It is South America’s smallest country and has flown well under the radar for a long time in terms of tourism, but this year it is shaping up to be one of the hot spots to travel to. Think moments not made for tourists, the longest running Carnaval in the world, boutique wineries to explore and more. From learning how to dance the tango to soaking up the sun on the beach to exploring cobble street towns, here are our favorite six things to do in this tiny, but a fun-filled country of Uruguay.
6. Learn the Tango
Uruguay claims to be one of the capitals of the Tango and it’s hard to dispute that claim, seeing as in the city of Montevideo, the tango was danced for the first time. In the Old City, about 150 years ago the streets teemed with immigrant workers from Europe, freed slaves and fortune seekers who frequented neighborhood brothels and bars.
It is here where the tango emerged, a combination of African rhythms, Italian opera and a touch of polka thrown in. Today the Old City remains a mecca for the tango and although it’s a nocturnal business, visitors who are just learning can join lessons early in the evening before hitting the dance floor.
5. Attend the Carnaval
Carnaval is celebrated around the world but no one celebrates it like the country of Uruguay, who celebrates it for a whopping 40 days! From the end of January to mid-March, the country is decked out in costume parades, satirical comedies in the streets and contests for artists.
Montevideo is the best place to get involved as it hosts the most parades, the biggest drums, and incredible activities to join in on. The Llamadas is the two-night parade that is absolutely one of the highlights of the carnival, as are the tablado shows. Depending on when you go will depend on what you see but you can guarantee that it won’t disappoint.
4. Tour the Wineries
This country is the fourth-largest producer of wine in South America and it pays to check out some of the incredible wineries while you are here. A budding new wine route features over 15 small boutique wineries, a welcome change to the mass producers that are often seen around the world. Visitors are welcomed to these wineries with open arms, with owners taking great care to offer fabulous wines to taste, fabulous on-site restaurants and behind the scenes tours.
Make sure to check out the 15-acre Vinedo de Los Vientos where guests are treated to high-quality wines paired with lamb and beef cuts. More boutique and sophisticated is Bodega Bouza which overlooks the white sands of Punta del Este, one of South America’s hippest beach resort towns. Each bottle they produce lists the wine’s vintage, number of barrels used in the marking and quantity of bottles produced.
3. Explore Colonia del Sacramento
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is full of old colonial buildings, cobbled streets and quaint restaurants. Exploring the town only takes about a day and can easily be done on foot, although there are many shops that rent bicycles and scooters. The main attraction here is most definitely the historic center and the eight small museums you can visit for just one price.
Make sure to check out the Museo Municipal for its electric collection of treasures including a scale model of Colonia and a whale skeleton. One of the favorite things to do in this town is eat, due to the high number of restaurants that offer spectacular local food. One of the best places is Buen Suspiro, a cozy spot that specializes in local wines and cheese. In the winter cozy up beside the fire or in the summer grab a table on the back patio, we suggest reserving ahead for either.
2. Hit the Beach in Punta del Diablo
The former fishing village of Punta del Diablo is one of the greatest spots to be in this country, especially if you are planning on hitting the beach. Don’t expect high rise hotels, ATM’s or flashy things here; instead, you will find a laid-back surfer lifestyle where time is spent on the beach, day and night. If you wanted to learn how to surf it is easy to grab a board and an instructor from a local shop, or if waves aren’t your thing, sit back on the soft sand and soak in the sun.
Horseback riding is popular in off months to enjoy the awesome sunsets and many visitors choose to play in the large sand dunes. A dozen small bars and restaurants line the city, most only operational during the peak summer season and a handful of hostels, hotels and campgrounds are available for visitors.
1. Stay in an Estancia
Visiting and staying at an Estancia is Uruguay is about learning the history and culture of the country, it means unplugging and heading out to the country to experience typical rural life. If visitors are looking to do a little something different, this would be it.
Seeking out a traditional estancia is important and be prepared to switch off and join in the family life as this is no party place or entertainment venue, it is indeed a real South American Ranch. Join the ranchers on horseback as you learn about sheep herding, de-worming, branding and more. Eat traditional meals, sleep by candlelight and truly immerse yourself in the way of life for rural folk in this country.