South America is full of countries that offer adventure, celebrations, and stunning views. However, most people tend to visit larger countries like Brazil and Argentina while completely skipping over some of the smaller ones. Despite living in the shadow of these countries, Uruguay has just as much to offer. The country’s capital, Montevideo, has everything you could want from a bustling metropolis. If you expand your view and travel beyond the cities, you’ll find vast fields and gorgeous beaches. You can discover wildlife in their natural habitat and make some memories with the friendly locals.
If you’re visiting Uruguay to get away from the world, there is no better place than the eastern coasts of Rocha. As you approach the coast, the tarmac road gives way to gravel and dirt, and the beach’s dunes begin to stretch into the horizon. Though its most popular beach, Punta del Diablo, is often crowded during tourist season, the rest of the area is a loner’s paradise. Sleepy villages, hidden lagoons, and rocky outcrops line the landscape of this peaceful oasis.
While the rest of Rocha is a land of solitude, thousands of tourists flock to Punta del Diablo every year. Most of the visitors to this village are surfers looking to ride the area’s world-famous waves. Others may be backpackers looking for a bit of excitement. Grab a board and surf swelling waves during the day and fall asleep in a tent as the ocean serenades you at night.
Glistening like salt in the sun, Casapueblo is a pure white villa that descends nine stories down a massive cliffside. This whimsical villa is the work of Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. Visitors can tour several rooms and watch a short film about Vilaró’s life and art. There is a bar, restaurant, and hotel nearby so you can unwind after the tour. Whether you’re a fan of Vilaró’s art or just of unique architecture, this gorgeous villa will become a memorable experience.
One of the best reasons to visit any country is to take a break from your normal life and relax. When it comes to relaxation, the waters of Salto’s hot springs are legendary. These hot springs, known as termas, use water from the Guaraní Aquifer, which has high mineral content and reaches perfect hot springs temperatures of almost 115 F. Visit the hot springs and explore the region’s many other spa options.
There’s no doubt that Uruguay’s beautiful beaches and famous restaurants make it one of the best getaway locations for couples. If you are visiting with your partner, you need to stop by Montevideo’s Fuente de los Candados. This stone fountain would be an ordinary piece of local architecture if it weren’t for the hundreds of padlocks covering its railing. Now, the fountain is a symbol of enduring love, where you can leave a lock with you and your partner’s initials to protect your relationship.
When visiting somewhere new, one of the most fun ways to experience local culture is to check out their markets. Montevideo’s many markets are full of everything, from traditional artwork to local foods. Sunday’s colorful Feria de Tristán Narvaja offers a variety of books, clothing, jewelry, and even live animals. Meanwhile, local artisans and craftspeople offer their handmade crafts and art at the Mercado de los Artesanos, making it the perfect place to pick up a memento for your trip.
Just as Australia has the Sydney Opera House, Uruguay has its legendary theater, the Teatro Solís. This historic performance space has an elegant design with swooping canopies, towering pillars, and elliptical interiors that pull heavily from Italian architecture. This theater has launched the careers of many Uruguayan actors, musicians, and singers and still attracts performers from all over the world. Whether you choose to stop in for a tour or to see a performance, don’t miss this illustrious building.
Punta del Este has beautiful golden beaches and perfect blue waves, but the true attraction is Mario Irarrázabal’s massive hand sculpture. As you stand next to the towering fingers, you get the feeling that some hidden giant is trying to lift you into the sky above. Thousands of visitors flock to the sands of Playa Brava every year to see the fingers. Pose for some photos as you climb and leap off of the iron and cement digits.
For around six months every year, the waters off the coast of Uruguay become the breeding grounds of Atlantic southern right whales. Both Punta Colorada and Punta Negra have some of the best spots for seeing the majestic creatures. Once you find a good location, look for circling seabirds to find the whales frolicking in the water below. The nearby town of Piriápolis often has guides who can take tourists to some of the more lively whale spots.
Uruguay is not a particularly mountainous country, though it does have its share of incredible peaks. Cerro Arequita is a majestic mountain that sits in the middle of a beautiful and vast landscape. You can hike through the fabled Ombú forest or trek through an underground cave to discover the thousands of bats that call it home. If you do decide to scale Arequita, you’ll find one of the most breathtaking sights the world can offer.
One of the most interesting places in Uruguay is the Puente Laguna Garzón. After years of hearings and negotiations, an architecture company found a way to build a bridge that satisfied the needs of the communities while respecting the sensitive laws that protected the area. Instead of a straight line, this architectural marvel is a perfect circle and among the most unique bridges in the world. It also has an observation deck and a fishing pier for a unique experience.
In the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, many South American countries celebrate a variation of Carnaval. Uruguay is no exception and has its fair share of exciting festivities, including massive parades, street attractions, and even musical theater competitions. Montevideo is particularly famous for its weeks of celebration that reach their climax on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Some of the events even have some African influences, with dance troupes performing to the rhythms of large drums.