Get a rental car and follow the coast to visit two iconic capital cities – and two amazing countries – in under 300 kilomteres (196 miles). If you are landing in Montevideo or plan to bus into the capital, get yourself equipped with a rental car that you can drop off at a different branch, and take in the sights in the relaxed (for a capital) coastal city before departing west towards Argentina. Along the way your windshield will be full with the gorgeous Uruguayan pampas and the peaceful, empty and smooth roads will have you driving slow and enjoying all the sights. Stop off in simply enchanting Colonia del Sacramento on the edge of the Mar del Plata river mouth, and take the short comfy one hour trip with the Colonia Express ferry across to the impressive capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires. If you have plans to cross Argentina, then keep on going or return to Colonia to pick up your rental and head back the way you came.
The people of Uruguay are modest, and they will not boast about their accomplishments (you know they have more World Cups than England?) but you can find out about their cultured wine regions on a trip through their vineyards. Start, or even stay, at the Narbona Wine Lodge near Carmelo, on Uruguay’s west coast next to the Uruguay river which acts as the border with Argentina and head the 250 km (155 miles) towards the wine famous department of Canelones.
Here, the best winery to visit is also Uruguay’s biggest, named after the town, Juanico. Discover how they make one of the country’s most famous wines, Don Pascual.
On the last leg of your thirsty tour, you continue another 200 km (124 miles) east staying inland and bypassing Montevideo, to another famous winery bearing the name of its local town. Bodega Garzon is a great contrast to Juanico’s traditional practices, as this winery uses cutting-edge technology in their processes to ensure a perfect bottle of vino.
Roughly half of the circumference of Uruguay is pristine coastline from rugged and rocky beaches, to quiet and soft sandy coves, and this exposed coast, and open ocean can mean only one thing, waves. Start in Punta del Este, and either buy, rent or bring your own board and spend a couple days enjoying the town and the waves closeby – including La Barra, just a 10 minute drive over the inlet.
Continuing east and just a shade past La Barra, if you aren’t paying attention you will breeze right through the town of Manantiales but this another great surf town, with a relaxed vibe. You will then have to head into the city of Rocha to avoid the lagoon of the same name, so head straight back to the coast to La Paloma.
Another surf haven in Uruguay, La Paloma sits over a couple of points which gives you multiple beach and point breaks to enjoy no matter which way the wind is blowing. Make La Paloma your home base for a few days and if you want a change from the waves in town, strap the boards back to the roof and head 15 minutes north to La Pedrera.
If you want to take the road less-travelled then start in historic Colonia del Sacramento, and give the coast and capital the cold shoulder, go instead in search of the other big but more or less unknown cities in Uruguay.
Here the cities and towns all seem to follow a very systematic grid layout when it comes to the inner city roads, so driving through them is very simple. First stop: one of Uruguay’s biggest “cities” of Paysandu that encroaches on the Uruguay river which borders Argentina – here you can visit some great historic museums for an in-depth look at the history of the country most people know so little about. You can also enjoy some good restaurants down the main street Calle 18 de Julio.
Next stop: the 2nd biggest city in Uruguay, Salto, which will only take you roughly 90 minutes driving time. Salto is full of things to do for the whole family, with a waterpark, theatre, green areas and parks, museums and historic buildings and churches.
There’s more to Uruguay than the sweeping golden coast. Go on a road trip north to south and nland you will find some of mother nature’s masterpieces hidden within the country. Just south of the Brazilian border in the northern department of Rivera, the Valle del Lunarejo is carpeted with dense green foliage and in the bottom of the valley fresh water runs through the beautiful rugged rocks.
After exploring the valley, drive alongside the river and depart south and then head through the small town of San Gregorio de Polanco, on the edge of the Rincon del Bonete Lake. You get to take a short enjoyable trip on a barge over a chunk of the water before connecting back on the tarmac, where you continue to Cerro de los Cuervos, or Vulture Gorge. Here’s you’ll find some of the best hiking in the country.