While history books hype Uruguay’s victory at the first World Cup in 1930, today Uruguay is regarded as a year-round vacation destination. Surprisingly, most travelers overlook this small South American jewel that is wedged between Argentina and Brazil. Uruguay proudly boasts pristine beaches in a stable, democratic environment filled with 450+ species of birds.

If you’re a first-time visitor, we recommend that you travel to the coastline. For a lazy beach vacation with high-end perks try Punta del Este, the St. Tropez of Latin America. For a taste of the city life, Montevideo, the capital, offers both cosmopolitan attractions and sandy beaches.

Helpful Tip–The Ministerio de Turismo is a fantastic source for information and useful maps.

Punta del Este

Image via Sandy Bornstein

Beach lovers can sit by rollercoaster waves suitable for surfers on the Atlantic Ocean side (Playa Brava) or wade into the more serene waters of the Río de la Plata (Playa Mansa). A small strip of land separates both areas.

Helpful Tip–Don’t listen to anyone who says that you can’t walk between these beaches.

Prime photo and people watching opportunities are available while strolling on the boardwalks that run adjacent to the Rio de la Plata and the Atlantic Ocean as well as at these notable landmarks—Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria Port, the lighthouse, Paseo de las Americas and the Gazebo.

Avenida Gorlero is the main place to go for restaurants, bars, shops and casinos. Need a unique gift? Artigas Square sells handicrafts during preset hours.

Image via Sandy Bornstein

Animal enthusiasts should visit nearby Isla de Lobos (Sea-Lions Island). Here, you’ll find the largest colony of sea lions in South America.

Helpful Tip–Be aware that sea lion tours are occasionally cancelled due to weather conditions and high surf.

After visiting Punta del Este, most will agree that its nickname—the Pearl of Uruguay—is right on target.

Montevideo

Sun worshippers can find their special spot near the Rambla of Montevideo. This waterfront boulevard runs along the Rio de la Plata estuary and has approximately 20 kilometers of white natural sand beaches.

While enjoying the beach near the Punta Carretas neighborhood, take a few moments to walk through the Memorial del Holocausto del Pueblo Judio. This uniquely designed memorial takes full advantage of its prime location on the Rio de la Plata shoreline.

Explorers can spend a day or two wandering through different parts of the city. The Ciuduad Vieja, the oldest area, is known for its narrow streets and elegant colonial architecture. It is conveniently located near the cruise ship and ferry port. Locals recommend the Mercado del Puerto, a 3,500 square meter market, as the best place to go for parrillas (grilled Uruguay beef).

History buffs and curious souls can stroll through the Plaza Constitucion and the adjacent Plaza Independencia. A small section of the fortification built by the Spanish (Puerta de la Ciudadela) creates a natural barrier between the two areas.

Focal points in the latter plaza include the 30-ton statue of General Gervasio Artigas, the father of Uruguay, and the diverse architectural styles of the surrounding buildings.

Image via Sandy Bornstein

Sports fans can seek out the Parque Batlle. It contains the 70,000-seat Centennial Stadium that was built for the first World Cup.

The best selection of shops, bars, and restaurants can be found in the Pocitos Quarter and the Centro (Downtown area). If you’re in the Pocitos Quarter look for Castillo Pittamiglio, a museum housed in an early 20th century castle.

Don’t forget to try Tannat wine. About a quarter of the area vineyards harvest this national red grape.

If you’ve found a Uruguay gem attraction, don’t hesitate to share your experience in the comment box below!

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About The Author

Sandy Bornstein

Sandy Bornstein lived as an expat in India. Her award-winning memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, highlights what she learned as the only American teacher at an international Bangalore school. After living abroad, Sandy continues to explore the world and write about her travels. You can follow Sandy's adventures at www.sandrabornstein.com.