The top seven things to do in Uruguay



Compared to the rest of the Spanish speaking countries in South America, Uruguay is tiny and often wrongly ignored by travellers. 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.

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 destination 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.

7 things to do in Uruguay

1. Dance, eat asado and support your favourite 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.

things to do in Montevideo

Eating a good asado at Mercado del Puerto: one of the things to do in Montevideo – courtesy of flickr.com

Uruguay tourist attractions

Things to do in Montevideo: a walk on the rambla

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.

Uruguay tourist attractions

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.

Carnaval - one of the many Uruguay tourist attractions

Carnaval – one of the many Uruguay tourist attractions – courtesy of wikipedia

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

Things to do in Montevideo: support your football team – courtesy of Dante Pribaz

2. 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?

3. 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.

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 walk in this 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.

I strolled along the cobbled streets of the centre, such as Calle de los Suspiros, where the bougavinllea bushes pop out from colourful 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.

Colonia del Sacramento

Colonia del Sacramento – one of Uruguay tourist attractions

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?

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.

4. 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 touriust 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

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 seabreeze, 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

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 favourite 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).

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.

Travel to Uruguay

Punta del Diablo – Rocha: one of the best Uruguay beaches

5. 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 favourite destinations of celebrities, packed with stylish hotels and restaurants, exclusive clubs, and a yatch harbour.

Uruguay beaches

Uruguay beaches: the fingers of Punta del Este – courtesy of wikipedia.org

6. 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. 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!

Travel to Uruguay

Travel to Uruguay… to visit Cabo Polonio – courtesy of wp.clicrbs.com.br

 

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.

7. 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.

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.

Things to do 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 personalised itinerary in Uruguay you can contact me in private through the contact form.


 


You may also like

48 Comments

  • Bethaney - Flashpacker Family
    18 April 2015 at 13:18

    I’ve never been but I want to go. South America appeals to me but Uruguay even more so.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      18 April 2015 at 14:33

      It is a beautiful country, you should!

  • Michele TravelwithMrsT
    18 April 2015 at 13:21

    Never been, but I’d love to pair up some of the tannat wine with a great asado!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      18 April 2015 at 14:33

      That’s what I call doing it right 🙂

  • jess O'Neill (Meddows)
    18 April 2015 at 13:44

    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!) 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      18 April 2015 at 14:34

      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!

  • Vanessa
    18 April 2015 at 14:14

    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!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      18 April 2015 at 14:36

      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! 😉

  • Raphael Alexander Zoren
    18 April 2015 at 16:06

    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 😀

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      18 April 2015 at 18:40

      It took me a while to actually get that the sea is not actual sea – it is the Rio de la Plata!!!

  • Matthew Hirtes
    18 April 2015 at 18:04

    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.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      18 April 2015 at 18:39

      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 🙂

  • Travelwith2ofus
    18 April 2015 at 18:41

    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.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      18 April 2015 at 18:55

      Next time 🙂 that’s why we have bloggers around, to tell us about amazing places!

  • Sophie
    19 April 2015 at 13:06

    I’ve never really thought of going to Uruguay before but this has changed my mind – it looks like a really vibrant place.

  • Francesca @onegrloneworld
    20 April 2015 at 4:18

    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!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      20 April 2015 at 9:36

      See? You have to go!

  • Peter Parkorr
    20 April 2015 at 20:41

    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.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      24 April 2015 at 15:05

      Steaks, wine, countryside, amazing beaches and relaxed people. What more do you want? 🙂

  • Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
    24 April 2015 at 10:40

    We spent some time in Uruguay a few years ago. It is a very underrated country. Lovely people and very easy to travel in.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      24 April 2015 at 15:06

      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!

  • GenSki
    26 April 2015 at 7:07

    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.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      26 April 2015 at 9:12

      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!!

  • Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru
    27 April 2015 at 7:00

    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!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 April 2015 at 9:41

      Yes! There are so many places to visit in Uruguay – as you read! But make sure you don’t miss Punta del Diablo 🙂

  • Zascha
    30 April 2015 at 13:09

    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! 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      30 April 2015 at 13:17

      There are so many things to do in Uruguay, that you definitely HAVE TO GO there!!

  • Tim
    12 May 2015 at 22:46

    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.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      12 May 2015 at 22:56

      And there are soooo many things to do in Uruguay for the rest of us who go there 🙂

  • Stephen
    13 May 2015 at 5:04

    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?

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      13 May 2015 at 10:21

      Unfortunately I don’t. I haven’t been to Rio yet!

  • antonette - we12travel
    13 May 2015 at 20:10

    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…

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      14 May 2015 at 7:02

      It’s one hour away! There are just too many things to do in Uruguay, to miss it!

  • Brianna
    14 May 2015 at 0:18

    I’ve heard Uraguay is the hidden gem of South America, looks like you discovered that for yourself!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      14 May 2015 at 7:03

      And I want to go again 🙂

  • Laura @Travelocafe
    16 May 2015 at 17:14

    This is such a great list. I am sure you had so much fun discovering all this places. Uruguay is calling!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      16 May 2015 at 19:17

      I did, there are so many things to do in Uruguay that I did not have time to be bored 🙂

  • Melody Pittman
    17 May 2015 at 16:13

    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.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      17 May 2015 at 19:36

      Lots of things to do in Uruguay. Yes, make sure you visit ASAP!

  • Leo Beo bangkok ( facebook)
    22 December 2015 at 14:22

    I ll go to Uruguay this next month. Nice place

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      22 December 2015 at 14:25

      That’s great! I am sure you will love it there!

  • Elizabeth Cueva
    2 January 2016 at 6:01

    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.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      2 January 2016 at 10:53

      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 🙂

  • Rich
    15 April 2016 at 2:23

    Bravo Claudia
    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

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      15 April 2016 at 11:20

      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!!

  • Lara
    20 September 2016 at 23:59

    Hola Claudia,
    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,
    Lara <3

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      21 September 2016 at 7:44

      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!!

LEAVE A COMMENT

Who is Claudia?

Hello, nice to meet you!

Hello, nice to meet you!

Hi, my name is Claudia. One day I packed my life and started travelling... except I packed too much. Follow me as I fill my life with dreams, drop the weight and inspire you to live your dreams. Learn more about me here...

NEVER MISS ONE OF MY POSTS!

Destination Guides

Destination Guides

Follow Me

Need help planning your trip?

MEMBER OF

MEMBER OF

Facebook Fanpage

Travel Coach

Travel Coach