Uruguay is yet to be explored by mass tourism. Even though it is a popular destination for Argentinians and Brazilians seeking paradisiac beaches from December to February, this tiny South American country is full of hidden gems.
Colonia del Sacramento
To start off, Colonia is on the riverside. The historic and the neighbouring commercial centre occupy a small peninsular that advances on the La Plata River. The first thing to do in Colonia is walking around the charming alleys and appreciate its cute historical houses. The Old Town, historic centre, has a walled promenade facing west, and which never floods, the Paseo San Gabriel.
There are several ruins to explore during your walk through the centre. Some of the points of interest include the City Portal (Puerta de la Ciudadela), the Convent of San Francisco, the Mother Church and the Casa del Virrey. After walking, choose one of the restaurants or cafés scattered around the central square (Plaza Mayor). From there, visit one of the most photographed corners of the tourist village, Calle de Los Suspiros.
One of the highlights in Colonia is to go up to El Faro, the lighthouse, which was completely rebuilt in 1920. Today, the National Historical Museum is established there. From the top, you have a 360 view of the La Plata Bay.
Halfway between Colonia del Sacramento and Punta del Este is Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay with roughly 1.3 million inhabitants. Let’s start by talking through Ciudad Vieja, the centre of Montevideo. There are several tourist attractions, such as Plaza Independencia and Teatro Solis, where you can do guided tours.
A walk along La Rambla is mandatory. Make sure to observe the locals sipping their “mate”, typical South American bitter tea made of dried yerba leaves. Speaking of beverages, it is unlikely that wine comes to mind when talking about Uruguay. But, one hour north of Montevideo, in Canelones, the Tannat wine will change your mind. This special grape is the main ingredient of the Uruguayan wine, which is served at the “Bodegas”.
The Montevideo boardwalk is worth a stroll, watching the buildings and the sand. Pocitos is one of the most famous beaches in the region as well as a great spot for accommodation. Punta Carretas and Playa Carrasco are some alternative beaches in the city. Be sure to enjoy the sunset in any of them. It’s beautiful!
Finally, a must in your Montevideo itinerary is a visit to the Mercado del Puerto. This is where you will have the best chance to try the traditional “assado”, the local barbecue.
Punta del Este
Punta del Este is the most famous city in Uruguay due to its glamour and beach resorts. It is always crowded in the summer and on the hottest days meaning it is a popular destination with higher prices in high season. Its name describes the exact situation of the place: a peninsula on the eastern edge of Uruguay.
There are two very long beaches, one on each side of the peninsula. Playa Mansa, with calm waters, is bathed by the La Plata River. Because it is quieter and more sheltered, it is perfect for those travelling with children. On the other hand, Playa Brava is in the open sea and is very popular with surfers. In general, the water is cold and cloudy, with the bluest side being that of Playa Mansa, which is also the most suitable for watching the sunset.
Continuing through Mansa towards Montevideo you arrive at Punta Ballena, where the famous Casapueblo is located. On the opposite side, continuing through Playa Brava there is the Maldonado River with its wavy bridge, La Barra. There are the most hidden beaches (Playa de la Posta, for example) and the most fervent ones (Montoya, Bikini), in addition to the coolest clubs and bars.
Given its small dimension, it is easy to travel in Uruguay. Located 180 km west of Montevideo (110 km on a duplicated road) and a boat trip from Buenos Aires, Colonia is the perfect pit-stop between Montevideo and Buenos Aires. By bus, the journey takes around 2:30h. Although, Buenos Aires is closer, and the boat crossing is done in 1h. The choice of transport depends on the amount of time, the rhythm and the style of travel each person has. When in Colonia, your feet will be your main way of transport and the city can be explored in a day or two.
Upon arrival in Montevideo, renting a car or using taxis and uber might be an ideal choice since public transport is not the best. Even though it is relatively safe, Montevideo can be a bit expensive and to get to know the city, 4 days is more than enough.
From Montevideo to Punta del Este it is possible to rent a car and travel 145 km in about a 1:30h. The other option is to go to the Montevideo bus station (Terminal Tres Cruces) and take a bus, which takes 2:30h. Once in Punta del Este bus station, depending on the time and location of your hotel, you can continue on foot. The bus station is just a few meters from the tourist centre, where most of the hotels on the peninsula are located.
Thank you for reading.