Things to do in Uruguay
Though a small country, there are plenty of things to do in Uruguay. There is a quaintness to Uruguay that visitors will fall in love with as they stroll around the country’s highlights. Travelers adore walking and lounging on the gorgeous white-sand beaches and touring the central plaza Independencia, where important structures such as Palacio Slavo and the Solis theatre stand. Beyond the city of Montevideo, visitors can learn about the gaucho culture and the Tannat wine that Uruguay is known for. Enjoy horseback riding and wine tasting, while conversing with some of the friendliest people in South America – the Uruguayans. There is no shortage of things to do in Uruguay.
I visit Uruguay every year on my summer holidays, and every time I go back there, I try to include visits to my favorite two places: Colonia and Montevideo. Colonia is located on the river/sea coastline and is a lovely old colonial town. Stay for half a day or multiple nights and visit the nearby wine region, famous for its Tannat wines. I also recommend watching the sunset in one of the bars facing the Rio de la Plata River and try a “picada” at “El Buen Suspiro”, the best place in town for local tapas. In Montevideo, I recommend spending time in the historical center, visit the Port’s Market and a walk around the Rambla, along the coast of the River, where you can ask a local to try their beloved “mate” tea, Uruguay’s most popular and traditional drink.
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Best Things to Do in Uruguay:
Tour Montevideo & The City’s Surroundings
The beautiful city of Montevideo is Uruguay’s largest and most important city. As the capital of Uruguay and headquarters for Mercosur, Latin America’s leading trading bloc the city is regarded as the most livable city in Latin America. Featuring historic neighborhoods, significant museums, beach resorts, and modern highrises, sightseeing through Montevideo and the surrounding regions is a must during your travels through charming Uruguay.
Birdwatch in La Laguna
Uruguay is nestled between Brazil and Argentina along the River Plata. Its relatively small land size has helped to boost Uruguay’s reputation for birdwatching. With several national parks, particularly La Laguna, the largest private preserved area of the country, bird watching is made easy and accessible. With birds from both Argentina and Brazil now found in Uruguay, the country is a great base for exploring some of South America’s more unique species. Looking for other forest birds like Dusky-legged Guan, Scissor-tailed Nightjar, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Glaucous Blue-Grossbeak, and Chestnut-backed Tanager, is an entertaining excursion on your trip through Uruguay.
Wine Taste Uruguayan Wine
Uruguay is the fourth-largest wine-producing country in South America. While not as known as its Chilean and Argentine counterparts, visitors are often surprised at the quality of wine found in Uruguay. The country is most sought-after for its Tannat wine, which is a revival of an old french wine cultivation technique no longer in use. However, Uruguay’s affordable and healthy Tannat wines have brought the wine back to fame. No visit to Uruguay would be complete without sampling this tantalizing wine and learning about the cultivation process involved.
Experience a Local Estancia
Uruguayan Estancias are important economic and cultural businesses to the country. Estancias are giant farms in Uruguay, which have opened their doors to visitors. Old farms and manors throughout Uruguay now offer accommodation to tourists, providing an in-depth look at Uruguay’s agriculture, culture, and nature. While staying at an estancia, visitors can escape the busy life of cities and relax in paradise. Additionally, activities like hiking and horseback riding are included within most stays.
Relax on the Beach
Uruguay has long been named the beach escape of South America. For Argentines in particular, Uruguay’s summer offers more pleasant weather and temperatures and stunning beaches for lounging the day away. With numerous beach resort towns like Carmelo and Punta del Este, an escape to the Atlantic coast is never too difficult in Uruguay.
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Things to See in Uruguay
The beautiful, yet the unusual design of the Palacio Salvo has long been controversial to South American architects. Located in the heart of Montevideo in Plaza Independencia, and designed by famed Italian architect Mario Palanti, the building immediately rose to fame. Upon its unveiling, Palacio Salvo was the tallest building in all of South America, while also featuring a luxury hotel and cinema. Today, the building towers over the quaint square and historic neighborhoods of the city center and is a major site for visitors to Uruguay.
The Solis Theatre is a stunning neoclassical work from Italian architect Carlo Zucchi. Located near the main square of Montevideo, Plaza de Independencia, the building was heavily inspired by Italian masterpieces. Today the theatre serves as a central site to Montevideo, but also a grand theatre showcasing some of Uruguay’s best productions and operas.
This impressive structure was once the home of the renowned Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, however, today it is a museum housing all of his greatest works. From poems, paintings, murals, musical compositions, and sculptors, the museum is a fantastic escape into the arts. Just as appealing is the house itself. Inspired by the nest of the hornero, a bird typical to Uruguay, the home spans many floors and balconies with disjointed roofs. With its position along the rocky coastline and its whitewashed exterior, it has also been compared to Mediterranean homes, particularly those on the Greek island of Santorini.
La Mano de Punta del Este
Located in the popular resort town of Punta del Este is this eccentric sculpture by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal. With a backdrop of the gorgeous Brava Beach and Atlantic Coast, visitors love taking shots with the beloved hand sculpture. Since its unveiling in 1982, La Mano has become a national image for Uruguay with tourists and locals alike visiting it.
Fortress of Santa Teresa
This imposing brick structure first began construction in the 1700s by Portuguese colonists. After several years serving as an impenetrable fortress during the wars of the Río de la Plata, involving British, Spanish, Argentine and Uruguayan troops, the fortress fell into dismay and was abandoned. However, today the fortress has been uncovered and is a majestic showcase of colonial-military architecture.
Festivals & Events
Carnival in Montevideo: Carnival in Montevideo happens every year, usually during the beginning of March. It’s not as huge of an event as Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, but it is still a fabulous one. Also, because many tourists choose to go to Rio Carnival, Carnival in Montevideo is better for those who are looking for fun in a less commercialized environment. There is Samba music being played and similar activities to Rio Carnival; however, Candombe, the famous Uruguayan music can be heard everywhere during this event.
Food & Drink in Uruguay
Uruguay food and drink will have everything you’re looking for – from sweet to savory delights. The country’s cuisine has a subtle mix of European influences, specifically from Italy and Spain. There are a number of wonderful bakeries which serve “merienda”, a light meal of sweet or savory pastries. Yerba mate is a very popular drink in Uruguay, perfect for the morning or afternoon. For lunch or dinner, travelers enjoy sampling Uruguay’s asado de tira (short ribs and other barbecued meats), accompanied by a Tannat wine.
Is Uruguay Safe?
Yes, Uruguay is one of the safest countries in South America. You are very unlikely to run into any problems in Uruguay. The crime rate is very low. Regardless, just like you would in other countries, leave valuables at home, and use the hotel safe to hold your passport and other important documents. You should always be aware of your surroundings, but in general, you won’t find much trouble in this charming country.
Best Time to Visit Uruguay
If you’re looking for a day on the beach and some beautiful blue skies, the best time to visit Uruguay is from October to March. Punta del Este beckons tourists during these months, as the wind coming off of the ocean keeps visitors cool while they improve their suntan. Nonetheless, every season in Uruguay offers travelers ideal weather for a certain type of activity. Talk to a consultant about when you should visit.
What is Uruguay Known for?
Uruguayans are known for their friendly locals. Wherever you go in South America, and probably elsewhere in the world, you will hear people say that the Uruguayans are incredibly lovely. Uruguay is also known for its wine, barbecue, and mate!
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