Uruguay just doesn’t get the same coverage as its giant neighbours. It doesn’t have the dramatic landscapes of the high Andes, the hanging glaciers of Patagonia or any city to equal Rio de Janeiro. So it’s too easily overlooked.
But Brazilians and Argentinians have long since flocked to Uruguay for vacations. And the backpacking scene is picking up too.
So rather than make a bee line for Argentina, we decided to explore Uruguay and give it a chance. And we’re so glad we did.
As we write this, we’re on our 3rd visit to Uruguay in less than 2 years. In total, we’ve spent almost 4 months here and it’s fair to say, we’ve fallen just a little bit in love with it.
Places to visit in Uruguay
If you’re venturing off the gringo trail, looking for more than the PanAm Highway, here are a few place to visit in Uruguay to put on your itinerary!
The nation’s capital and home to half of Uruguay’s population of not quite 4 million, Montevideo is buzzing in a calm, laid back kind of way.
Remnants of the city’s garrison can still be explored. With a past dominated by British, Spanish, Argentine, Portuguese and Brazilian rule, Montevideo now flourishes.
The oldest barrio in the city, Ciudad Vieja, spanning only a dozen or so blocks is filled with old world charm, if a little worn at the edges. Once gorgeous buildings now show their age, crumbling in parts, peeling paint and often broken windows.
A revival of the abandoned architecture is underway. Trendy bistros and modern stores occupy growing swathes of town while musicians and street performers entertain visitors and passers-by.
Walk the historic streets on a Sunday evening to a backing track of drums. Practicing for the world’s longest carnival celebrations, Condombe troupes keep this Uruguayan tradition alive.
A performance rooted in history, now a fusion of African slave music and European folk dance, this is unique to Uruguay.
No roads. No running water. No mains electricity. No wifi - well, hardly any usable wifi. A permanent population of less than 100 people and hundreds of seals.
Cabo Polonio is a strange place.
During winter, cut off from the road network and fighting to stay this way, the village sleeps. The only souls around are a handful of people who live here year round and a few hardcore whale watchers.
Undoubtedly, this is a time of year to experience the wild winds and hammering rains.
Despite being remote, and such a challenge to get here, Cabo Polonio is a popular tourist destination. By late spring, the population swells, prices soar and all 3 shops open for business.
We reached the village by trekking 8 kilometres across swatches of shifting sand dunes from nearby Barra de Valizas. The trek starts with a 60 second ferry journey across the mouth of a river.
Crossing steep dunes, the route leads to a high point - Cerro de la Buena Vista, from where you can Cabo Polonio in the distance.
Once in Cabo Polonio, time is no longer important. While away the hours on the beach, watch sea lions, surf, hang out in a hammock or wander through the untamed dunes.
The big attraction here is the lack of things to do. Completely break away from the trappings of modern day life and chill your beans in Uruguay’s off grid village.
While most tourists and visitors to Uruguay head for the capital or the Atlantic beaches, few venture further inland to the country’s interior. Yet they miss out.
We travelled from Punta del Diablo across the north of Uruguay to Salto, where we eventually crossed into Argentina.
This was a road trip to explore the Uruguay nature, take in the tranquility of the countryside and even do a little hiking.
We drove through gaucho country, where traditional homesteads are surrounded by huge herds of cattle.
Tacuarembó is the only town of any size and while nothing special on it’s own, is a perfect base to explore Carlos Gardel’s birthplace at Valle Eden and the ruins of the once prosperous gold mining corporations.
If want to find the authentic rural side of Uruguay, this is the route you need to follow.
Where to Stay in Uruguay
Accommodation options in Uruguay vary widely, depending on where you are.
Finding luxury hotels in Montevideo isn’t difficult but in Cabo Polonio, nigh on impossible.
For overlanders, Montevideo is more difficult but elsewhere, campsites and wild camping options are plentiful, even out of season.
Where to stay in Montevideo
You can walk pretty much everywhere in the city or use the regular public transport to get further afield.