Uruguay’s entire southeast coast is littered with beaches. The Río de la Plata River, the widest in the world, makes up the beaches in the south. As you go eastwards, you’ll see how the river water gradually mixes with the Atlantic Ocean, creating more blue and green beaches with bigger waves. There are beaches in built-up resort cities, small towns, natural reserves, and remote locations. Whichever you prefer, you can count on having a little bit of paradise mostly to yourself in the form of these lengthy unspoiled beaches.
Uruguay has some of the most helpful, engaging, and friendly locals you’ll meet. Whether you go to a restaurant, bar, inn, hostel, or hotel, people will aim to give you an exceptional travel experience. It’s regarded as the safest country in South America, and if you ever find yourself lost or needing guidance you can stop people for help without any problems. People you start a conversation with can quickly become your friends, and they’ll give you useful tips on what to do or where to go next.
Montevideo is Uruguay’s most vibrant and busy city, but even there, people walk and live at a slow pace. You’ll be surprised at how quiet the streets are, and how people seem to be relaxing outside, soaking the sun in, at all times. You’ll feel the peace even more by visiting some of the smaller cities and towns. You have to be prepared for a slower, tranquil rhythm, shops being closed during siesta in the afternoon, and a whole lot of silence.
The typical Uruguayan landscape is made up of soft, grassy hills. The countryside extends for most of the country, and as a result there are many places where you can live the gaucho lifestyle. Horse riding and hiking are some of the best ways to get to know Uruguay’s natural scenery. Some spots have lakes and rivers where you can go canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and camping. You can also visit the areas that have been preserved as protected natural habitats for the native flora and fauna of the region.
A lot of historical urban sites and architecture are preserved from the colonial period of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Almost every city has a historic quarter; some are more distinctive than others, for example in Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo, but they all paint a picture of a different time. You can even do a tour of the geographical sites and buildings that played important roles in the colonial period and the war for independence.
If your vacation ideal is to get away from civilization, Uruguay is the place for you. There are some places that are so remote, you won’t see a town or city for miles around you. You can get lost in the extensive countryside, forests, and deserted beaches on your own and completely disconnect from the rest of society. If you like the sound of that, but are not ready to be completely alone, there are plenty of hostels where you can meet fellow travelers who will join you in a trip away from civilization.
In the big cities, the night starts and ends late. You can enjoy a nice dinner in a restaurant at 10 or 11 p.m., then go to a bar or club at 1, 2 or even 3 a.m., and continue partying until 10 a.m., the perfect time to go for breakfast! In Montevideo, you’ll find a great variety of places to go: there are cocktail bars, traditional old-school bars, Irish pubs, local clubs playing cumbia and reggaeton, clubs with DJs who play electronic and funky music, live-music nights, and even poetry slams and comedy. There is something for everyone.
One of Uruguay’s major highlights is its typical dishes and bakeries. There are a lot of dishes that involve meat, and specifically beef. You can eat a massive steak sandwich called a chivito, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or even fish on the grill, or milanesas (meat coated in breadcrumbs and fried). There is also plenty of seafood and great fish, with places offering paella and casseroles. The bakeries are insanely good: you can get bizcochos (various sweet and savory doughy pastries), a great variety of cakes with dulce de leche and membrillo (quince jam), and empanadas (similar to a mini-calzone with various fillings inside).
In Uruguay, you’ll get to experience quite distinct displays of traditional culture. You can see it in the everyday customs and general lifestyle, and also in its shows, dances, and music. There are special events, such as carnivals and festivals, where you can see these, others that go on all year, and places that show them as a tourist attraction. In most neighborhoods in Montevideo, comparsas practice their drumming and dancing for the competitions that go on at carnival time; they parade up and down the street and neighbors congregate around them to have fun dancing and listening to the vibrant music.