15 Best Places to Visit in Uruguay

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Uruguay has always lived in the shadows of Brazil and Argentina, it’s bigger and faster neighbours.  But in recent decades, this little country is finally getting some of the recognition it deserves.

It’s everything you want a holiday country to be:  progressive, culturally sophisticated, stable, jam packed with nature and outdoor adventure, and accessible.  Because it’s not yet heavy on the tourist circuit, you’ll get lots of “local experience,” which comes with great memories and stories to retell back home.

Come and discover for yourself why it’s called the Switzerland of South America. Here’s the best places to visit in Uruguay!

1. Montevideo

MontevideoSource: Ivo Antonie de Rooij / shutterstock

Montevideo is the seat of the nation’s capital and home to almost half of its population.  This eclectic own is high on fun and steeped in cultural life.  There are lots of different aspects to discover here.

Start with the historic downtown where you’ll find neoclassic buildings right next to towering skyscrapers.  You can visit the port and industrial side, spending the day shopping, or check out the beach communities of places like Pocitos and Carretas.

In the evening enjoy theatre, galleries, and concerts.  You’ll love the tango bars and seaside discos. Be sure to check out La Feria Tristán Narvaja flea market, The Rambla, and Plaza de Independecia.

2. Salto

Hydroelectric Dam, SaltoSource: reisegraf.ch / shutterstock
Hydroelectric Dam, Salto

Salto is the country’s second biggest city and is named after the point where the Rio Uruguay makes a “big jump.”  People make their way here for the hot springs and the outdoor activities offered.

You’ll find a pretty riverfront town that’s relaxed and lets you easily unwind. Oddly enough, the town’s hydroelectric dam, located 2ok from the city, is a very popular tourist site.

Check out the hot springs at Daymán which has three pools of varying temperatures, different showers and fountains, and great area to enjoy a picnic lunch.

3. Paysandú

PaysandúSource: Matyas Rehak / shutterstock

The third-largest city is Paysandú and it’s joined to Colón, Argentina by the Puente Internacional General Artigas.

Founded as an outpost for cattle herders in the regions, the town has grown to be the source of most of the meat for all of Uruguay.  These days, the action is on Plaza Constitución so plan to spend an afternoon strolling around.

If you time it right, you can join in the city’s annual week long beer festival and see a wilder side of laid-back Paysandú.

4. Carmelo

CarmeloSource: ebone / shutterstock

Filled with low old houses and cobblestone streets, Carmelo is the place for stress-free water activities. Fishing, yachting and exploring the Paraná Delta are the major pastimes here.

Situated near the convergence of the Rio Uruguay and the Rio de la Plata, there’s a lovely sheltered harbour here.  Cross the bridge to Playa Sere beach with great space for camping in the adjoining park.

Bring some extra cash on hand to enjoy the casino.

5. Chuy

Fortaleza de Santa Teresa, ChuySource: ThiagoSantos / shutterstock
Fortaleza de Santa Teresa, Chuy

Chuy sits on the Atlantic coast in Uruguay and right across the street is its twin sister Chui, in Brazil.  The main street between these two towns is the actual border between Brazil and Uruguay.

Half the town will call out, “Bienvenido,” as you pass, and the other half will say, “Bem vinda.”

Don’t miss Fuerte San Miguel, an 18th century fort integral in the formation of Uruguay as an independent country, and Fortaleza de Santa Teresa, a National Historic Monument located in a national park.

6. Colonia (Colonia del Sacramento)

Colonia del SacramentoSource: Lux Blue / shutterstock
Colonia del Sacramento

Founded in the 17th century, Colonia is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll love the old colonial buildings and cobblestone streets that provide so much character.

The city itself was, for a long time, a smuggling port and changed hands several times between the Portuguese and the Spanish. As you’d imagine, the main attraction is the old historic centre.  There are eight small museums here (all for the price of one ticket). The town lighthouse provides a lovely view of the city and the river.

Visit the abandoned Basilica del Sanctísimo Sacramento, an old bullfighting ring and enjoy some of Colonia’s asado, a favourite among the locals.

7. Durazno

DuraznoSource: Gerardo C.Lerner / shutterstock

Situated on the Yi River, Durazno is a small town originally built in the 19th century and named after the Brazilian Emperor Pedro I.

There is a great regional art museum, Casa del General, with exhibits on Uruguayan archaeology, Gaucho art, and local history. Sports fans will enjoy the local sports museum and kids will love the Durazno zoo.

There’s also the wonderful Iglesia San Pedro De Durazno, designed by well-known architect Eladio Diesde.

8. Punta del Diablo

Punta del DiabloSource: Ksenia Ragozina / shutterstock
Punta del Diablo

This old timey fishing village is now the number one summer getaway destination for Argentines and Uruguayans.  It’s also the heart of the backpacker scene in Uruguay.

There’s been a lot of development recently, but the town hasn’t lost its charm. Another fantastic town with a gorgeous coastline and laid-back atmosphere, you’ll love this little corner of the country.

Be sure to check out the sandy plaza, located about 200m inland.  Small sandy streets fan out in all directions.

9. Punta del Este

Punta del EsteSource: Agent Wolf / shutterstock
Punta del Este

This beach resort town has everything:  sand, yachts, casinos, and sun. Sometimes called the Monaco of South America, Punta del Este is a bit expensive compared to the rest of Uruguay, but the amazing coast, activities, restaurants and more make it a must see town.

Don’t miss sunset in either Jose Ignacio or La Barra and the surfing in La playa de los Dedos. There’s some great beach art here as well. You’ll love gawking at the seaside mansions and walking along the tree-lined an idyllic streets.

There’s also a museum, Casa Pueblo, created by Carlos Paez-Vilaro. As well as the Pablo Atchugarry Foundation, the Museo del Mar (marine museum), the Museo Ralli (contemporary art museum),  Arboretum Lussich, and Isla de los Lobos – the largest seal colony in the southern hemisphere.

10. Piriápolis

PiriápolisSource: Ksenia Ragozina / shutterstock

There is a definite Mediterranean vibe in Piriápolis.  There’s a beachfront promenade and a wonderful old hotel.  Created specifically for tourism at the beginning of the 20th century, it includes the Castillo de Piria (Pira’s Castle) and the Argentino Hotel.

There’s a ten block area of coastline where you’ll find the shopping, restaurants, and water sports.

Though most of Uruguay is quite flat, there are lovely views here of the surrounding area – with two of the country’s highest peaks nearby.

11. Tacuarembó

TacuarembóSource: Ksenia Ragozina / shutterstock

This is gaucho country.  The rolling hills of Cuchilla de Haedo serve as the backdrop for this rugged cattle country.  The supposed birthplace of the tango legend Carlos Gardel, you’ll find attractive plazas, tree lined streets, and the quaint Plaza 19 de Abril in the heart of the town.

Be sure to visit the Museo Carlos Gardel, the Gruta de los Helechos, the Catedral de Tacuarembo, the Museo del Indio y del Gaucho Washington Escobar, and the stunning Pozo Hondo, a grotto and waterfall just outside of town.

Everyone falls in love with the culture, language, and cuisine of Tacuarembo that all seem to be influenced by just about everywhere.

12. Cabo Polonio

Cabo PolonioSource: LGNPhoto / shutterstock
Cabo Polonio

There’s no water, sewage, or electricity in Cabo Polonio, making it a big attraction for the hippie and backpacker crowds.

The entire area is a natural reserve complete with a forest of Ombu trees, and a nearby colony of sea lions behind the picturesque lighthouse. The main reason to come here is to relax on the beach and unwind from all your travels.

Remember to bring real books with you if you plan to relax on the beach – recharging your e-reader will be a challenge!

13. Rocha

RochaSource: MBV1 / shutterstock

Rocha is where you’ll find the last of the vast pristine beaches of Uruguay.  The sand is white, the ocean a bright blue, and the beach is basically deserted.

The entire department has very little development but the feeling of remoteness is greater than reality.  The place is still quiet accessible.

More and more ex-pats are discovering a retirement paradise in Rocha.

14. Nueva Helvecia

Nueva HelveciaSource: RPBaiao / shutterstock
Nueva Helvecia

There is a deep sense of community in Nueva Helvecia.  The town square, a favourite hangout spot for locals, was specifically designed for people to come together. You’ll find everyone in town spends at least a little time here every day.  The elders of the community can be counted on to tell stories from the old days.

There’s an incredible Founder’s Monument here that commemorates the immigrants who laboured and sacrificed to build Nueva Helvecia.  Made out of granite, it’s a fantastic tribute to this cosy community.

There are also great festivals here.  In August enjoy the Swiss Festival where you can sample Swiss dishes, signing, and dancing.  Some families go all out in creating incredible Swiss cheese fondues for everyone to sample.

15. San Gregorio de Polanco

San Gregorio de PolancoSource: DJACKSON32 / shutterstock
San Gregorio de Polanco

Come to San Gregorio de Polanco for fresh clean invigorating air, lush flora, and blue water.  This is a rather isolated area, which completely adds to its charm.

There are roughly 3,000 inhabitants here and it’s truly a natural paradise. You can visit the local visual arts museum, the delightfully decorated OSE water tank, and the local parish which has an art gallery inside.

For such an isolated area there are plenty of water activities on offer as well as amazing fishing.

15 Best Places to Visit in Uruguay:

  • Montevideo
  • Salto
  • Paysandú
  • Carmelo
  • Chuy
  • Colonia (Colonia del Sacramento)
  • Durazno
  • Punta del Diablo
  • Punta del Este
  • Piriápolis
  • Tacuarembó
  • Cabo Polonio
  • Rocha
  • Nueva Helvecia
  • San Gregorio de Polanco