Uruguay is Just the Place for a Holiday

Uruguay is just the place to have a nice holiday. Beautiful long sandy beaches, summer when the cold winter hits the northern hemisphere, and good tourist infrastructure for all budgets. The country is safe and the people are friendly. Tired of the beach? There's a multitude of other things to do and to explore.

Pin this for later: Uruguay is just the place to have a nice holiday. Beautiful long sandy beaches, summer when the cold winter hits the northern hemisphere, and good tourist infrastructure for all budgets. The country is safe and the people are friendly. Tired of the beach? There’s a multitude of other things to do and to explore.

We photographed this old door in Ciudad Vieja, the old city of Montevideo. This part of town is bustling with tourists in the daytime, since most cruise ship visitors come here, but not quite safe at night.

We photographed this old door in Ciudad Vieja, the old city of Montevideo. This part of town is bustling with tourists in the daytime, since most cruise ship visitors come here, but not quite safe at night.

 

All our previous short visits to Uruguay had been a matter of just passing through, on our way to somewhere else. This time we entered on New Year’s Eve to take up a volunteering position. We’d never done anything like that on our travels before. But we were waiting: waiting for the rain season to end in Brazil; and waiting for our new credit cards to arrive from Australia to an address in Uruguay.

Volunteering seemed to be a great idea for using some of our waiting time well. It didn’t really turn out that way, but that’s another story. Enough to say that at the end of the two and a half weeks work we were both exhausted, and in need of a ‘holiday’. To our surprise and great pleasure, Uruguay is just the place for a holiday from life on the road .

Did we mention in our post that Uruguay has some amazing sunsets? This one was taken at our volunteering place and reminded us somewhat of Africa.

Did we mention in our post that Uruguay has some amazing sunsets? This one was taken at our volunteering place and reminded us somewhat of Africa.

Holiday (or vacation) means different things to different people, but for most it’s taking a break from your ‘normal’ life. Our normal life as overlanders is usually one of movement, and a holiday from that simply means little or no movement.

One of the nice things about Uruguay is that it’s so small. When we travel we like to do it slowly – 200Km is our usual daily limit. In Uruguay, most towns on the main highways seem to be less than 100Km apart and all of the larger rural centres are around 400Km from Montevideo. So nowhere is far, travelling time is short and there is never a lot of traffic. Just about perfect for our kind of holiday.

One of the nice and unusual resorts north of Punta del Este. Wouldn't it be nice to stay here at Laguna Garzón?

One of the nice and unusual resorts north of Punta del Este. Wouldn’t it be nice to stay here at Laguna Garzón?

Montevideo

This is really the only city in Uruguay and more than half the population of the country live there. We had a 2 week holiday in Montevideo. It wasn’t our first visit to the city and we spent it at our ‘usual’ camping place, near the lighthouse, right on the Rio de la Plata. Although it can be disturbed overnight by couples in cars, sometimes accompanied by loud music, we find it a perfect place for the middle of a city.

Since it was January, most of the population was at the beach and Montevideo was fairly quiet. We spent a lot of time relaxing, doing computer stuff and letting our bodies recover from our volunteering stint.

Montevideo has a lot to offer. Sunday market at Tristán Narvaja is always interesting and we went both Sundays. On our first visit we found a small takeaway place called Quo Pide House , which makes authentic Middle Eastern pide. They offer lots of vegetarian choices, straight from the wood fired oven. They were so good we went back again the next week.

One of the quirky stalls at the Sunday market "Tristán Narvaja" in Montevideo. You will find everything, from vegetables to collectables (like these old film cameras) to things most of us would simply consider 'junk'.

One of the quirky stalls at the Sunday market “Tristán Narvaja” in Montevideo. You will find everything, from vegetables to collectables (like these old film cameras) to things most of us would simply consider ‘junk’.

Wandering the city is easy, and we discovered new delights every time we took a different route. One of our great interests is street art and Montevideo has a lot of it. On each visit, we have found new pieces to take with us (we will add another gallery soon).

We are also interested in architecture and the city has some really lovely old buildings . Sometimes you have to look up to notice them, and it’s also a good idea to have a look into open doorways for some incredible foyers and entrance hallways.

The opulent entrance to "Sala Zitarrosa", an Art Deco cinema now used for music performances. This is only one of the many stunning entrances you can discover in Montevideo - just slow down and look into some open doors. Montevideo's former wealth is now covered by a layer of patina and you will find places like this only behind the grey facades...

The opulent entrance to “Sala Zitarrosa”, an Art Deco cinema now used for music performances. This is only one of the many stunning entrances you can discover in Montevideo – just slow down and look into some open doors. Montevideo’s former wealth is now covered by a layer of patina and you will find places like this only behind the grey facades…

Once we heard there was a gaucho museum we decided we had to see it. Ever since we noticed the gaucho culture in Argentina we have been a bit fascinated by it. We were quite impressed by the museum which had an extensive display of the silver accoutrements of the gauchos. We were lucky because there was an English tour guide with a group from a visiting cruise ship, so we listened in to some of the interesting stories and facts she was sharing with them.

The Gaucho Museum is housed in a beautiful old building – it’s more of a ‘palace’ really, full of marble and alabaster. It is owned by Uruguay’s national bank and also houses a small interactive display of historical banking items. We were invited to “touch everything”.

The Gaucho museum in Montevideo. This is the stairway leading up to the exhibition floors, all in marble and alabaster. Can you imagine the wealth of the people who first built this as their city residence?

The Gaucho museum in Montevideo. This is the stairway leading up to the exhibition floors, all in marble and alabaster. Can you imagine the wealth of the people who first built this as their city residence?

The Gaucho museum reflected in a modern glass facade across the road. The Gaucho museum is the smaller of the two buildings, on the far right. The other is "Edificio Brasil", which houses (among offices) a public restaurant on the second floor. Ask the security for the way up. The restaurant is certainly worth a visit: almost completely original "Art Nouveau" with colourful stained glass windows.

The Gaucho museum reflected in a modern glass facade across the road. The Gaucho museum is the smaller of the two buildings, on the far right. The other is “Edificio Brasil”, which houses (among offices) a public restaurant on the second floor. Ask the security guard for the way up. The restaurant is certainly worth a visit: almost completely original “Art Nouveau” with colourful stained glass windows.

 

The best thing about our holiday in Montevideo was that it coincided with carnival. We got to see the impressive Las Llamadas parade . It was a celebration of life, full of colour and music and people having a great time.

If you are visiting Uruguay in February don't miss the carnival! Uruguay's way to celebrate this is much more strongly related to slave traditions, and well worth seeing. The biggest parades are in Montevideo but smaller towns hold their own. The parade in Maldonado (near Punta del Este) is supposed to be very good too.

If you are visiting Uruguay in February don’t miss the carnival! Uruguay’s way to celebrate this is much more strongly related to slave traditions, and well worth seeing. The biggest parades are in Montevideo but smaller towns hold their own. The parade in Maldonado (near Punta del Este) is supposed to be very good too.

Laguna Garzón and the Coast

From Montevideo we headed east along the Rio de la Plata and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way we passed Piriápolis, which is very close to Pan de Azúcar , then stopped for a while in Punta Ballena where you can see the rather eccentric house of Carlos Páez Vilaró, Casapueblo.

Case Pueblo in Punta Ballena was originally the eccentric home of the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. It was expanded over the years and now houses a small gallery/museum and a large hotel with restaurant. This is the restaurant entrance with a vista across Rio de la Plata.

Case Pueblo in Punta Ballena was originally the eccentric home of the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. It was expanded over the years and now houses a small gallery/museum and a large hotel with restaurant. This is the restaurant entrance with a vista across Rio de la Plata.

We drove around Punta del Este, the resort town of Uruguay, through Manatiales where we turned off last year and discovered a sculpture park , and on past José Ignacio until we reached a bridge over Laguna Garzón.

This is the new round bridge crossing the entrance to Laguna Garzón. It was built in this shape to slow drivers down. Certainly a unique idea.

This is the new round bridge crossing the entrance to Laguna Garzón. It was built in this shape to slow drivers down. Certainly a unique idea.

The bridge is new and oddly circular in shape. On the other side the paved road ends and we found our second holiday spot. It was right next to the lake and during the week there was nobody there but us. On the weekends a few people came to fish or picnic. We spent our second holiday in Uruguay relaxing for 10 days by the lake, only interrupted by visits back along the coast to José Ignacio for supplies.

We stayed almost 10 days at this beach on Laguna Garzón. Most of the time we had this beautiful spot to ourselves...

We stayed almost 10 days at this beach on Laguna Garzón. Most of the time we had this beautiful spot to ourselves…

Tacuarembó and Balneario Iporá

We finally forced ourselves to leave the idyllic life by the laguna to travel north to Tacuarembó. It hosts an annual Gaucho Festival in early March and we wanted to check it out. It was 5 days full of interesting experiences. Unfortunately, for most participants these experiences went well into the night, sometimes finishing at around 6.00am.

After a couple of nights of loud music we drove a few more kilometres away from the festival site and found Balneario Iporá. When the festival was done we stayed for another 2 weeks. This was our third holiday in Uruguay.

The Balneario Iporá, outside of Tacuarembó, is a beautiful spot to relax right by the water. It's completely quiet most weekdays.

The Balneario Iporá, outside of Tacuarembó, is a beautiful spot to relax right by the water. It’s completely quiet most weekdays.

There are two man-made lakes at this balneario. We spent the weekdays by the most accessible and then drove to the more remote one for the weekend. The locals really like to get out with their chairs and fishing gear on the weekends and the first lake was very popular.

San Gregorio de Polanco

Even when we knew that our credit cards had arrived in Uruguay, we moved towards the collection point slowly. On our way back south we took a detour from the highway to San Gregorio de Polanco because we had learned that the town had murals.

When we arrived we also discovered that it was a pretty little holiday town on the shore of a lake made by damming the Rio Negro. Although we are sure this could have been a good place for a holiday in Uruguay, Brazil was calling. But we did stay 2 nights and enjoyed the murals and the general ambience.

San Gregorio de Polanco is a small laid-back holiday destination on the shore of a lake. The amazing murals in town make it doubly worthwhile to visit.

San Gregorio de Polanco is a small laid-back holiday destination on the shore of a lake. The amazing murals in town make it doubly worthwhile to visit.

There are two other places we have been, which are places with potential for a holiday in Uruguay. In both cases we stayed a night or two but left due to the need to be somewhere else.

Fray Bentos

The attraction of this town is the UNESCO World Heritage Site , which is surrounded by a huge park right on the Rio Uruguay. It was the perfect place to park Berta for a couple of nights while we checked out the site at our leisure.

Fray Bentos, on the banks of Rio Uruguay, lets you combine two holiday activities in one place. Visit the interesting UNESCO World Heritage Site of the old ANGLO meat works and learn about OXO and its history. The large riverside park south of it is a perfect spot for a picnic or to camp.

Fray Bentos, on the banks of Rio Uruguay, lets you combine two holiday activities in one place. Visit the interesting UNESCO World Heritage Site of the old ANGLO meat works and learn about OXO and its history. The large riverside park south of it is a perfect spot for a picnic or to camp.

Parque Bartolome Hidalgo

We discovered this place when we entered Uruguay through Paysandú last year. It’s on Ruta 2, just before the small town of Andresito, about halfway between Young and Trinidad. Once again there is a lake, formed by damming the Rio Negro. This place offers free camping on beautiful grassy areas. It has bathrooms, a playground for kids and even a small zoo. And an added bonus: you enter just before a toll station and you can drive out of the park after it. (We noticed locals driving through the park for no apparent reason and then discovered why.)

In October 2015 we stayed overnight at "Parque Bartolome Hidalgo", another beautiful spot to spend a short holiday camping. Unfortunately we had just crossed the border and our fridge was empty - otherwise we would have stayed. It's FREE to camp here!

In October 2015 we stayed overnight at “Parque Bartolome Hidalgo”, another beautiful spot to spend a short holiday camping. Unfortunately we had just crossed the border and our fridge was empty – otherwise we would have stayed. It’s FREE to camp here!

As you can see, all good holidays for us involve a quiet place by water . Uruguay has these in abundance. I’m sure if we’d stayed longer we would have discovered even more tranquil spots that we would have had difficulty leaving.

Have you ever considered Uruguay as a destination for your next holiday?
Tell us in the ‘comments’ below.

Yasha

dare2go's human navigator (we're not lost because there's nowhere particular we have to be) alongside our Nexus 7 tablet, writer and editor of our blog, first cook and loving wife. Teaching English as a second language when possible.

You may also like...

15 Responses

  1. Emily in Missoula says:

    Your post has us planning to spend a couple of months in Uruguay when the snow begins to fly here in Montana. We’re not returning to the Yucatan again this year as I’m still (4 months later) recovering from Chikungunya virus. I’ve been reading about Uruguay’s serious and successful efforts to control mosquito populations – one of our requirements for our next vacation spot. Thanks for keeping us informed and entertained with your travels!

    • Yasha says:

      Hi Emily, nice to hear from you. I hope you are progressing to full health and ready to go again. I’m also pleased that we have inspired you to visit Uruguay. It is certainly an interesting little country that is often overlooked by travellers – except for Brazilians and Argentinians.

  2. I’d love to hear your story about your volunteering as we had also quite an experience in Ecuador. Uruguay seems to be a peaceful place to park off for a while. Good is that you can still hop borders in South America if you’d like to stay longer than just three months in Argentina you can just cross the border to Montevideo and back – at least in 2014 is was still so.

    • Yasha says:

      Hopping borders is actually a great thing. We did it while in Uruguay up north in Rivera – popped over to Brazil for 1 night and back with 3 months more in Uruguay. We didn’t need it in the end but it was nice to know we had it and weren’t under pressure to get out in a hurry. One thing we don’t like to do is hurry.
      We wrote a report of our volunteering experience for our email list a couple of months ago, since we didn’t want to publish it on our blog. If you’d like to subscribe to our newsletter I could send you a copy.

  3. We really hadn’t considered venturing to Uruguay, but you’ve definitely got us thinking about it now! At least more than Montevideo is on our radar now. Especially interested in Casa Pueblo; that looks like the sort of place I’d love! #WeekendWanderlust

    • Yasha says:

      We are happy to have sparked your interest in this friendly, little country. Uruguay is a really great place for a holiday and, if you like a touch of luxury, Casa Pueblo might be just the place to spend a little time. Thanks for your visit.

  4. budget jan says:

    The Carnival Photo is a stand-out and I love avoiding the toll station. The gaucho museum reflected is really good and aren’t those horses beautiful? I like little places and think I’d like holidaying in Uruguay.

  5. Ruth says:

    Nice photos! I have been to Montevideo and hope to visit the country again (maybe drive along the coast like you guys did). People are very nice!

  6. You certainly have us itching to experience Uruguay! I agree, the sunset reminds us of Africa too. The Carlos Páez Vilaró house views look simply stunning, very cool that it is now a hotel. We love having water nearby….it’s so peaceful! Thanks for linking up with #WeekendWanderlust

    • Yasha says:

      We are always pleased when we encourage people to visit a place we’ve enjoyed. It’s why we share our experiences. The special thing about Uruguay is that it’s really possible to see the best of it in a few weeks. Most South American countries are much more overwhelming. Thanks Amanda.

  7. Nancie says:

    PS…Love that beautiful green door! :)

  8. Nancie says:

    Hi! I’ve heard lots of great things about Uruguay, and your great photos definitely confirm them. If I found a good place for pide, I would go back a second and probably a third time, too! I love it when old buildings like palaces are turned into museums. The building can be as interesting as the contents! Thanks for linking up this week! #TPThursday

    • Yasha says:

      Hi Nancie. Thanks for your lovely comment. We are always pleased when someone so obviously appreciates what we’ve written and the photos we’ve taken. I’m not so sure about the green door though – I find it just a bit unsettling…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this:
There will be more great content like this! On our Facebook Page you can also keep up with where we are and see the latest photos from our journey.
So why not follow us?

Send this to a friend