If you are from Argentina, a visit to the neighboring country is always on your mind. But if you are from another country, I invite you to discover the best of Uruguay, to discover a country that has a lot to offer, beyond the typical places.
On this road trip through the best of Uruguay, we will leave aside two key places: Montevideo and Punta del Este. Why? Because we decided to opt for other less traveled places, and because we prefer to choose other less crowded beaches.
But if you have more days to spend, do not miss visiting the Uruguayan capital and the beautiful city of Punta del Este (always more beautiful out of season).
Are you ready to discover the best of Uruguay on this 10 day long road trip? Let us begin!
- 1 THE BEST OF URUGUAY: GETTING INTO COLONIA
- 2 THE BEST OF URUGUAY: COLONIA´S SURROUNDINGS
- 3 WERE TO STAY IN COLONIA
- 4 BEST OF URUGUAY: THE BEST OF ROCHA
- 5 BEST OF URUGUAY : PIRIÁPOLIS AND ITS SURROUNDINGS
- 6 THE BEST OF URUGUAY: CONCLUSION
THE BEST OF URUGUAY: GETTING INTO COLONIA
One of the best and fastest ways to get to Uruguay is by sea from Buenos Aires. And one of the main ports of arrival is the beautiful colonial city of Colonia del Sacramento. It is a journey of barely an hour and a quarter that takes you from Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires, to a few meters from the historic center of this city declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995.
Many tourists rush to walk its streets as they they come with those famous daily tours that we do not recommend at all (you all know that our travel motto is to SLOW TRAVEL and the one day tours are not compatible, but hey, everyone has their own tastes).
But Colonia del Sacramento is much more than a set of narrow, cobbled streets. We will not dwell on that precisely now, as we will do later in the article.
Let’s talk about this city, whose streets invite us to travel back in time when the Portuguese founded it back in 1680 under the name of the Nova Colônia do Santíssimo Sacramento. Today, these are streets of extreme tranquility. Long left behind were those years of takes and retakes, as the city passed from Portuguese to Spanish hands over and over again, until they came under Uruguayan sovereignty in 1828.
In their streets, an architecture that fuses Spanish, Portuguese and post-colonial architectural styles predominates.
Beyond the typical to see in the historic center of Colonia del Sacramento, like its lighthouse of 1857, or the Puerta de la Ciudadela, built in 1745, or the famous Calle de los Suspiros with its 18th century houses, this city invites us to walk with a slow pace.
Whether through its cobbled streets and squares, or along its waterfront and its small beaches where you can fish, or just sit and enjoy a spectacular sunset, one of the best of Uruguay.
THE BEST OF URUGUAY: COLONIA´S SURROUNDINGS
Thinking about spending the first 4 days in Colonia may seem like too much if you think that Colonia is just about the beautiful city of Colonia de Sacramento.
But this Uruguayan department has almost 20 beaches to enjoy the water during the warm months of the year. We visited three, and that is why we want to propose them to you so that you can enjoy as a family.
REAL DE SAN CARLOS BEACH
This urban beach is located in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods of Colonia and very close to the Plaza de Toros, another of the classic city visits.
It is a wide beach surrounded by trees that allow for several shaded areas. It has some hotels and several services to eat so it is perfect to spend the whole day.
Just 20 minutes away from the historic center is this small town that has a beautiful small beach between the sea and a huge grove. The trees on the sand give it a more rugged feeling to the beach.
The sand is not soft like that in San Carlos but it is a perfect place to find more tranquility and solitude.
LA ARENISCA BEACH
This beach is known by locals but not known for tourism, so you can have the luck to enjoy it in solitude or with very few people. To get to it you must cross a gravel road of about 5 kilometers through a beautiful forest.
You can go either by car or walking or by bicycle. The walk itself is worth it.
The beach is perhaps one of the most beautiful landscape-wise beaches, with a small island facing the coast, very calm waters, and white sand.
But we left the place with a bittersweet feeling because on the edges of the beach there were many dangerous elements such as rusted metals or glass.
The place is beautiful but I do not recommend it for children, at least not with those elements that we found.
In conclusion , Colonia is not only the beautiful historical city. It deserves more days to enjoy its nice and quiet beaches.
WERE TO STAY IN COLONIA
As a good tourist city, Colonia has an infinite number of lodging options. But Uruguay is an expensive country, quite expensive, and finding a place that combines price and quality is not easy.
We decided on Hostal de los Poetas, just 5 minutes away from the historic center and the beaches. It is a classical colonial house managed by a beautiful family that loves what they do: Ariel and Carla.
Carla is an historian so it is an excellent opportunity to get to know all the past of the city. The Hostal de los Poetas is a long house with shared spaces such as a reading room with a fireplace, a beautiful garden, and a large kitchen that can be used to cook (something essential to not spend so much in the restaurants of the historic center that seem out of Switzerland for their prices).
Lear a bit more about this lodging: Hostal de los Poetas.
BEST OF URUGUAY: THE BEST OF ROCHA
We drove about five hours from Colonia to reach the beautiful coastal city of La Paloma, the ideal place to base on what, in our opinion, is the most beautiful region of Uruguay.
This section of our road trip through the best of Uruguay will take place between beautiful days of beach and days in wonderful National Parks.
LA PALOMA: A TOWN-LIKE CITY
La Paloma is one of those cities where you realize in each corner that it is located on the seashore.
The wind that blows carries with it that unmistakable aroma of the coastal cities. A mixture of smell of water, seaweed, marine life, and sand.
The city itself is small and has a main avenue with all its restaurants, bars, and shops. But its beaches and surroundings make La Paloma the ideal place to explore the wonderful region of Rocha.
La Paloma has a very extensive coastline and very diverse beaches, ranging from the famous beach of La Balconada, with its magical sunsets and its long stretches of sand, to that of the Bay, with its calmer waters, ideal for a family trip.
Another of the most picturesque and entertaining beaches for children is the Faro Beach (The Lighthouse Beach). Although on windy days the waves are very dangerous, it is ideal to play among the rocks, and enjoy the Cabo de Santa María Lighthouse, built in 1874, the most emblematic construction of La Paloma.
SANTA TERESA NATIONAL PARK
The most unexpected and beautiful day of this road through the best of Uruguay arrived: the visit to the previously unknown for us Santa Teresa National Park, just an hour and a quarter by car from La Paloma, approaching the border with Brazil.
It was one of those days that are improvised from one moment to the next and that mark the trip as an unforgettable one. A perfect day to enjoy with the family.
The Santa Teresa National Park, at km 302 of Route 9, is an immense park of 3000 hectares, of which 1400 are covered with forest, populated with more than 2 million exotic and native trees.
Admission is free but the wonderful condition in which it is kept makes us think that it would be worth an entrance fee.
There are many paths that can be taken to enjoy nature. But the one we liked the most is the one that leads to the Mirador de las Aves (Bird Viewpoint).
We share with you some photos so that you can see what the place is about.
Another of the great attractions of the Park is its beautiful Fauna Reserve, a huge space where dozens of animals are in a state of freedom (or semi-freedom those that still require a period to be released again).
It is wonderful for the children to be able to be together with, and feed deer, peacocks, pigs, llamas, sea turtles, among other wild animals.
SANTA TERESA FORTRESS
Within the National Park there is a historical space that speaks of centuries of conquests and reconquests between Portuguese and Spanish. We are talking about the Fortress of Santa Teresa, a wonderful place on top of a hill.
This fortress began to be built in 1762 by Portugal although its current construction is due to the Spanish crown that had it in its possession for 48 years, between 1763 and 1811.
The walls are the original ones, which speaks of a strong construction and a place located in a very strategic site.
Every day at six o’clock in the afternoon an interesting event takes place, which is the firing of the cannon, old way style.
It is a very entertaining time for the little ones.
To culminate the day in the Santa Teresa National Park, nothing better than visiting some of its beaches that stretch along 12 kilometers.
It is a place usually frequented by surfers because of the generous waves.
CABO POLONIO NATIONAL PARK
Rugged, relaxed, with a hippie air, without street power lines, with sand streets … this is Cabo Polonio, a Uruguayan city in the middle of a beautiful National Park.
Arriving at the Cape is already an adventure. Being inside a Protected Park, private vehicles are prohibited. That is why you have to take giant two story high 4×4 trucks with a capacity of around 50 people.
The trip is wonderful as it crosses the protected area between vegetation, sand dunes, and culminates driving on the beach, just a few meters away from the sea, with the air of water hitting our faces.
What to do in Cabo Polonio?
In addition to walking its picturesque sandy streets, sitting down to eat in one of its many restaurants, and enjoying the crafts that are for sale in each corner, the Cape has a coast that invites you to walk, more precisely towards the Reserve of Sea Lions.
Crossing a simple rocky path, you reach the Lighthouse and from there you can see the animals in their natural state, frolicking on the shore.
You can also take a walk through the huge sand dunes that surround the city, and, weather permitting, stay at the Cape to appreciate one of the most starry nights in Uruguay.
For the return we recommend taking the truck that leaves during the sunset to enjoy a drive on the unforgettable sand, watching the sun fall over the dunes.
WHERE TO STAY IN ROCHA
As we said, the best option to do base is the city of La Paloma, since it allows us to enjoy the best beaches in the region, and is also an hour and a quarter away from Santa Teresa Park, and half an hour from Cabo Polonio.
We chose the beautiful little Perla del Este Hotel, a building that faces the sea, with stunning views of the entire coastline, the lighthouse, and the ocean.
Check their web to know a bit more about the place: http://www.hotelperladeleste.com.uy/
BEST OF URUGUAY
: PIRIÁPOLIS AND ITS SURROUNDINGS
Our last stop on this beautiful road trip through the best of Uruguay was in the city of Piriápolis, an intermediate point of return between La Paloma and Colonia.
It is an ideal place to combine days of beautiful beach with days of hiking in the surrounding hills. We chose both options and headed to Punta Colorada, a beautiful beach further away from the center, and Cerro San Antonio and Cerro Pan de Azúcar.
Punta Colorada is a wide beach with a bar, ideal to spend the whole day. There is not much more to say about a beach that we have not said in the previous ones.
But it is so that you have an idea of a beautiful beach to spend the day in Piriápolis. There are a total of 25 kilometers of coastline offered by the region, so there are plenty of beaches to choose from, such as Playa Hermosa, Punta Negra, San Francisco Beach, or the beach right in the center of the city, perfect for anyone who wants to enjoy the nightlife of Piriápolis.
CERRO SAN ANTONIO
Its official name is Cerro El Inglés, but it takes its name San Antonio because of the chapel that is at the top of the hill.
It is the most popular hill since it is the closest to the city. In addition, its 135 meters high can be easily covered on foot or even by car. At the top there are a couple of restaurant options (although very expensive), and the most beautiful, a wonderful view of the entire spa city, one of the best of Uruguay.
CERRO PAN DE AZÚCAR
Another very nice option to do as a family around Piriápolis is to head towards Cerro Pan de Azúcar.
Perhaps the ascent is not the ideal option to do with children as it is quite demanding in some sections, with many sectors with rocks that can be slippery (although the views from the top are worth it).
But at the base of the hill there is a huge playground for children from which you can appreciate the beauty of the region, and a flower and faunistic reserve to explore with the little ones.
WHERE TO SLEEP IN PIRIÁPOLIS
If you want to experience a wild place and in pure contact with nature, we recommend you to visit Bosquecito Permacultura, a place with only one room (for the moment, soon it will be another one), where respect for nature takes its maximum expression: the whole site is made out of recycled materials and its operation is perfectly thought and developed by its owners, experts in permaculture projects.
Find out a bit more about this lovely project here: Bosquecito Permacultura.
THE BEST OF URUGUAY: CONCLUSION
Uruguay is a beautiful country, ideal to visit during the warm months, to enjoy its beaches to the fullest. But it is also a country full of surprises, such as the Parks of Santa Teresa and Cabo Polonio, of beautiful cities such as Colonia and Piriápolis (Montevideo and Punta del Este are also beautiful despite being left out of this particular route through Uruguay).
But above all things, Uruguay is a country with very kind, cheerful people, always willing to help, to share a mate.
Uruguay is expensive, we are not going to deny it. But it’s worth it, and a lot. Those sunsets over the sea, with the constant scent of coast, make it an ideal place to travel without haste, as we like it.
Hope you enjoy the best of Uruguay according to our experience and add it to your bucket list!