Uruguay is Just the Place for a Holiday
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.