On the Atlantic Ocean, Uruguay is The beach holiday destination for Argentinians and Brazilians and all is happening there. Out of 3 million inhabitants, 2 million are in Montevideo its capital. Therefore the countryside has not much to offer unless you fancy life as a gaucho cowboy in “una estencia” (a ranch) for your time away.
Uruguay is rather a “new country” and this is not really a place for culture, history and gastronomy as yet. Not much is known about the first nomadic people who lived there before the Spanish settlement in 1516. Instead the country is known for enjoying the moment of life, the time in your hands to explore and appreciate the nature and an unconventional and peaceful atmosphere. So if you curious and want to venture in the quietest parts of Uruguay, here are some recommendations on what to do and where to stay to avoid the crowd.
It is not only about Beaches.
True. Uruguay is a booming beach destination with a dozen of beaches, if not more, on the coast line. Some are prettier and quieter than others but they all have a different feel to it. If you are travelling with family, if you are a surfer, hippy, romantic, fisherman you will find what you need. However, Uruguay has also some great walks and places to visit. Here is where.
From Piriapolis to Punta Del Este.
Definitely more modern, up-market and busier to some other places being so close from Montevideo, Piriapolis is a better choice to Punta Del Este to stop for the night and start your journey. A drive on the coastline is the best way to encounter all the unspoilt beaches along the coast and enjoy a swim at San Francisco, Colorado and Punta Negra beaches.
While in Piriapolis, put your trainers on and walk up to the Cerro del Torro’s view point. There is a trail (quite steep) behind the Toro’s fountain and the view up there is pretty awesome.
Reach Punta Del Este, an overdeveloped seaside area, for a couple of hours and take a photo at the iconic monument “The hand” on the beach.
We stay in Piriapolis camping and hitchhike back and forth to Punta Del Este.
From La Paloma to Barra de Valizas.
A stop in La Paloma is a must for its sunset by the lighthouse and its famous local sweet “Los Rellenos” (churros with dulce de leche) but for an overnight stay definitely go the extra mile to La Pedrera. It is a little hamlet with a nice relaxing vibe to it and gorgeous long golden sand beaches. From there Make your way to Barra de Valizas, a hippy village near the self-contained and stunning village of Cabo Polonio.
There are no roads to access Cabo Polonio.
- With the crowd │ Reach this complete isolated place with a bus along the Ruta 10. It will drop you off at an outpost where 4×4 trucks will wait for you to offer you a lift
- On Budget │ The greatest way to get Cabo Polonio is to walk along the rolling sand dunes. This is an easy 2h walk, including a stop at the view point “Cerro de la Buena Vista”. From Barra de Valizas (near the tourist information), cross the river with a fisherman boat, it costs $U25 pp to get across and you can’t do otherwise (swim across) unless there are no strong currents.
From Agua Dulces to Santa Teresa National Park.
You can reach Agua Dulces, a more authentic place, from Barra de Valizas on foot (8km) or by road. From there head to Punta Del Diablo. It is a wide spread village with 3 beaches in a shape of the devil’s trident (hence the name). La Viuda Beach, exposed to the wind is a great place for surfing. La playa del Rivero, a fisherman beach near the centre and bars. La Playa Grande, a superb long sanded beach on the edge of Santa Teresa National Park.
Hire a bike ($U280) for 3-4H to wonder in this pretty National Park and enjoy the wildlife and beaches. You can also camp there if you wish but bear in mind the place is quiet remote. One or two supermarkets are nearby.
Definitely spend two days in the capital. The atmosphere is really relaxed. There are “two centres”. The new and modern one with shopping malls, modern buildings on the Eastern side. The old historical centre with rustic buildings, streets art, some restaurant, shops and museums. Have a drink at one of the many coffee places and try lunch at the Puerto Mercado. A lively indoor market place with restaurants serving fresh local foods (only open in the day time). If you are visiting early in the year don’t miss the Guru’Guay carnival, the world’s longest carnival starting January thru early March.
Colonia Del Sacramento.
Probably the most picturesque town of Uruguay designated by UNESCO as a world heritage. It displays a unique Portuguese & Spanish cultural mix and post-colonial architectural style. Home to bucolic architecture, trendy coffee shops, restaurants, museums & galleries and a Harbour, there is a lot to do and see for a day or two.
Crossing the border from Salto to Concordia (Argentina)
Hopping to cross the border in Salto we hoped on a bus to Mercedes and stay for the night before heading to Salto (further north) and Concordia in Argentina. Mercedes is a very pleasant town on the river Rio. You can make a nice stop here for couple of hours or the night. Salto instead is known for its waterparks and Hot Springs. The town has nothing else to offer. Arriving early afternoon you can enjoy these facilities before going to Argentina or making your way back to Montevideo or Tacuarembó.
What itinerary is best ?
By plane | You should arrive in 1. Montevideo. 2. Colonia 3. Montevideo 4. Piriapolis 5. La Pedrera 6. Barra de Valizas 7. Punto Diable 8. Montevideo.
By road | Best to cross the border in Frey Bentos. Then follow 1. Mercedes 2. Colonia 3. Montevideo 4. Piriapolis 5. La Pedrera 6. Barra de Valizas 7. Punto Diable 8. Montevideo or Brazil.
One of the most expensive country in South America.
Despite being a bohemian like place, prices are like in westernised countries if not more. Over 10 years the country has tremendously developed and so have its prices. What costs you $U70 ten years ago in a campsite is now $U250. Here is what the country can cost you at glance.
Average spent a Day for 2 people
For Transport. Mostly buses .
For Camping with our own tent. and couple of nights in dorms.
For food. Eating light at lunchtime and cooking our own food in the evenings.
Average spent per day for 2 backpackers.
Bienvenidos a Uruguay.
You have not experienced the Uruguayan culture if you have not try the mate.
Try the Uruguay’s signature wine, Tannat.
The quality/price of the bus network is good. New, clean with Wi-Fi coaches. You don’t really need a would car to travel on the coastline. Off the tourist track ? A car is a must.
Hitchhiking is pretty challenging in the centre of the country. On the coastline. Be patient if you are more than 1. Cars are loaded.
Take cash. US Dollars or Uruguay Pesos. Uruguay bank system has a anti-laundry money policies in place. Not all foreign cards are accepted and withdrawing money is limited to $U5000 at the time.
Don’t be alarmed but the sea water is mostly brown.