Nestled on the South Eastern coast of South America, between cultural powerhouses Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is often overlooked. I hadn’t heard too much about it prior to departure, I had not met any backpackers who had crossed the border either. I had met one Uruguayan while sailing the San Blas Islands who was surprised her little country had made the list. But she was bursting with excitement that I was heading out to explore her home country. Originally just a means to cross into Argentina from coastal Brazil, and a chance to put in a few more beach days, Uruguay was the biggest surprise during my time in South America. I now passionately believe that Uruguay needs to be on your bucketlist.
From the moment I made the long 5km walk from the highway, down the dusty main road into Punta Del Diablo at sunrise, I was in love. Dry desert like landscapes, cool ocean front evenings, wild windswept coasts and the loveliest locals. Uruguay quickly rose to the top of my South American Favourites. Off the gringo trail, full of stunning vistas and adventures. Here are the 5 Reasons Uruguay should be on your Bucketlist.
#1 Eat your heart out in Montevideo
Mountainous asados in the central market, artery clogging chivitos, divine dry aged salami and a glass of Uruguayan wine to wash it all down. Montevideo is sure to satiate any foodies desires. Visit the boutique Montevideo Wine Experience and sample Uruguay’s famous Tennat varietal while snacking on a locally sourced charcutarie. Test the strength of your stomach with a traditional asado consisting of beef ribs, chorizo, blood sausage and tripe. Cure any hangover with the mouth-watering chivitos. A combination of steak, ham, bacon, egg, olives and salad piled high on a soft bun. You won’t go hungry here, thats for sure!
#2 Experience their culture of generosity
Uruguayns are some of the friendliest and most welcoming locals I have encountered on my time in South America. Strangers opened their home to me in Cabo Polonio when every dorm bed was booked. I had my first ever mate experience on the beach with a friendly local who spent hours walking with me talking about the culture of Uruguay. I spent an evening drinking and chatting with a player from the Vancouver Whitecaps who had returned home for a visit with his Brazilian girlfriend. Time and time again, locals went above and beyond to make me feel at home. I always say the people you meet are what make travel extraordinary, and in the case of Uruguay the locals truly outdid themselves.
#3 Surf your way down the coast
From Punta Del Diablo to La Pedrera to the cosmopolitan paradise of Punta Del Este, the coast of Uruguay is blessed with an abundance of swell. While it may not be as well-known as some other South American surf spots, it is should be a contender for your next trip. Head to some of the smaller beach towns and enjoy the waves without competition. Befriend a local, and I’d dare say it wouldn’t take long before they take you to their favourite spots. Beware of the influx of Argentinian holiday makers in early January. Prices skyrocket and accommodation fills up quick!
#4 Enjoy the wide-open spaces
Step outside, stretch your arms, take a deep breath and enjoy the wide-open spaces. Even in high season, you have space. Sleepy beach towns leading to white sand beaches and pristine waves in Punta Del Diablo. Wander between the weathered beach houses nestled amongst the tumbling sand dunes of Cabo Polonio. Head inland and explore the countryside on horseback with the traditional guachos. Stroll the camino in Cuidad Viejo in Montevideo. It is impossible not to slow you pace and relax into the space of Uruguay. Maybe it’s that marijuana is legal here, but there is a decidedly chilled out nature to the entire country. So, slow your pace and take it all in!
#5 Fall in love with the wildlife
One of the most incredible sights I have seen, sprawlled on the rocks below the Cabo Polonio lighthouse. Hundreds of sea lions and giant sea wolves vie for prime real estate, frolic in the water and bask in the hot midday sun. Lose yourself in this real-life nature documentary. I spent 3 hours observing these incredible creatures from all different vantage points. Driven back to town only by my mounting hunger. It is truly one of the most amazing places I have been in South America.
So if you find yourself in the neighbourhood, be sure to give Uruguay the time it deserves. Explore this incredibly beautiful, wild and welcoming country. Soak in its magic and uniquely vibrant coastal culture. You won’t be disappointed.