Best Things To Do in Uruguay: 12 Must-See Attractions

by Flora
An extensive array of exhilarating adventures is ready for you in this South American treasure.
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Considering a trip to Uruguay? A long list of thrilling and unique experiences awaits you in this South American gem. From captivating sights to exhilarating activities, here are the best things to do in Uruguay.

When wanderlust beckons and the soul yearns for a blend of vibrant culture, sun-kissed beaches, and a rich tapestry of history, Uruguay emerges as the unsung hero of South America. Nestled between the giants of Argentina and Brazil, this small nation packs a punch with its diverse views. From the busy streets of Montevideo to the serene beaches of Punta del Diablo, Uruguay promises an experience that’s both exhilarating and soul-soothing.

Known for its tantalizing Tannat wines and the lively beats of Candombe, Uruguay’s charm lies in its ability to effortlessly blend the old with the new. Whether you’re walking through the cobbled streets of Colonia del Sacramento, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or dancing the night away in the trendy clubs of Punta del Este, there’s a slice of Uruguay waiting to be discovered by every traveler.

With so many treasures hidden in its folds, where does one begin? Fear not, for I’ve curated a list of the top 12 must-visit attractions in Uruguay. Dive in, let your senses take the lead, and embark on a journey that promises memories for a lifetime.

The top places to visit in Uruguay right now
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Best Things To Do in Uruguay

Eager to dive into Uruguay’s most captivating experiences? This vibrant place offers a diverse array of views for every kind of traveler.

Whether you’re drawn to the busy energy of urban centers or the serene embrace of nature, Uruguay has something just for you. Explore the highlights and hidden treasures that make this country a must-visit on any travel bucket list.

1. Witness the Past and Present Collide in Ciudad Vieja

Montevideo is the dynamic capital of Uruguay. It is a city that marries its rich history with the vibrancy of the present. At its heart lies Ciudad Vieja, the historic old town, a place where every cobblestone and façade tells a story. As you stroll through its streets, you’re transported to a bygone era, where colonial architecture stands as a testament to the city’s storied past.

Yet, Ciudad Vieja is not just about history. The area is a thriving cultural hub, dotted with contemporary art galleries, chic boutiques, and trendy cafes. The Mercado del Puerto is a culinary epicenter, where the inviting aroma of grilled meats fills the air, and local chefs showcase the best of Uruguayan cuisine. From tasty steaks to fresh seafood, the market offers a gastronomic experience like no other.

In Ciudad Vieja, explore history, museums like Museo Torres García, and savor street art and cafes.
In Ciudad Vieja, explore history, museums like Museo Torres García, and savor street art and cafes.

As the sun sets, the old town’s night awakens. Streets come alive with the rhythms of tango and candombe, while bars and clubs open their doors to locals and tourists alike. For those thinking where to visit in Uruguay for a blend of history and modern urban life, Ciudad Vieja stands out as a top choice.

2. Explore Punta del Este, the Riviera of South America

Renowned for its sun-kissed beaches, upscale resorts, and vibrant night, Punta del Este is often referred to as the “Riviera of South America.” This beach town is a favorite among celebrities and jet-setters, making it one of the coolest spots in Uruguay.

The pristine beaches, such as Playa Brava and Playa Mansa, are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and people-watching. An iconic sight here is “La Mano,” a giant hand sculpture emerging from the sand, symbolizing the harmony between man and nature. As you wander along the marina, you’ll be greeted by luxurious yachts and the tantalizing aroma of seafood restaurants lining the waterfront.

Punta del Este's luxurious beaches and vibrant nightlife makes it one of the coolest places to visit in Uruguay.
Punta del Este’s luxurious beaches and vibrant nightlife makes it one of the coolest places to visit in Uruguay.

After getting your fill of delicious fare, it’s time for some sightseeing. The town offers a rich cultural experience with its art galleries, museums, and local markets. As night falls, the city changes into a party hub, with chic bars, clubs, and beach parties that go on until dawn.

For those seeking a mix of relaxation, luxury, and entertainment, Punta del Este offers some of the most popular things to do in Uruguay. It’s a place where golden sands meet the azure waters of the Atlantic, offering a beach experience that’s truly unparalleled.

3. Step Back in Time in Colonia Del Sacramento

Stepping into Colonia del Sacramento feels like traveling back in time. This UNESCO World Heritage site, located on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, boasts a rich history that dates back to the 17th century. With its cobblestone streets, colonial-era buildings, and vintage cars, Colonia offers a nostalgic charm that’s hard to find elsewhere.

The town’s history is a tapestry of Spanish and Portuguese influences, evident in its architecture, museums, and cultural landmarks. The iconic Lighthouse and Plaza Mayor are must-visit spots, offering insights into the town’s storied past. As you wander through the streets, you’ll discover quaint cafes, artisanal shops, and art galleries showcasing local talent.

Colonia del Sacramento, renowned for its well-preserved colonial architecture, is a great destination for history buffs.
Colonia del Sacramento, renowned for its well-preserved colonial architecture, is a great destination for history buffs.

The town’s serene ambiance, coupled with stunning river views and vibrant sunsets, makes it one of the best places to go in Uruguay for relaxation and romance. Whether you’re discovering its historic sites, savoring local delicacies, or simply soaking in the views, Colonia del Sacramento promises an experience that lingers in the heart and mind.

4. Discover Tacuarembó, the Cradle of Uruguayan Gaucho Culture

Venture into the heartland of Uruguay, and you’ll find Tacuarembó. It is a region steeped in tradition and known as the birthplace of the country’s iconic gaucho culture. If you’re the outdoorsy type, Tuacarembo offers a long list of fun things to do in Uruguay. This area offers a glimpse into the rustic life of Uruguay’s cowboys, with vast plains, rolling hills, and traditional estancias (ranches).

Every March, the town comes alive with the Fiesta de la Patria Gauch. It is one of the largest gaucho festivals in South America. This event celebrates the traditions, music, and dance of the Uruguayan countryside. From rodeo events to folk music performances, it’s a vibrant showcase of the region’s rich heritage.

Tacuarembó, birthplace of tango icon Carlos Gardel, is a must-visit in Uruguay for tango fanatics.
Tacuarembó, birthplace of tango icon Carlos Gardel, is a must-visit in Uruguay for tango fanatics.

More than just its gaucho roots, the area is home to several natural Uruguay spots, including the Iporá Lagoon and the Batoví Hill. This offers opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and picnicking. For those wondering what to do in Uruguay which offers a blend of culture and nature, Tacuarembó provides a unique and real experience.

Dive deep into the traditions, savor local dishes like asado and mate, and immerse yourself in the rhythms of the countryside. Tacuarembó is a testament to Uruguay’s diverse cultural tapestry. It is a must-visit for those seeking a genuine connection to the land and its people.

5. Dive into the Natural Wonders of Rocha

Travelers seeking untouched beauty and diverse ecosystems should not overlook Rocha. Located on Uruguay’s eastern coast, this region is a treasure trove of natural wonders, from pristine beaches to lush wetlands and lagoons.

Beaches like La Paloma and La Pedrera are perfect for sunbathing, surfing, and enjoying the Atlantic’s waves. But beyond the coastline, Rocha’s true beauty lies in its protected areas. The Santa Teresa National Park, with its dense forests and diverse flora and fauna, is a haven for nature lovers and birdwatchers.

Explore Rocha's unspoiled beaches, visit the eclectic town of La Paloma, and immerse in its captivating natural beauty.
Explore Rocha’s unspoiled beaches, visit the eclectic town of La Paloma, and immerse in its captivating natural beauty.

Another gem is the Cabo Polonio National Park, home to one of the country’s largest sea lion colonies. Watching these playful creatures against the backdrop of the iconic Cabo Polonio Lighthouse is a sight to behold.

For travelers who prefer a more tranquil setting, the Ombúes Forest and the Castillos Lagoon offer serene landscapes and unique biodiversity. It’s no wonder Rocha is considered one of the unique places in Uruguay for ecotourism and nature exploration.

If you’re a beach bum, a nature lover, or simply someone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city life, Rocha promises an experience that rejuvenates the soul and connects you with the raw beauty of nature.

6. Toast to Tradition in the Vineyards of Canelones

Just a short drive from Montevideo, the Canelones region unfolds as a verdant tapestry of vineyards. This makes it the epicenter of Uruguay’s burgeoning wine industry. This area, blessed with fertile soils and a temperate climate, has been producing wines for centuries. Today, it stands as a testament to the country’s vinicultural prowess.

Exploring vineyards is one of the most popular things to do in Uruguay. Visitors to Canelones can embark on a journey of the senses, visiting the many bodegas (wineries) that dot the landscape. Each winery has its own story, traditions, and unique flavors. From robust Tannats to delicate Chardonnays, the wines of Canelones are as diverse as the terroir from which they hail.

Known for its agricultural production and wine region, Canelones is a haven for wine enthusiasts.
Known for its agricultural production and wine region, Canelones is a haven for wine enthusiasts.

Guided tours offer insights into the winemaking process, from grape cultivation to fermentation and aging. And the best part? Each tour culminates in a tasting session, where visitors can savor the fruits of the vintners’ labor.

For travelers pondering where to visit in Uruguay for a blend of culture, history, and gastronomy, the vineyards of Canelones offer an experience that marries the old-world charm of traditional winemaking with the innovative spirit of modern viticulture.

7.  Slip Away Into Serenity at Termas del Daymán

Nestled near the town of Salto, the Termas del Daymán beckons travelers with its therapeutic hot springs. Renowned for their mineral-rich properties, these natural thermal waters have become a haven for those seeking relaxation and relief from the rigors of daily life.

The expansive complex offers a variety of pools, each with its unique temperature range. This ensures that every visitor finds their ideal spot for a soothing soak. As you immerse yourself, the surrounding lush gardens and tranquil ambiance enhance the sense of serenity, making it easy to drift into a state of bliss.

Termas del Daymán is a popular thermal spa and resort, offering relaxing hot springs and wellness experiences.
Termas del Daymán is a popular thermal spa and resort, offering relaxing hot springs and wellness experiences.

Looking to spoil yourself? Termas del Daymán boasts a range of spa treatments, from invigorating massages to rejuvenating mud therapies. Families will appreciate the recreational zones and playgrounds, ensuring that visitors of all ages have a memorable experience.

If you’re looking for a change of pace, relaxing at Termas del Daymán is one of the coolest things to do in Uruguay. It’s not just a destination; it’s an invitation to embrace the healing embrace of nature and rediscover inner peace.

8. Embark on a Gastronomic Journey at Mercado del Puerto

In the heart of Montevideo, the bustling Mercado del Puerto stands as a testament to Uruguay’s rich culinary heritage. Housed in a historic wrought-iron structure, this market is a sensory overload, with the tantalizing aromas of grilled meats, fresh seafood, and local delicacies filling the air.

As you wander through the market, you’ll encounter a myriad of stalls offering everything from handcrafted souvenirs to artisanal cheeses. The true stars of Mercado del Puerto are the parrillas (grill stalls). Here, skilled chefs showcase the art of Uruguayan barbecue, grilling succulent cuts of beef, sausages, and offal to perfection. Pair your meal with a glass of local Tannat wine or a refreshing clericó, and you’re in for a treat.

For those wanting authentic Uruguayan flavors and culture, Mercado del Puerto is a must-visit spot.
For those wanting authentic Uruguayan flavors and culture, Mercado del Puerto is a must-visit spot.

There’s plenty to do after munching on your favorite fare. The market hosts live music performances, art exhibitions, and cultural events, making it a vibrant hub of activity. For travelers seeking the best places in Uruguay to experience authentic local flavors and culture, Mercado del Puerto is a must-visit destination.

9. Explore Salto’s Culture and Natural Beauty

Situated along the eastern banks of the Rio Uruguay, Salto is a city that beautifully marries natural wonders with cultural richness. As the second-largest city in the country, Salto offers a diverse range of experiences for travelers.

One of its most renowned attractions is the Termas del Arapey, a thermal spa resort where visitors can indulge in the therapeutic properties of mineral-rich waters. Surrounded by lush greenery, it’s the perfect spot to relax and rejuvenate.

Experiencing Salto's thermal springs and exploring local culture are some of the best things to do in Uruguay.
Experiencing Salto’s thermal springs and exploring local culture are some of the best things to do in Uruguay.

After taking a relaxing dip, reserve some time for sightseeing. The city is dotted with historic buildings, museums, and theaters that reflect its cultural heritage. The Salto Grande Dam, an impressive hydroelectric dam, stands as a testament to the region’s technological advancements and offers panoramic views of the Uruguay River.

Travelers with a penchant for the arts and looking for unique things to do in Uruguay should visit the Teatro Larrañaga. This architectural gem hosts a variety of performances, from plays to concerts. And for the epicureans, Salto’s culinary scene promises a delightful mix of traditional Uruguayan dishes and international cuisines. It’s a destination that promises a rich tapestry of experiences, from natural wonders to cultural delights.

10. Marvel at the Artistic Wonders of Casapueblo

Casapueblo, nestled on the cliffs of Punta Ballena, is more than just a building; it’s a living canvas of Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. This striking white edifice, characterized by its flowing walls and myriad terraces, stands as a beacon of artistic expression and architectural innovation. Travelers looking for places in Uruguay to visit should include this masterpiece in their itinerary.

Designed and constructed by Vilaró himself, Casapueblo served as both his residence and studio. Today, it has transformed into a museum, art gallery, and hotel, immersing visitors in the artist’s world. Each chamber is a testament to his creativity, adorned with vibrant paintings, intricate sculptures, and captivating ceramics.

Casapueblo serves as a combination of an art gallery and hotel, a haven for art lovers.
Casapueblo serves as a combination of an art gallery and hotel, a haven for art lovers.

The structure, drawing inspiration from the mud nests of the hornero (Uruguay’s national bird), offers breathtaking vistas of the Atlantic Ocean. And as day transitions to night, the “Ceremony of the Sun” graces visitors—a poignant audio tribute by Vilaró to the setting sun and the vast sea. In the intersection of art, architecture, and nature, Casapueblo emerges as a unique destination, promising an experience that lingers in memory. Is this one of the best things to do in Uruguay? You bet!

11. Delve into Fray Bentos, Uruguay’s Historic Riverside Treasure

Nestled along the banks of the Uruguay River, Fray Bentos is home to the Cultural-Industrial Complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This former meatpacking plant, once dubbed the “Kitchen of the World,” offers a unique glimpse into the industrial heritage that shaped global food production during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Visitors can wander through the preserved machinery, factories, and warehouses, gaining insights into the production of iconic products like corned beef and meat extract. The complex stands as a testament to the era’s technological advancements and the transformative power of industry.

Home to the UNESCO-listed Fray Bentos Industrial Landscape, Fray Bentos showcases its historical significance.
Home to the UNESCO-listed Fray Bentos Industrial Landscape, Fray Bentos showcases its historical significance.

Travelers who look beyond its industrial legacy will find plenty of visual treats, including scenic riverfront views and historic architecture. The city’s museums and cultural landmarks further elevate the experience, making it a destination rich in history and charm.

Fray Bentos is among the best places to go in Uruguay. If you’re a history buff, an industrial enthusiast, or simply a curious traveler, this city promises a journey that’s both enlightening and memorable.

12. Discover the Coastal Charm and Natural Beauty of La Paloma

For a top thing to do in Uruguay that is nature oriented, you won’t want to miss this!

Nestled on Uruguay’s eastern coast, La Paloma is a haven of serenity, offering pristine beaches, diverse wildlife, and a relaxed ambiance. Unlike the bustling resorts of Punta del Este, La Paloma provides a more genuine Uruguayan beach experience. This makes it one of the cool destinations in Uruguay for travelers seeking tranquility.

The town’s iconic lighthouse has been a beacon over the Atlantic for over a century. Those who venture to its top are rewarded with sweeping views of the coastline and the shimmering waters. Beaches like Playa Serena and Playa Bahía Grande beckon with their golden sands, ideal for sunbathing, surfing, or simply unwinding.

Exploring La Paloma's pristine beaches and surfing its waves are the top things to do in Uruguay.
Exploring La Paloma’s pristine beaches and surfing its waves are the top things to do in Uruguay.

Nature lovers will find a paradise in the nearby Laguna de Rocha, a must see in Uruguay. This protected wetland teems with birdlife, from elegant flamingos to watchful herons. The region plays a crucial role in the conservation of sea turtles, with dedicated organizations ensuring their protection.

In La Paloma, the gentle whispers of the ocean and the melodies of nature create a harmonious symphony. It’s a destination where time seems to slow down, allowing visitors to savor every moment and every sunset.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the best things to do in Uruguay

Looking for more content on the top things to do in Uruguay? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Uruguay:

What is Uruguay best known for?

Uruguay is known for several cultural, geographical, and social attributes:

  1. Progressive Policies: Uruguay is often cited as one of the most progressive countries in Latin America. It was the first country in the region to legalize same-sex marriage and the sale of recreational marijuana.
  2. Cattle Industry: The country has more cattle than people, making beef a major export product. Traditional barbecues, known as “asados,” are a significant part of Uruguayan cuisine.
  3. Soccer: Soccer is a passion in Uruguay, and the country has a strong footballing history. They won the first-ever FIFA World Cup in 1930 and have continued to produce top-level players and teams.
  4. Beaches and Resorts: Uruguay’s coastal areas, such as Punta del Este, are famous for beautiful beaches and luxurious resorts, attracting tourists from around the world.
  5. Tango: While often associated with Argentina, tango music and dance also have deep roots in Uruguay, particularly in the capital, Montevideo.
  6. Carnival: Uruguay has a unique Carnival tradition that includes colorful parades and the performance of “candombe,” a drum-based musical style of African origin.
  7. Mate: This traditional tea-like beverage is a prominent part of the culture and is shared among friends and family.
  8. Stable Economy and Democracy: Known for its political stability, robust democratic institutions, and solid economy, Uruguay often ranks high in Latin America for the quality of life, low corruption, and human development.
  9. Gaucho Culture: The tradition of the gaucho, or South American cowboy, is alive and well in Uruguay’s rural areas.
  10. Wine Industry: The country is becoming increasingly known for its wine, particularly the production of Tannat, a red wine that’s becoming internationally recognized.

These aspects combine to make Uruguay a unique and fascinating country that blends tradition with modernity.

When is the best time to visit Uruguay?

Uruguay boasts a temperate climate with distinct seasons. The summer months from December to March mark the peak tourist season. It is characterized by warm weather perfect for beach activities and coastal exploration. However, the shoulder months of November and April offer slightly cooler temperatures and fewer crowds, making them ideal for a more relaxed visit.

Is Uruguay safe for tourists?

Uruguay has a reputation for being safe, but like any destination, precautions are essential. It’s one of the safest countries in South America, but it’s always wise to exercise caution, especially in crowded areas. Travelers are advised to avoid displaying expensive items, use reputable transportation services, and stay informed about local safety advisories.

What currency is used in Uruguay?

Handling money is straightforward in Uruguay. The official currency is the Uruguayan Peso (UYU). Many establishments, especially in tourist areas, accept major credit cards, and ATMs are easily found throughout the country.

Do I need a visa to visit Uruguay?

Visiting Uruguay is hassle-free for many, but it’s always good to be prepared. Citizens from the USA, Canada, and most European nations can stay up to 90 days without a visa. It’s always recommended to check visa requirements based on your nationality before traveling.

Uruguay, known for its pristine beaches and tranquil atmosphere, is a place in South America you should not miss.
Uruguay, known for its pristine beaches and tranquil atmosphere, is a place in South America you should not miss.

What are the must-try dishes in Uruguay?

Uruguayan cuisine is a delightful mix of flavors and traditions. Highlights include the traditional “asado” (barbecue), “chivito” (steak sandwich), “milanesa” (fried meat cutlet), “empanadas” (meat-filled pastries), and the traditional “mate” (herbal tea).

Why do tourists go to Uruguay?

Tourists are attracted to Uruguay for a variety of reasons, reflecting the country’s diverse offerings:

  1. Beautiful Beaches: Uruguay’s coastline is dotted with stunning beaches that appeal to both party-goers and those looking for a tranquil escape. Punta del Este is a renowned luxury resort town, while Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo offer more laid-back, natural settings.
  2. Historical Sites: Colonia del Sacramento, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, showcases well-preserved colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, providing a glimpse into the 17th-century Portuguese and Spanish colonial periods.
  3. Cultural Experiences: From the vibrant Carnival celebrations to the rich tango tradition, Uruguay offers unique cultural experiences. The capital, Montevideo, is home to numerous museums, art galleries, theaters, and markets.
  4. Culinary Delights: Uruguay’s cuisine, particularly its beef, is highly acclaimed. Traditional asado barbecues, fine dining, and street food provide various gastronomic experiences. The country’s growing wine industry also attracts wine enthusiasts.
  5. Outdoor Activities: With its diverse landscapes, including rolling plains, hills, and coastlines, Uruguay offers activities such as hiking, horseback riding, bird-watching, surfing, and fishing.
  6. Nightlife and Entertainment: Especially in Punta del Este and Montevideo, there’s an energetic nightlife scene, with clubs, bars, and live music catering to different tastes.

In sum, Uruguay’s appeal to tourists lies in its blend of natural beauty, historical richness, culinary delights, diverse recreational opportunities, and unique cultural offerings. Whether looking for relaxation, adventure, or cultural immersion, travelers can find something to enjoy in this South American gem.

Can I communicate in English?

While Spanish is predominant, many Uruguayans are multilingual. Spanish is the official language, but many people in tourist areas and younger generations speak English. Picking up basic Spanish phrases can enhance your travel experience and is often appreciated by locals.

Are there any unique cultural events I should look out for?

Uruguay’s cultural calendar is vibrant and diverse. Events include the Montevideo Carnival, the world’s longest carnival spanning over 40 days, the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha celebrating gaucho (cowboy) culture, and the Tango Festival in Montevideo, a tribute to the iconic dance form.

What’s the best way to get around Uruguay?

Uruguay offers various transportation options to suit every traveler’s needs. Buses are efficient and cover most parts of the country. Car rentals offer flexibility for exploring the countryside. Taxis and ride-sharing services are widely available in cities like Montevideo and Punta del Este.

Final thoughts on exploring Uruguay

Uruguay, often overshadowed by its larger neighbors, is a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be uncovered. From its sun-kissed beaches and rich gaucho heritage to its vibrant cultural festivals and mouthwatering cuisine, this South American destination offers a unique blend of attractions for every traveler.

Whether you’re seeking relaxation, adventure, or cultural immersion, Uruguay promises a journey that’s both enriching and unforgettable. Pack your bags and set your sights on this charming nation. These things to do in Uruguay are calling your name!

the top things to do in Uruguay for all types of travelers
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