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Uruguay is a vibrant country that often gets overshadowed by its its other neighbors in South America when it comes to international tourism. However, this is a wonderful place to visit for travelers looking to have a backpacking adventure, get off the beaten path, and have a truly local experience in a new place. Beaches are definitely popular things to do in this region, but there are also some great cultural, shopping, food, and nature experiences just waiting for you to explore them. So, if you’re looking to see a different side of South America for yourself, check out these eight things to do in Uruguay.
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Take a Cruise in Montevideo
Montevideo is the largest city in Uruguay and also the capital, so it makes sense to start your journey here and then branch out to other cities and towns nearby. Commercial cruises are a popular way to reach Montevideo and explore the country of Uruguay. For example, the Norwegian Cruise Line offers cruises to Montevideo that include excursions to see the traditional ranch of a local family, city landmarks, dance performances, and partake in wine sampling. Princess Cruises also offers Montevideo cruises with opportunities to visit local wineries, visit the city’s museums, and enjoy scenic drives along the beach.
Surfing at Laguna Garzon and Punta del Diablo
If you love water sports such as kite surfing, Uruguay will pique your interest, particularly at Laguna Garzon. This sheltered lagoon features both flatwater and waves that’s popular between October and March. Local guide companies offer kitesurfing lessons to help you get out on the water as a beginner. Do you prefer surfing adventures instead? Hit the waves near Uruguay’s beaches. The Punta del Diablo region is great for surfing, hiking, and just relaxing on the beach too. Here you’ll find tourist cottages, sand tunes, and fishermen out on the water. This area transforms itself from a fishing village to a top surfing and backpacking destination in the summer with big waves to satisfy any surfing enthusiast.
Browse the Markets, Montevideo
Montevideo is also home to some amazing markets, which are worth checking out regardless of whether you take a cruise here or fly in for a visit. Unique souvenirs can be found at these busy markets, as well as delicious cuts of meat. Take some time to browse the shops in Montevideo to find local handicrafts and traditional food favorites. Some local foodie picks to try includes chivitos, which are traditional steak sandwiches, a type of sponge cake called chaja, and a type of strong brandy called grappa.
Barrio Historico, Colonia del Sacramento
A top tourist destination in Uruguay is the Colonia del Sacramento, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a ferry that you can take to get here from Buenos Aires and also buses that stop here for sightseeing. Take a walking tour of the town to get a sense of its charm and history. You’ll see colonial houses, the Rio de la Plata, the Plaza Mayor, and the nearby lighthouse while strolling down the cobblestone streets. Make sure to stop at some of the unique cafes and wine cellars as you make your way through town. Also, check out the El Faro Lighthouse and climb to the top for awesome views. The local museums here include Museo Portugués, Museo Español, Museo del Azulejo, and the Museo Municipal
Solis Theatre, Montevideo
The most renowned theater in the country is the Solis Theatre, which is in Plaza Independencia in Montevideo. This theater dates back to 1856 and is owned by the local government. You can take a tour of the theater to get a behind-the-scenes look at it and possibly catch a live performance as well, depending on when you visit. Guided tours go through the showrooms and other building facilities, are offered in English, and cost $90 in the local currency. Check the theater’s website to see what shows will be playing during your trip and check out the onsite shop and cafeteria for souvenirs and a bite to eat.
Hike at Cerro Arequita, Minas
Hiking is always a great way to see a new place and get to know the local landscapes and people. Cerro Arequita is in Minas, which is a couple hours northeast of Montevideo. Come here to see the nature of the country, including the Ombú forest and the cave, which is home to native bats. This mountainous site rises about 230 meters high. Minas is the capital of Lavalleja and has a lovely landscape of rolling hills and rich fauna. It’s home to about 40,000 people today and also the Salus Park and the Penitent’s Waterfall that about 25 kilometers outside the city. Another nice area to hike is the Parque Nacional Santa Teresa, which is accessible from Punta del Diablo and also by the sandy beach of Playa Grande.
Enjoy the Beach, Punta del Este
Speaking of beaches, the top beach area to spend time at while you’re in Uruguay is Punta del Este, which is a popular and glamorous place to lay out in the sun and people-watch. This is considered an upscale beach destination and tends to be a bit pricier in terms of the restaurants and bars nearby. However, this is a fun place to party, especially during the summer months of December, January, and February.
Resort Town of Piriápolis
The town of Piriápolis is known as a resort town and a quaint place to visit for a seaside experience in Uruguay. Many people come here between July and October to see the whales off the coast. There are some great lookout points to see them from Piriápolis. This is a family-friendly destination in Uruguay with plenty of outdoor recreation, entertainment, tours, and historical sites to see. Check out the Castle of Piria to learn about the local Italian heritage, take in the view at San Antonio Hill, have a picnic at La Cascada Park, and check out the attractions along the extensive waterfront promenade that’s popular among tourists.