From the historical charm of Montevideo to the sprawling rural countryside, from the sleepy beach villages to the exclusive coastal resorts, Uruguay is a small country with a whole lot on offer. Colonisation at the hands of both the Spanish and the Portuguese has left behind a European heritage and some lovely colonial architecture. Meanwhile, this proud nation has forged its own national identity, alive with cultural expression and set against a backdrop of sublime natural beauty.
Begin your visit in cosmopolitan Montevideo, Uruguay’s largest city and the national capital, which was built on the banks of the Rio de la Plata (River Plate). Explore the Ciudad Vieja (Old Town) and see its lovely colonial architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries. Head down to the waterfront and stroll along a park-lined promenade that passes through up-market neighbourhoods. Try to visit early in the year so you can join on one of the world’s longest carnival celebrations: it begins in late January and doesn’t end until early March.
In the heat of the summer, nothing beats a trip to the beach, and Uruguay has miles and miles of beckoning coastline. Make your way to the Rocha province and visit the laid-back beach towns of La Paloma and Punta del Diablo, much loved by bohemians, backpackers, and surfers. Meanwhile, Punta del Este is a top destination for watersports and nightlife, and celebrity-spotters will enjoy a trip to the exclusive Jose Ignacio.
On the west coast, you will find the charming town of Colonia del Sacramento. This settlement, the oldest in all of Uruguay, is home to centuries-old cobbled streets and museums housed in pastel-coloured houses. Tranquility is the prevailing tone over at the riverside town of Carmelo, while up north in Tacuarembo, you will have the opportunity to witness South America’s fabled gaucho (cowboy) culture up close.
Lovers of nature will find plenty to do in the Uruguayan countryside. Take a tour of the bodegas in the Canelones wine region, near Montevideo, or head out and ride through the Quebrada de los Cuervos (Gorge of the Crown) on horseback. The Santa Teresa National Park and other natural reserves are inhabited by rare and native birds, and on the Atlantic coast, between July and October, you just might spot some migrating southern right whales.
Thanks to a warm-temperate climate, Uruguay is pleasant to visit at any time throughout the year. A large intercity bus network covers most of the places you will want to visit in the country, but don’t rule out renting a car and taking to the roads independently. Uruguay is also known to be one of South America’s safest countries, although of course the usual precautions associated with foreign travel apply.