Nestled between two giants, Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is an original destination that promises you authentic experiences. It must be said that the European influences of the capital Montevideo fade as one approaches the rural traditions of the pampas . Culturally refined, blessed with beautiful beaches and marvelous nature reserves, the country is full of places to visit.
As soon as you turn your back on the ocean, the countryside opens the doors of the gauchos to you , these herdsmen in black hats riding their mounts elegantly. In terms of entertainment, Uruguayans like to share their passion for theatre, football and tango. Food lovers will not be left out: their gargantuan beef parilladas have nothing to envy to Argentinian or Brazilian meats. Wines are tasted throughout the country and maté – the national drink – is generously shared.
Wondering what to see and what to do on a trip to Uruguay? Here is a selection of the most beautiful places not to be missed!
The bustling and cosmopolitan capital of Uruguay is actually the country’s only major city. It extends along the Río de la Plata and faces Buenos Aires. Less popular than its Argentinian neighbor, Montevideo seduces for its many facets and its picturesque sites.
Discover its rich historical past by strolling through the Ciudad Vieja (old town). Admire Italian, Spanish and Art Deco architectural influences. From Plaza Independencia, be amazed by the twenty-six floors of the imposing Palacio Salvo . Erected in 1927, it was then the tallest building in South America!
Peckish ? See you at the Mercado del Puerto ! The port area is very lively. You can sit down in one of the many bars and restaurants, to taste the grilled specialties or enjoy the street shows. The very long rambla promises you a gentle stroll punctuated by beautiful sunny beaches. Montevideo will also seduce you with its period theaters and tango bars.
2. Colonia del Sacramento
From Montevideo, travel two hundred kilometers west and you will reach Colonia del Sacramento , a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Time seems to have stood still since 1680, when this city was founded by the Portuguese governor of Rio de Janeiro.
Small cobbled streets lined with colonial houses, pretty tree-lined squares: the Barrio Histórico is a delight. How good it is to stroll through the oldest city in the country, discovering its eight historical museums! Despite its success, Colonia remains authentic and essential in Uruguay.
3. Punta del Este
Change of atmosphere in the most upscale (and popular) seaside resort in the country: Punta del Este . Here, the luxurious resorts adjoin the white sand beaches. People come here to savor delicious seafood, experience the pleasures of water sports, party or simply relax. Out of season, nature is more present and you can enjoy another facet of this bubbling coastal city.
Punta del Este is also the starting point to get to the outskirts of the Gorriti and Los Lobos islands.
4. Isla de Lobos
Reachable in forty minutes by boat from Punta del Este, Isla de Lobos includes one of the largest colonies of sea lions in the world. The hot springs favor the reproduction of this exceptional fauna which inhabits the island. From your boat, be sure to admire the maritime lighthouse. Built in the 19th century, it still works and lights up every five seconds to guide sailors.
With its fifty-nine meters high, it is the tallest lighthouse in all of South America!
5. Cape Polonio
If you want to live a different experience, far from the classic tourist infrastructures, you will not be disappointed by Cabo Polonio . This small fishing village, accessible only on foot or by 4×4, is located in the middle of the dunes, along a deep blue sea. In this haven of peace in the heart of nature, there is no road and only a hundred souls live there all year round. The village takes its name from a ship that was shipwrecked in 1735: the Polonio.
With its lighthouse perched above the rocks, its makeshift huts and its sea lions, Cabo Polonio attracts lovers of calm and space. The sunset on the beach located to the south is magical. At night, take the time to look up: without public lighting, you will observe thousands of stars and the Milky Way. During your nocturnal stroll, dip your feet in the water so that the bioluminescent plankton lights up!
Its promenade backed by small hills makes Piriápolis a charming seaside resort reminiscent of Mediterranean towns. Unusual buildings, such as the Castillo de Piria or the huge Argentino Hotel are to be visited, in this city built from scratch for Uruguayan aristocrats. Its beaches are ideal for a moment of relaxation during your trip, while the surrounding countryside features the highest peaks in the country.
To enjoy a magnificent view of the bay, go to Cerro San Antonio. Accessible by chairlift or by road, it culminates at a height of one hundred and thirty meters and offers a beautiful panorama over the bay, the city and the port of Piriápolis.
7. Quebrada de los cuervos
Off the beaten track, the Quebrada de los Cuervos nature reserve is a perfect place for lovers of fauna and flora. A remote canyon meanders through a rolling landscape. A wide variety of plants and birds call it home. You can discover them thanks to two beautiful marked and easy hikes, one of which leads to a pretty waterfall, the Cascada de Olivera.
Founded in the 18th century, the town of Salto deserves a visit to its rich historical centre. Start by admiring the Casa del Gobierno, discover the Sitio del Ayui, enter the San Juan Bautista Cathedral. Then head to the Costanera, a beautiful promenade along the Río Uruguay that will take you to the beaches bordering the river. A few kilometers further, unwind in spas, such as Dayman, with natural hot water pools conducive to relaxation.
Uruguay is also the land of the gauchos , cattle herders in boots and hats. The hilly countryside of Tacuarembo lends itself perfectly to discovering the traditions of this culture.
The Patria Gaucha festival is dedicated to them every year, at the beginning of March. During your stay, don’t miss the free visit to the Museum del Indio y del Gaucho, which presents a collection of typical accessories of rural life. As you stroll through the narrow streets lined with sycamores and the charming squares of the city, it would not be surprising if you hear the tunes of tango: for the Uruguayan population, Tacuarembo is the city of Carlos Gardel, undisputed master of the famous genre. musical.
10. Point of the Devil
In the northeast of the country, on the edge of Brazil, Punta del Diablo attracts tourists for its beaches, seafood shacks and adjacent national park. Renting a surfboard to tackle the waves is a must do .
The Parque Nacional Santa Teresa can be reached in an hour on foot… or on horseback, a much more fun option! Run by the military, this park offers uncrowded beaches among eucalyptus and pine forests. It also houses an imposing fortress, the construction of which dates back to 1762. In the evening, the sunset and the improvised campfires are the charm of Punta del Diablo.
Note : The place has become very popular with Uruguayan and Argentinian families, avoid the first half of January if you do not want to be invaded by a flood of holidaymakers.
On the east bank of the Uruguay River, Paysandú is a historic city. Founded in the 18th century for the herdsmen of the Jesuit mission of Yapeyú, it gradually became an important center of meat processing, so famous in the country.
It is pleasant to stroll in its alleys planted with palm trees, to visit its old cemetery, its theater, its basilica. The best time to discover Paysandú is undoubtedly during its carnival or during the beer festival, during Holy Week. The festivities are an opportunity to enjoy the folklore of the region or to taste the Nortena, the local beer.
12. Punta Ballena
On the Uruguayan coast, very close to Punta del Este, the tip of Punta Ballena is a paradise for nature lovers. Located in the department of Maldonado, the place takes its name from its shape of a whale. Large Argentine fortunes own vacation homes there. In addition to its coastline, people come to Punta Ballena to visit the Casapueblo, the architectural complex of the Uruguayan artist Carlos Paéz Vilaró.