As Uruguay is such as small country, most of the interesting locations can be reached on foot, while others can be reached by bus, car or taxi. Here are the places to see in Uruguay and things to do in Uruguay. This section of our Travel Guide Uruguay gives you brief information on places of interest that you can travel to and things that you can do in each department or cities and towns of Uruguay.
Colonia del Sacramento
Things to see in Colonia del Sacramento:
It’s a step back in time when you visit the only Portuguese settlement in Uruguay. It was established as Nova Colonia do Sacramento by Manuel de Lobo in 1680, the Portuguese’s response to the founding of a Spanish settlement in Montevideo. Today Colonia del Sacramento is a port, a resort city and the center of trade for the agricultural economy of the area.
It has a charming landscape where you can still see houses built in the Portuguese style lined up along winding streets paved with cobblestones. The houses are painted colorfully, reminiscent of Lisbon during another era. Barrío Historico is a historic quarter in Colonia de Sacramento, located on a small peninsula that juts out into a river. It is included in the list of UNESCO heritage sites since 1995.
Things to do in Colonia del Sacramento”
Take a stroll along the road and explore some of the excellent museums, arts and craft shops and savor local cuisine from the many restaurants in the area.
Punta del Este
Things to see in Punta del Este:
Punta del Este is located in the Department of Maldonado and about 140 kilometers east of the capital city of Montevideo. When the Spanish settled in the region in the 18th century, most of the land is covered by sand and dunes and practically uninhabited. Uruguayan sailor, writer and arboculturist, Antonio Dionisio Lussich bought 4,447 acres of land at Punta Ballena and started a natural botany garden, which he planted with plants and trees he gathered around the world.
Punta del Este is along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the Rio de la Plata and is a huge crowd drawer during the summer season, where you can be hobnobbing with the rich and famous from South America and Europe.
It is a unique combination of different types of beaches. One side faces the bay while the other side is in front of the ocean. The climate is very pleasant, comfortably cool in winter and the temperature can be mildly hot in the summer months.
Punta del Este boasts of an international airport as well as a yacht port, which can accommodate 500 yachts. The coastline has several beaches and the most notable are La Barra, which is quite popular of fishing and other nautical sports; Montoya Beach, El Tesoro Resort, Manantiales Beach and Bikini Beach.
Things to do in Punta del Este:
Go to other sites that are worth visiting in Punta del Este. You can travel by foot and take a stroll around the Punta del Este Lighthouse if you are not too tired. If you have the stamina you can be more adventurous and climb the 150 steps of its winding staircase. If you are looking for a beach or rather two beaches where you can practice water sports, head down to the island of Gorriti and stay either at Honda Beach or Garden Port. You can also head off to Lobos Island if you want to take pictures of sea lions sunning themselves.
The difference in waves brought by the two types of beaches also gives a distinct difference to the beaches in Punta del Este. There can be fine and white sand in some of the beaches while there is thick, golden sand in others. Some waters are relatively calm and suitable for swimming and snorkeling while others have strong waves suitable only for surfing.
This is one of what makes Uruguay and Punta del Este unique. And why is it is one of the most desired travel itineraries when traveling to Uruguay. The place where the wave types split is marked by a giant sculpture that has been given several names. It is located in Playa de Brava. Officially it is called Monumento al Ahogado, which translates to Monument to the Drowned. Locally it is called Monumento los Dedos or Monument of the Fingers. It also called La Mano.
The sculpture, created by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal in 1982, the youngest of the artists who were invited to participate in the first Annual International Meeting of Modern Sculpture in the Open Air. It only took him six days to finish his work although they were given the whole summer to work on their sculpture. His work shows the five fingers of one hand emerging from the sand, or rather sinking in the sand, as warning to swimmers that the waters of La Barra should not be taken lightly due to the rough waves.
If you are an art lover you will gape in awe when you see Casapueblo. It is a living sculpture created by sculptor and painter Carlos Páez Vilaró, which he started in 1958 and took 36 years to complete. He created it as homage to his son, Carlitos Páez who was one of the 16 who survived the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 that crashed in the Andes on the 13th of October 1972.
The white painted house, typical of a Mediterranean style house sits atop Punta Ballena. Works of Páez Vilaró, paintings, sculpture and ceramic are showcased at the art gallery of Casapueblo. Aside from the museum there are recent additions to the house, including the Hotel Casapueblo and the Las Terrazas restaurant.
Things to see in Montevideo:
The largest city and the capital of Uruguay is Montevideo, a bustling city where about half of Uruguay’s population resides. It was established by Bruno Mauricio de Zabala in 1726. Montevideo is located at the southern part of Uruguay on the northeastern side of Rio de la Plata, also referred to as River Plate or Silver Plate and the chief port of the country. Montevideo was the host city of all the games during the first World Cup in 1930. The first university in Uruguay founded in 1849, the Universidad de la República is located at the capital city.
Montevideo is an eclectic and vibrant city with a rich cultural and architectural heritage. It has its tango and candombe. The latter is a musical genre and dance that has an African Bantu flavor. The music is played on drums with one stick and an open hand.
Two hills dot the landscape of Montevideo, with rolling and undulating plains with an average elevation of 43 meters. Cerro de Montevideo is topped by Fortaleza del Cerro, a fortress overlooking the Bay of Montevideo in the barrio of Casabó, constructed to defend the people of Montevideo as well as its port.
The construction of the fortress in 1809 was ordered by then Governor Francisco Xavier de Elio. It took 30 years for the fortress to be completed and became the last fort the Spanish built in Uruguay. It became a Military Museum in 1916. The other hill is known as the Cerro de la Victoria.
The climate that prevails in Montevideo is mild humid subtropical, bordering on an oceanic climate that makes the temperature variable. Generally the summers are warm, the springs can be characterized with several thunderstorms while the winters are relatively and comfortably cool, although generally windy and wet with frequent overcast skies. Sleet is frequent in winter although snowfall is very rare. Annual temperature average is just 61 °F. The highest temperature recorded was 109.0 °F while the lowest was 21.9 °F.
While the city is the center of industry, trade and commerce it still has its fill of places of interest. The Plaza Independencia divides the city of Montevideo into two. One side leads to the shopping district called 18 de Julio Avenue. It is an important destination for its example of Art Deco buildings.
There are also several landmarks here that are worth a visit – Palacio Municipal, Gaucho Museum, Obelisk of Montevideo, Parque Batlle and Parque Prado. Museums, art galleries, nightclubs and the oldest buildings in the city are located in Cuidad Vieja, with Mercado del Puerto and Sarandi Street being the most prominent destinations. Palacio Salvo and Solís Theater are on the edge of Ciudad Vieja. Beaches are along Rambla or the coastal avenue.
Things to do in Montevideo:
Go shopping; go on a cultural tour; visit art galleries, nightclubs, beaches, etc., in this place rich in heritage and culture. The nightlife is very much alive and it can be frenetic so better get ready to party.
Punta del Diablo
Things to see Punta del Diablo:
It is a small seaside village with a permanent population of 389 according to the 2004 census. However when the tourist season starts this number can swell up to 25,000. Punta del Diablo is situated on a rise that overlooks the ocean. Colorful houses vie in color with the verdant hills. The main attractions are the beaches with white sand that are very popular with tourists. You can enjoy surfing, sample the food and drinks served at open bars or listen to people gathered around bonfires singing and playing the guitar. There are three beaches to choose from, La Viuda, Los Botes and Rivero.
Things to do in Punta del Diablo:
If you are tired of beaches, take a leisurely stroll at the 60-kilometer hiking trails at the Saint Teresa National Park or the Parque Nacional Santa Teresa. The park, measuring 3,000 hectares is planted with about 2 millions trees and has flora and fauna that had been gathered from different parts of the world.
When you reach the top of the hill in the park then continue toward the Fortress of Santa Teresa, locally known as Fortaleza de Santa Teresa. The fortress was started by the Portuguese until its capture by the Spanish around 1793. It bore witness to the many battles between Spain and Portugal as well as the clashes between the Creoles and the Spanish. There were also civil wars that were waged even when Uruguay became independent. The aftermath of all these strifes destroyed parts of the fortress. It was restored in 1928 and now houses a museum showcasing its history.
For the birdwatchers, the best place to go is at Laguna Negra where you can also go boating on the lake. The Ombú Forest or the Bosque de Ombúes has indigenous flora and fauna. Ombú is a large evergreen that can survive with very little water. It is a symbol of Uruguay as well as Argentina and the gaucho culture in the region. Its massive umbrella-like canopy that can spread from 12 to 15 meters wide provides shelter from rain and sun.
The ombú is a very unique bush. It is fast-growing and can reach a height of up to 18 meters. Its wood is spongy and soft and can be easily cut with a knife. The trunk is fireproof and stores water. It has poisonous sap so it is not grazed by cattle and is resistant to pests, including locusts. The leaves, which have a low flash point, are used as laxative.
You can go horseback riding, guided or on your own on the beach and in the forest, all-year round. Or try something new like dune boarding at the southern end of La Viuda Beach after you have bought a dune board in the surf shop at Punta del Diablo.
Things to see in Maldonado:
Founded in 1755 when Joaquin de Viana was the governor of Montevideo, Maldonado was settled by 104 permanent settlers. The name was later changed to San Fernando de Maldonado in deference to Spain’s King Ferdinand VI. Maldonado is the capital of the Department of Maldonado. It lies near Punta del Este and shares borders in the south. Maldonado has a strong Spanish influence, which can be seen in the San Fernando de Maldonado Cathedral.
It was built in the neoclassic style and construction started in 1801and took close to 100 years for the construction to be completed. You can also visit The Dragon’s Barracks or the Cuartel de Dragones in the local language. It used to be a Spanish garrison built in 1771 and was completed after 26 years. You can also take a look at the Torre del Vigia, literally meaning the Tower of Vigilance.
The watchtower was erected in the 1800s as a vantage point as you can see the whole River Plate from the observation deck of the tower, to alert the authorities in Buenos Aires of incoming ships that pass through the Rio de la Plata.
Things to do in Maldonado:
Make your Uruguay travel more memorable by visiting the notable Maldonado Bridge or El Puente de la Barra, one of the rare (less than 50) stressed ribbon bridges in the world, designed by engineer Leonel Viera. Stressed ribbon bridges are suitable for walking and cycling and feature an undulating pattern, instead of a straight deck.
If you are after some down time after hours of exploring and want to rest your tired feet, head out to the Café del Conversatorio. The café adjoins a music conservatory and features a garden patio with a fountain. Time your trip to Maldonado on a weekend so you can spend part of the night listening to live music in this cafe.
Things to see Chuy:
For a study in contrast, take a trip to Chuy, which is a city in the Rocha Department. It is situated in the border with Brazil, separated only by an avenue as well as the Arroyo Chuy with its sister town in Brazil named Chui. On the Uruguayan side, the avenue is called Avenida Uruguai; once the avenue crosses the border with Brazil, the name changes to Avenida Brasil.
Walk around the city and enjoy it rich history of Spanish and Portuguese structures, as Chuy is one of the sites that bore witness to the many battles between Portugal and Spain. The climate around Chuy is mild all-year round and you can enjoy a day at Barra del Chuy, a bathing resort, at any time of the year.
Things to do in Chuy:
Spend a night or two at Fort San Miguel, a fortress in another lifetime that has been restored and now serves as an inn to guests. It also showcases several memorabilia from past eras. Go to Chuy’s casino and its several duty free shops. Visit Chui’s several shops, although the stores only sell household goods, shoes and clothes. Gambling is forbidden in Chui whereas one can play at the casino just by crossing the avenue and going to Chuy.
Uruguayans on the other hand like to shop in Chui where the goods are cheaper. Experience what it is like to be able to shop in two countries, Uruguay and Brazil separated only by a road at once. Bargain hunters can take a look at what goods are being sold at several curio and souvenir shops around the border city.