Is this South America’s Most Laid Back Country?4 min read
Far from the typical tourist destinations of popular Peru or trendy Colombia, Uruguay sits peacefully tucked between Brazil and Argentina. The second smallest country in South America, there are three cows for every one person in Uruguay. But this tiny nation packs a punch, offering visitors a little bit of everything you could want on a South American vacation.
High-end wine tastings are served at award-winning wineries, boho beach towns can only be reached by ATV and Montevideo may just be the most chill capital city in the world.
Interested in exploring the country for yourself? You’ll likely begin your journey in Montevideo. Or if coming from Buenos Aires, UNESCO-protected Colonia del Sacramento is only about an hour away by ferry.
Colonia del Sacramento
Colorful, adorable Colonia del Sacramento is a city full of photo opportunities. It’s worth a stopover for a few hours or an evening on your way to Montevideo. While you’re there, pay a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site Barrio Historic, enjoy the repurposed vintage cars on Calle de Portugal and grab something to eat by the water.
Trendy bars and cafes are commonplace in Uruguay’s capital, but the seaside area La Rambla should be your first stop. The beaches by La Rambla rival the best of the world’s waterfront capital cities. You’ll find locals swimming, relaxing or playing lively games of beach fútbol—always with a thermos of hot water and a cup of Yerba Mate tea.
La Rambla exemplifies Montevideo’s—and the country’s—best qualities: laid back, tolerant and artsy.
In Montevideo, you’ll get your first taste of the music scene that plays a huge role in Uruguayan culture. Local artists frequently perform live music at the city’s popular bars and breweries. At night, you’ll hear Camdombe before you see it. Huge groups of drummers playing traditional African music can be heard reverberating their beats throughout the city. Locals gladly join in, opening their windows to the music or dancing along in the streets.
Punta del Este
Ritzy Punta del Este, also known as the “Hamptons of Uruguay,” is where you can enjoy high-end dining and world-class nightlife by the seaside.
Luxurious, high-rise apartment buildings and hotels occupy most of the coastline here. Multi-million dollar yachts sit in the marinas next to a waterfront lined by designer shops. The nightclubs frequently have lines down the block during the summer, but the golden sand beaches are open to all, whether you’re spending enjoying the day or watching the sunrise after a night out.
From the beaches of Punta del Este, you can reach Puebla Garzón in just over an hour. Foodies will find their paradise in this tiny (read: less than 300 people) town that celebrity chef Francis Mallmann put on the map. At his Restaurante Garzón, bowls of lemons make up the centerpieces that sit on wooden tables spread across the lush green backyard.
Nearby is Bodega Garzón, a winery and tasting room also curated by Mallmann, where you can tour stunning architecture while sampling local wines. In fact, Bodega Garzón won Wine Enthusiast’s 2018 New World Winery of the Year. The winery produces everything from Tannat to Albariño, all with a taste and personality specific to the unique climate and soil of Uruguay’s wine region.
Punta del Diablo
Ultra-chill Punta del Diablo is a surfing and fishing town full of tiny wooden homes sitting on stilts. The beachside cafes serve fresh fish in traditional Uruguayan dishes like rabas y miniaturas del pescado.
During the summer months (November to February) you’ll always find live music at bars, restaurants and in the streets. The ocean waves are typically mild—great for taking beginner surf lessons. Walk north along the beaches for about an hour and you’ll find the beauty and serenity of Santa Teresa National Park’s forests.
Cabo Polonio is a must-visit simply because it’s like nowhere you’ve ever been. Accessible only by ATV (organized at the entrance to the government-protected area), you’ll journey along the sandy beaches for 20+ minutes before reaching this small boho town. The many species of sea lions are perhaps the most distinctive feature of Cabo Polonio; they can be heard screaming out in the surrounding area or you can join them in the Loberia, a protected area of rocks by the water.