A world away from the brashness of Punta del Este, Laguna Garzón is an oasis of calm nestled between shifting sand dunes. About an hour’s drive along the coastal road from the bustling city, it’s a haven for unusual wildlife, flora and fauna. Migrating birds flock from both north and south to feed and breed at this beautiful spot on Uruguay’s coastline – from snow geese and black-necked swans to rosy flamingos. With just a sandbank separating the lagoon from the vast ocean, whales swim by en route south in the springtime. Linger for a day or two at Laguna Garzón Lodge – a floating hotel with incredible views of the lagoon and out across the Atlantic.
Laguna Garzón Lodge, Rocha, Jose Ignacio, Maldonado, Uruguay, +598 9386 1000
This enormous lagoon rubbing up against the border with Brazil stretches for almost 200 kilometers (124 miles), making it one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. The calm waters thrive with catfish and silverside – perfect for fishing – while guinea fowl, herons and swans pitch up on the silky beaches. The wetlands surrounding the lagoon are packed with rice plantations, propping up the area’s economy. In the summer months, the lake comes to life. Visitors spill in for an annual folklore festival, the glamorous Queen of the Lake competition, and hair-raising water sports. Rolling sands and strong winds make Laguna Merín the perfect spot to try out windsurfing or kite surfing.
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Laguna de Rocha
Snake along Route 10 from La Paloma to find yourself completely surrounded by the natural world. Laguna de Rocha is a bird-lover’s paradise – more than 200 species of bird call this lake their home. Seals, otters and capybara often make an appearance at this watering hole too, so don’t forget to pack a pair of binoculars. Declared a National Park in 1977, Laguna de Rocha is one of Uruguay’s most important ecosystems, supporting endangered species like Darwin’s Frog. Head to the beach at the southern mouth of the lagoon between February and May to watch local fisherman dredging the waters for shrimp. The shrimp are drawn to the flickering lights of floating lanterns on the surface – a spectacular scene after dark.
Laguna del Sauce
Punta del Este’s weekend escape, Laguna del Sauce is a popular spot with well-to-do property investors and golfers. The lake is bordered by a promenade thronging with cyclists and joggers, with kayaks and sail boats available for hire in the summer months. A tiny stream, El Potrero, links the lagoon to the ocean, winding through white sands and the area’s only nudist beach, Chihuahua. For the best view across the lake, head up Las Cumbres de la Ballena (The Whale’s Summit) – this little peak boasts a panorama of the lagoon spreading beneath Pan de Azúcar hill and Isla Gorriti. Don’t miss the pretty Chapel Virgen de los Treinta y Tres, as well as the artisan’s village, on the drive from Montevideo.
This eerie lake, cut into Uruguay’s Eastern coast, is completely isolated from the Atlantic. Bordered by deep forests and palm groves, its choppy, pure waters are teeming with minerals that don’t let light pass through, lending the lagoon an inky color. The lake has a special local significance, as a number of indigenous tombs and ancient bones have been uncovered in the surrounding mountain caves and grasslands. Take a boat trip to the eco-station Potrerillo de Santa Teresa for a guided tour of the landscape. It’s worth stopping to pitch camp on the shores of the lake – the sunset over the dark rippling waters is one of the most spectacular in Uruguay.