A peaceful, laidback destination with some progressive politics (Uruguay was the first country to fully legalize marijuana) this small nation squeezed between Brazil and Argentina, is often overshadowed by its bigger neighbours. However, with its personal charm, asado culture and some of the best beaches on the continent, Uruguay might surprise you pleasantly.
With a population of only 3.3 million, most Uruguayans of European ancestry are descendants of 19th and 20th century immigrants from Spain and Italy. There are also French, German, British, Argentinean and afro roots in some of the Uruguayan’s bloodlines, as well as a few Indigenous people.
For one of the smallest Latin countries, it boasts an impressive assortment of diversity. The Atlantic coastline features dunes, lagoons and sleepy fishing villages. There is no need to make sustained efforts to watch penguins, sea lions and whales. Everyone can have his or her part of the beach on the largely unspoilt 660km coastline. The interior of the country rich in wine farms, rolling hills and vast fields spread out like oceans is equally rewarding. Rio de la Plata has an authentic traditional gaucho life, with thermal springs and working haciendas, just outside colonial towns brimming with fascinating history.
Cabo Polonio is a remote beach location founded by hippies and fishermen, with sea lions bathing in the sun, without any roads or electricity. Eight kilometers away from the National Park entrance, a road along and over bumpy dune sands takes you outside civilization in one of the most chill out South American places.
La Pedrera is one of Uruguay’s chic, tranquil holiday towns, with barely paved streets, unique houses but gorgeous beaches. On the western side of town there’s a black, rusty shipwreck – Cathay VIII. Some compare La Pedrera with what Jose Ignacio was like before it became popular.
Punta del Diablo (“Devil’s Point”) is nothing to be frightened about – a chill out surfing village near the Brazilian border. Playa Pescadore is a good surfing place throughout the year. The other beach – Playa de la Viuda is ideal for those who enjoy natural uncrowded areas. It is pretty wide, secluded and ideal for long walks.
The cosmopolitan capital of Montevideo is a buzzing city with stunning architecture, breezy promenades and sandy beaches. Its old neighbourhood – Ciudad Vieja – is home to churches, museums, theaters and an active nightlife with people dancing Tango and Candombe. Even more, Montevideo hosts the world’s longest carnival, a heady six-week street party like nowhere else in South America.
More laid back is the small town of Colonia del Sacramento, a UNESCO world heritage site, situated on the banks of the Rio de la Plata. This amorous city has cobblestone streets with artisans, lovely plazas with art galleries and an 18th-century Portuguese- influenced architecture that evokes old Lisbon, all of these giving a rustic ‘old world’ feeling to the town. This is the sort of country that active types will thoroughly adore. There are many activities to choose from, such as horse riding, mountain biking, trekking, and surfing. However, traveling to and around Uruguay also offers the chance to spend time with some of Latin America’s most charming and laid back people. You will enjoy it as much as its delicious beefsteaks.