Located to the north of the country, next to the border with Brasil, this area offers unique sceneries and nature. The proximity to the south of Brasil makes for a large number of subtropical plants and animals that aren’t found anywhere else in Uruguay. There are hills with flat tops, delineating narrow rocky valleys and gorges. You will spot rock caves, walls, small waterfalls and exuberant vegetation, classic of the subtropical jungle. There are 150 species of birds, some which can only be spotted in this area. Likewise, there are species of amphibians, reptiles, and mammals which are unique to this part of the country. There are five trails you can take here, some that go around the valley and others down the gorges. Find the best ones for you depending on what you want to experience.
Cerro de los Cuervos
This is near the Arequita Hill, which is also very beautiful, but only accessible with a guided tour, so Cerro de los Cuervos is better if you’d rather explore on your own. The entry is through a private campsite, where you can stay or simply pay entry to continue up the hill. At the foot of the hill you will find a lake where you can swim. To go up the hill, you have to first cross a very shallow river, so secondary footwear is recommended. The trail is easily found by going parallel to this river, and the one-hour hike up is nicely shaded due to the vegetation. Needless to say that the view from above, of the rivers and surroundings, is absolutely stunning.
Cerro Pan de Azúcar
This hill is located in Maldonado, very near the coastal city of Piriápolis. The hike up is very rewarding, as you are surrounded by unspoiled vegetation and you have different trails to explore. The last part of the journey is harder, as you must be careful that you are following the proper route up (others can be dangerous). That being said, you see many 12-year-old children climbing up to the top, so don’t be afraid of taking your family up with you. There’s a massive hollow cross at the top that you can go in, and the view from there is spectacular.
Valizas to Cabo Polonio
Cabo Polonio is a one-of-a-kind seaside town and protected natural reserve. It is home to a wide variety of sea animals, in particular one of the biggest colonies of sea lions in the world. Its massive sand dunes are also protected, so the only way into the town is by authorized vehicles, or a hike from the nearby town, Valizas. The hike is extremely rewarding and adventurous, as you walk on the sand and even have to cross a small stream to reach your destination.
Sierra de las Ánimas
This mountain range is covered by forest and a slightly rocky dirt floor. There are clearly defined hiking trails to go up the mountains, and these are easy enough for families to go up, although long. The walk itself is a display of nature – you walk around trees and bushes, listening to birds chirping. There are also special trails that go to natural rock pools, so ask about them if you want to extend your hike.
Quebrada de los Cuervos
The striking gorge-shaped geography has made this area a hiking and camping favourite for years. Its mountain range, made of metamorphic rocks, goes up to 300 metres above sea level. The amount and diversity of animal species here, especially birds, is remarkable. The turkey vulture – whose abundance gives its name to the area – is one of them. There are multiple strategic viewpoints to appreciate them and the other 100 species of birds that inhabit Quebrada de los Cuervos.
Santa Teresa National Park
This park is a protected natural reserve right next to one of the most beautiful parts of the Uruguayan Atlantic coast. Here you will find a lot of forest, and an easy enough hike to do with kids. There is also an old fortress that is still intact, and very much worth a visit. As you walk through the vegetation you will catch glimpses of the nearby ocean and hear the soft murmur of the waves. After your hike, you can rest right on the beach nearby and take a refreshing dip in the sea.
Camino al Padre Pío
This is a religious trail where you will find many pilgrims making their way from the city of Salto to see the sanctuary of Padre Pío, or Saint Pío of Pietrelcina. The first six kilometres of the trail is done on a bikeway, safely away from cars and from where you can appreciate the landscapes of the area. You continue walking through Termas del Dayman, a touristic town famous for its thermal baths, and then cross a bridge over the Dayman River. The sanctuary of Padre Pío is famous for fulfilling miracles, and the area in which it’s located is also famous for spotting UFOs.
The “millennial gullies” are a series of very ancient, very large geological formations. This trail allows you to explore and enjoy the majestic eroded rock, along with native species of animals and plants. The landscape is characteristic of this area in the country, so you can get a good idea of the historic, natural, and geological heritage. You can go with a guide on a two hour journey, where the guide will explain and answer everything you want to know.