayan friends are also there!!
Hi Claudia – As you know, Uruguay is on our Top 5 list of future destinations. Thank you for writing this inspiring post which only heightened my anticipation!
Yes! There are so many places to visit in Uruguay – as you read! But make sure you don’t miss Punta del Diablo 🙂
I’m currently researching places in South America and Central America that I want to visit during my travels. Uruguay is definitely on the list as I continue to hear so many great things about the place.
Also, I’m loving the dancing in the street! 🙂
There are so many things to do in Uruguay, that you definitely HAVE TO GO there!!
You are right that Uruguay is widely overlooked but that makes it better for those that know the wealth of adventure and appeal that lays in wait for anyone who visits this little country.
And there are soooo many things to do in Uruguay for the rest of us who go there 🙂
I had no idea Carnivale was a big thing in Uruguay, though I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Do you have any baseline for comparison of the Uruguay experience versus Brazil or elsewhere in South America? Which one would you recommend checking out first?
Unfortunately I don’t. I haven’t been to Rio yet!
I’ve been to Buenos Aires various times and always feel sorry that somehow I’ve never had the chance to visit Colonia which is basically just across the bay … one day I will definitely make it over there…
I’ve heard Uraguay is the hidden gem of South America, looks like you discovered that for yourself!
It’s one hour away! There are just too many things to do in Uruguay, to miss it!
And I want to go again 🙂
This is such a great list. I am sure you had so much fun discovering all this places. Uruguay is calling!
I did, there are so many things to do in Uruguay that I did not have time to be bored 🙂
Uruguay is my top for the South America countries bucket list. I love all the beauty and culture it offers. I hope my husband and i will make it there over the next year and see it before it is overly commercialized. From what I read, it is one of the top 15 destinations to visit this year and know that it will just get less authentic shortly. Thanks for the great post. Some fun things there.
Lots of things to do in Uruguay. Yes, make sure you visit ASAP!
I ll go to Uruguay this next month. Nice place
That’s great! I am sure you will love it there!
I am actually from Uruguay. I normally only go to the towns of my family when I visit. I decided this upcoming trip I would like to explore more and I stumbled on to your blog. I am so proud of my country and can’t wait to explore these gems.
You have every right to be proud, it is an incredible place! I was glad to have the chance to visit, and I really wish to go back 🙂
You have quite a travel blog here and are super well travelled. It looks like I might be heading back to S. America, and I think I should stop in Uruguay so I was looking through all your suggestions. Doesn’t seem as adrenaline rushed as Peru, but I think i will at minimum head over there from Buenos Aires. Thanks. You left a comment on my blog about my elephant experience, and I’m quite impressed by your blog
You’d be surprised, actually! I was mostly relaxing there, but it is full of adrenaline if you care for it. As long as you don’t ride elephants!!
Awesome blog first of all!
I have more of a general question:
How long did you stay in each country during your trip through South America?
Thanks a lot,
Hi Lara, thank you for your comment. I have been to South America multiple times, and each time the duration I visited a country varied. For example, the first time I visited Peru I only stayed for 2 weeks, the second time I stayed for a month. I spent a month in Colombia and I can assure you it is not enough!!
I am from Uruguay! 😀
I only want to say thanks for doing this post, it is really amazing know what people thinks about us and about the places in Uruguay!
And it helps me to remember we have some really good places! I never been in Colonia del Sacramento, but I probably should.
The first time I went to Valizas was when I was 9 months old, with my parents and my twin sister. My parents loved the place and bought a little house there, and since 1999 we usually going there for holidays.
I went to Cabo Polonio 4 or 5 times too, but I hiked almost all the times.
I don´t know if you noticed, but sometimes you can see “toninas” (a type of delphin) from Cabo Polonio or Valizas.
Anyway, thanks again! And I hope you come back sometime! 😀
Hola Natalia, gracias por tu comentario! Uruguay me encanta, y me gustaria regresar. Y si todavia no has ido, hay que visitar Colonia: es super hermosa!
Hi guys, if you come to Punta del Este and want to take a tour to see properties, we’d love to show you around.
Focus Properties Uruguay.
I want to go!! But I am not going to Uruguay any time soon, I haven’t planned that at least 🙁 how can we do that?
I love your blog! I am doing a school project on Uruguay. What would you recommend as the most kid friendly things to do?
Malia Eliza Koch
I am really not sure Malia – I don’t have kids so I wouldn’t know. I assume with all the things to do in Uruguay, you won’t have a hard time planning activities 🙂
Hi Claudia! I loved your post about Uruguay. I am planning a trip soon and found your list very inspiring and useful! Would you have any specific addresses / tips for the estancias? Thanks! Stéphanie
Hi Stephanie, I am glad you found my post useful. I think the first thing to do when looking for an estancia is setting your budget. Also consider what activities you are interested in – hiking, horse riding, learning how to cook traditional meals, eating, drinking wine… Let me know if you need more help in looking for one that is suitable to your needs!
Just planning another trip to Uruguay and found your post, Claudia! Great to see you had a good time there. So far, I’ve only been to Montevideo and Colonia, but was planning to visit only Punta del Este on this next trip. But I may just add Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo, as well, given their relatively short distance. Cheers!
Pedro, by all means do go to Punta del Diablo. Such a chilled place – I am sure you will love it!
Hi, I would love some tips on good estancias to stay that offer authentic gaucho experiences
The best way to go about it is via a booking engine: this way, you can read reviews and check they have everything you need!
Uruguay is THE BEST! I totally agree with getting lost in Cabo Polonio – spent a week there and it was my favorite part of my year in South America. Incase anyone is going soon and needs details about how to prepare.
Hola! I’m visiting uruguayan beaches in some days, I was wondering what is more convenient? To stay in Punta del Diablo only and visit the rest of the coast, or to go and stay in hostels for the different towns of beaches?
My idea is to visit Pta del Diablo, Barra de Valizas, La Pedrera, Punta del Este and Montevideo.
What do you recommend?
I’d stay in Punta del Diablo, then move to Punta del Este and finally Montevideo!
and go to Cabo Polonio! great article – I have to say visiting the national park in cabo polonio was my favorite part of Uruguay. Everyone who loves nature should do it + there is bioluminescence in the water at night there.
Great Article Claudia. I’m also heading to Uruguay after a year-log backpacking trip in South America, after reading your article, can’t wait to come there 🙂
You will love it!
were there lots of seals or just a few