Experience the gems of Uruguay
Travel to Uruguay and experience the beautiful, hidden gem on the South American east coast.
placed between the southern point of Brazil, Argentina, and the Atlantic Ocean is the small nation of Uruguay. In the native language Uruguay means, ‘River of the Painted Birds’ because of the spectacular variety of birds flying overhead. In terms of tourism, Uruguay has always been living in the shadows of its gargantuan neighbors. Recently, however, South America’s second smallest country is finally getting the attention it deserves from world travelers. The safety and cultural sophistication of Uruguay, along with the quaint feel of a lesser traveled location, provides travelers with experiences unique to anywhere else on this continent. Luxurious beachfront hotels face out over the Atlantic Ocean leaving guests breathless while only a few miles inland large flowing fields spread out under blue South American skies. Cities such as; Montevideo, Colonia del Sacramento, and Punta del Este offer top of the line shopping, dining, and cultural experiences.
Uruguay has some of the world’s most luxurious hotels. Stunning beach front properties and vast expanses of untouched land are yours to behold in this South American country. Luxury style suites and bungalows offer a private retreat for individuals, honeymooners, or families that are looking to relax and unwind.
Here we compile our top recommended experiences for including Uruguay in your upcoming travel plans.
1. Vineyards of Western Uruguay
When Spanish and Italian immigrants first arrived in Uruguay over 250 years ago they brought with them the finest grape vines of Europe. Today, these vines produce some of the finest wines in the entire world. The Tannat, a variety of grape that was once a staple of fine French wine, is now more prevalent in Uruguay than all of France. With the widespread wine selections there are endless opportunities for wine tours all over Uruguay.
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2. Trails of Cheese in Uruguay
Where there is wine, you probably don’t need to look far to find cheese. When the Swiss settled into the Province of Colonia they founded what is nowadays known as “Colonia Suiza”, a small village near Colonia del Sacramento. From here a Uruguayan tradition for fine cheese branched out to all corners of the country. Today, the artisan cheese production area extends into the Province of San Jose. Wine and cheese tours are a common (and spectacular) trip option.
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3. Olive Plantations of Uruguay
The finest olives and olive plantations in the world can be found throughout South America and Uruguay happens to boast some of the best. A visit to an olive plantation is similar to visiting a fine winery (and they usually have wines) plus exquisite cuisine. Take a tour and see firsthand the history of growing olives as well as the secrets to making fine olive oils.
4. Punta del Este Food and Wine Festival
Punta del Este is a resort town located in southeastern Uruguay. This town has rapidly grown in popularity because of the beautiful beaches and glamourous parties found here. Because of the exciting atmosphere, some of the best chefs in the world have come here to open restaurants, making it a fast emerging foodie destination.
Every year between October and November, the city puts on a Food & Wine Festival rivaling anything in the world. World renowned chefs come from all over to participate and put up shop in restaurants and hotels throughout Punta del Este. Everything is paired with the finest wines of the region adding to the spectacular display of Uruguayan cuisine. The finale of the festival has always been hosted by Argentine chef Francis Mallmann at his hotel and restaurant in nearby Pueblo Garzon. Mallmann built his fame around cooking with fire and he demonstrates this with his trademark “Seven Fires”. He covers ingredients with hot embers and places them in cast iron boxes throughout the streets of Garzon to cook. This festival is truly a spectacular week of food and wines.
When looking for the best destination in Uruguay, most sources will say that Punta del Este or Montevideo have the most to offer. While this may be true, sometimes it is best to relax and enjoy the simpler things in life. The quaint, sleepy town of Garzon is the perfect place to do just that.
When settlers first arrived in this area in the late 1800’s they quickly turned Garzon into a bustling little town of over 2000 inhabitants who worked in nearby mills or farms. Things were good here until an economic crisis caused most business to shut down and most residents to leave. In 2004, world renowned chef Francis Mallmann partnered with his countryman and winemaker Manuel Mas to found the Garzon Restaurant and Hotel. This brought a resurgence of business to this old time town which now boasts several high end restaurants and boutiques and a “hippie chic” spirit. While the quality of life has improved here drastically, the quaint feel never left this quiet corner of the Uruguayan countryside.
6. Vik Retreats:
Quickly joining the world’s elite in luxury hotels and lodges, the Vik Retreats of Uruguay are simply breathtaking. The three hotels; Bahia Vik, Playa Vik, and Estancia Vik are all within 8 kilometers of each other, with the Bahia and Playa only separated by 500 meters of beach. Each of these lodges offers their own aura but allow access to amenities at the neighboring properties.
Another exciting part of the three Vik properties is the amazing itineraries that can be designed. Whatever your interests are, there is something to do at Vik Retreats. Spend a morning in relaxation and participate in a yoga class on the sand dunes overlooking the Atlantic. Take a mid-day horseback ride by Laguna de Jose Ignacio or, if you’re feeling adventurous, take part in a polo lesson on the world class polo fields of Estancia Vik. Spend an afternoon exploring the local towns and villages surrounding Jose Ignacio to taste Uruguayan cuisine and try amazing wines. As the sun goes down the night comes alive as Vik chefs create masterful meals and conversations flows. Beach bonfires are for quiet reflection in contrast to La Susana’s exquisite parties lasting late into the evening. This is all in a day’s work for the spectacular staff at Vik Retreats. A stay at Bahia, Playa, or Estancia Vik is sure to be unique to any hotel experience available.
Focused more on the family friendly option, the Charco Hotel in historic Colonia del Sacramento still provides top of the line luxury. The hotel is right in the middle of the oldest city in Uruguay providing a never ending supply of activities. Families love having the beach to one side and several classic Uruguayan museums directly to the other. For a longer day the bustling city of Buenos Aires is a quick ferry ride away (1 hour for the express ferry or 3 hours for the regular). Staying in Colonia del Sacramento is an amazing experience that can be made that much better by staying at the Charco Hotel
Travelers looking to visit the capital of Uruguay in style need look no further than the Oliva Hotel. Placed in one of the most prestigious and exclusive neighborhoods of Montevideo the Oliva is meters from the Uruguay Golf Club, boutiques, shopping, restaurants, and beaches. When staying here, the level of service is as spectacular as the hotel itself. A knowledgeable staff keeps guests up to date on the newest in live entertainment, exhibitions, and other events in the area. Spacious rooms and suites give guests a private space to spread out and relax. To relax even more, the Taipa Spa consists of; a 17 meter swimming pool, hammam (Turkish bath), dry sauna, massage room, and fitness center. Staying at the Oliva is sure to bring anyone to a relaxation point they have never experienced before.
Narbona Wine Lodge:
Located in the middle of Uruguayan wine country is the picturesque little city of Carmelo. Known for amazing wineries along with proximity to Argentina, Carmelo is the perfect place for the Narbona Wine Lodge. This luxurious lodge provides a very unique experience for wine enthusiasts. Take a bike or cart ride through the miles of vineyard trails or have a picnic in the vineyard. Private tastings are available in both the old and the new wine cellar or guests can even prepare their own wine form several samples provided. A horse or carriage ride, canoe paddle, or sunset cruise are perfect ways to end an even more perfect day.
Looking to get out into nature and find yourself? Anastasio is a very laid back and relaxing cultural hub that has a nature exploration center and a café located nearby to Jose Ignacio. At Refugio Anastasio, partake in a whole array of activities including; Horseback riding, canoeing, kite surfing, cooking classes, paddle boarding, and yoga classes. These are all led by local instructors who take great pride in preserving the natural integrity of the Uruguayan landscape making this a remarkable experience.
At both Refugio and Café Anastasio there is an emphasis on artwork from locally and internationally. Numerous paintings and sculptures are exhibited throughout and everything is for sale. Even the furniture is available for purchase which means the locations are constantly changing and evolving. While the food is delicious (and local), it is really the atmosphere that makes Anastasio stand out from everything else.
8. Black River Experience
Beginning in the southern highlands of Brazil, the Black River (or Rio Negro) is the most important river in Uruguay. It divides the nation evenly from east to west before meeting with the Uruguay River just north of Buenos Aires. Take a guided boat expedition down this historic river to see the lovely city of Mercedes and enjoy a wine or olive oil tasting. There are endless opportunities to fish this active river and even spend a whole day canoeing through small islands and lagoons.
9. Ficus Forest
Deep within the Province of Rocha, there can be found one of the richest ecosystems in the world. Just west of the “Black Lagoon” is the ficus forest, known for its uniquely lush vegetation. The world’s largest Palm Grove is found in the hills beside ancient indigenous burial grounds. Follow the ‘Trail of the Indians’ to the Ombu Forest where strange shaped trees, over 500 years old, are found. Legend has it that these trees instill vivid memories of early childhood experiences in visitors.
10. Uruguay Vineyard and Coast Bike Tours
Take a bike tour that visits some of the most popular areas of Uruguay along with beautiful beaches. Make stops in Carmelo, Colonia del Sacramento, Punta del Este, and Jose Ignacio to visit vineyards and see these historic cities. Private cheese and wine tastings throughout the trip are waiting to end a long day of biking. Every long day will be a treat to start as you wake up to the crashing of waves in the Atlantic and the sun rising in the background. The best time to visit Uruguay is between the middle of December and March. For more active itineraries, October and November are also great times to visit because it is not too hot or too cold. Act quickly because there are still holiday availabilities but they fill fast!