Soccer, marihuana and José Mujica. These are some of the most-mentioned elements when you ask a tourist to name Uruguay’s most distinctive features over the past years. But when it comes to visiting the country in summertime, there are some bastions that have positioned Uruguay for decades as one of the most attractive places to visit in South America.
Its capital city, Montevideo, is a can’t-miss stop for every people visiting the country, but when temperature climbs to 30°C visitors make their way into nature instead of the cement jungle. So, we give you three places that you should keep in mind if you are planning to travel to Uruguay.
Colonia del Sacramento
Nearly 200 km away from Montevideo, Colonia (as it’s commonly known) is the capital of the department with the same name and is the perfect place to begin your trip throughout the country.
The easiest way to get there is by taking a bus at Tres Cruces Bus station, based in a central area of Montevideo. There are buses departing to Colonia every hour and the ticket costs less than 10 USD. The schedule can be checked on www.trescruces.com.uy, which also specifies the length of the trip depending on the service (three hours is the average). Colonia’s bus station is based near the city’s historic core, so once you arrive in you can walk your tour. If your luggage is too heavy, you can leave it at the bus station for the whole day for 1 dollar.
You can also rent a car for some 50 dollars USD a day minimum. Some of the main car rental agencies are Avis (www.avis.com.uy), Punta Car (www.puntacar.com.uy) and Rent a Car (www.redmulticar.com). You can check models and prices on the internet and in some cases, like Avis, you can leave the car at the airport in Montevideo, a comfortable option if you want to arrive in the country and tee off your tour. Most of car rental agencies have special offers for weekends or depending on the number of days, so a convenient price can be negotiated. If you drive to Colonia, you’ll be there in less than two hours and the roads are in excellent condition.
Colonia’s historic core was declared World Historic Heritage by UNESCO in 1995. Founded back in 1680, it’s the oldest city in the country. As it was created by the Portuguese colonizers and later taken by the Spaniards, the streets feature different constructions, art and other elements that came out of the merge of both cultures.
So far, Colonia gives visitors an overall peace by means of its mouth-watering food, tranquility and quiet atmosphere. Even the hundreds of tourists that travel from Buenos Aires (a one-hour voyage on the ferry) slowly walk down the paved streets, look at the colonial constructions or talk at the many bars and restaurants in the area.
The prices vary in high season and the point is finding the right place. There are hotels and inns with breakfast included for $US 30. If you are planning to stay a couple of nights, you better take the 21th route to the north, heading to Carmelo City, and rent one of the many houses available in that area. That would be the best choice and you’d have the opportunity to enjoy the typical daybreaks in the Uruguayan countryside.
You can make the arrangements for your accommodation before starting your trip. These are some of the websites where you can check the offers and book them online:
Besides the accommodation, you’ll find information in these links on reference prices for transportation, food and lists of the activities to carry out in the city.
Beyond the historic value, Colonia offers several beaches (it borders Rio de la Plata) with quiet waters, a dream-like place to go with your family or go fishing. If you like wine and home-made food, that Uruguayan region is specialized in home-made cheeses, creameries and several vineyard offers tasting sessions and tours.
Punta del Este: The Country’s Pearl
The most important spa in Latin America for years, Punta del Este has no reason to be envious of Miami or Montecarlo. Oceanic beaches, casinos, intense night life and mountains make it stand as a must-visit destination.
130 kilometers away from Montevideo, “Punta”, as it is locally called, is a place where you’ll have to be careful with your budget, as prices are pretty high: a fruit shake can cost $US 25 dollars in some of the beach bars or along Gorlero, the main avenue in the spa.
There are two outstanding stops: Punta Ballena with picture-perfect view, and Casapueblo, the hotel and atelier owned by prestigious Uruguayan artist Carlos Paez Vilaró. These are two short visits, but you’ll enjoy a one-of-a-kind view of the Atlantic.
You can drive and make the most of these places. However, if you rather be driven, you can take the bus at Tres Cruces –just as if you were heading to Colonia- and get to Punta del Este in two hours, for 10 dollars USD. The bus station is located at the spa’s main street, so it’s a perfect place to kick off your tour.
In terms of gastronomy, the most diverse offers in the continent are served here: from typical sushi barbecued meat to fusion, organic, macrobiotic food… you can taste whatever you want in Punta del Este. If you want to enjoy fine cuisine, but cheaper, visit Maldonado, the capital of the department located 20 minutes away from the spa with 20-percent-cheaper prices.
If you visit Punta del Este, you have to go out at night. The offer is as well-assorted as the gastronomic one: you can dance, drink by the esplanade or attend concerts given by international artists. We recommend you to check the concerts slated to take place at Conrad Hotel. If you like having fun, try to get tickets for private parties being held throughout the spa.
Heading west, Piriapolis is nestled 40 kilometers away from the spa. It’s a city with hills and mountains where you can spend your day and enjoy gorgeous beaches and the view. If you love energetic pathways, Piriapolis is the right place. The route is impeccable when it comes to traveling to Piriapolis or going to Punta del Este, and there spectacular landscapes along the way.
Those who love panoramic routes should take route 60th to Minas City. It’s a dazzling half-a-day journey with lunch at Minas and return to Punta del Este to enjoy the beach. Route 60th winds throughout mountains and valleys with picture-perfect places in every curve.
There are two websites where you can find all the information you need for your Punta del Este tour and, in the case of Colonia, book your accommodation:
Another website to be kept in mind, as you can find cheaper lodging, is managed by the hotel network: www.hosteluruguay.org/, a good choice because prices are 30 percent lower, since houses always cost over U$S 160 dollars a night.
Beyond the price, the hotels in Uruguay are a very good choice because there are young travelers from around the world. Therefore, if you are on vacation on your own or with your friends, you can find other people with the same interests and spend some of your time with them.
Villa Serrana: A Unique Place
It is not on travelers’ guides and even most of Uruguayans don’t know about it. The village, nestled in the heart of the mountains in Lavalleja department, is sited 2 hours and half away from the capital city. It’s a heavenly area with lush vegetation, the dream-like place if you are planning to take some rest and forget about the external world.
The trip to Villa Serrana is more complicated than the access to Colonia del Sacramento or Punta del Este, since it is not near the cities. In this case, we do recommend renting a car so you can comfortably drive to the village. If this isn’t an option, take the bus to Minas (capital of Lavalleja) for less than 10 USD and board another bus at the bus station, which will take you all the way to the doors of Villa Serrana. It’s a three-hour journey.
Villa Serrana features different kinds of lodging: from the most naturist inns to the state-of-the-art hotels with all services included. Unlike Punta del Este and Colonia, even if you are alone for two or three days, renting a small house is the best choice. If you take this type of accommodation, for 50 dollars USD a night you’ll be in a totally private place with more space if compared to hotel rooms. All the information and online bookings can be found on www.portaldevillaserrana.com.uy/
The perfect place for outdoor activities: trekking, hiking, horse riding and even paragliding in Villa Serrana.
This is the most affordable place out of the three we have mentioned: the meals for two people cost less than 50 USD and the service in restaurants and hostels is great. Furthermore, it’s easy to find places serving home-made food, cheese, bread. A good idea would be buying some food in those places and having a picnic while enjoying the view.
If you walk through its tracks, you’ll see a lot of birds and animals. It’s also a great place for romantic escapes. It’s not very illuminated at night, so you can enjoy the wonderful starry sky and the pure air from the mountains.
Both locals and regular visitors say that Villa Serrana has a unique and special energy and it shares its “positive energy” with visitors. You’ll have to go and feel it by yourselves.
Access is the only inconvenient with Villa Serrana: it’s complicated by bus, so you rather rent a car at the airport and drive on route 9th to Minas City. The access way to the village is not in good conditions, so I recommend you to drive slow and carefully.
So you already know, if you are coming to Uruguay, these are the places to be visited.