The sleepy South American country of Uruguay often is overshadowed as a travel destination by its vast neighbor Argentina. While Uruguayans contend their country produces better meat, dulce de leche (a milk-based sweet similar to caramel), and yerba mate than their neighbor across the River Plate, Uruguay indisputably bests Argentina with its beaches. In fact, within Uruguay’s borders are some of the top beaches in South America—and now is the prime time to visit. Each beach has its own distinct vibe and personality, making it perfect for whatever type of retreat you desire.
Best for Glamour: Punta del Este
Punta del Este is the jet-set destination for Argentina and Uruguay’s elite during the heat of summer—in fact, during those months many consider it an annexation of Buenos Aires, as so many porteños (those from Buenos Aires) descend on the city to summer. Lately more Brazilians have been selecting Punta del Este’s beach over those in their own country, too, attracted by the upscale nightlife and dining options and miles of white-sand beaches that flank the peninsula jutting into the ocean.
Some of choice beaches for sunning are Bikini Beach (Playa Manantiales), as well as Gorriti Island; downtown people often choose between the Brava and Mansa (calmer waters) coastlines. People often sightsee with visits to Casapueblo in Punta Ballena, a whitewashed, undulating house considered a living sculpture and stop for photographs at another iconic Punta image: the fingers statue on Playa Brava. Medialunas Calentitas is a must for sweet, warm breakfast croissants, No Me Olvides (Ruta 10 Km 164) for pizza, or L’Auberge for a fancy meal. Those venturing into the night often head to Moby Dick by the port, Tequila (Calle 11 La Barra) and Ocean (Parada 12 Playa Brava) to dance, or the casino at the Conrad to gamble. To spend your winnings, just head upstairs to one of the hotel’s deluxe suites.
Best for Surfing: Punta del Diablo
The small village of Punta del Diablo, has evolved from a fishing hamlet to a favorite vacation spot for surfers with an endearingly hippie vibe. Colorful cabins and small wooden houses line the coast, and with little distraction (there is no ATM in town) beachgoers can focus on catching waves. The population of the village swells during summer, though, with people filling the rentals and lodging options, as well as nearby camping plots.
The focal point of social life is the El Diablo Tranquilo Hostel, which has a restaurant and bar and is where many of the young visitors also choose to board up. The Aquarella is similarly multi-functional, with a restaurant, bar, and rooms. La Viuda del Diablo is a comfortable posada (inn) for relaxing, too. Downtown you can find supermarkets, smaller restaurants, and a handful of bars on a small stretch of clustered buildings. Those looking for a side-trip schedule a trek to nearby Cabo Polonio, which has no electricity or running water, but a robust, natural reserve of sea lions.
Best for Solitude: Colonia del Sacramento
Located an hour by ferry from Buenos Aires is Colonia del Sacramento, a UNESCO world heritage site with cobblestone streets and water lapping against a calm coastline. For a serene weekend, many choose Colonia for their getaway. Though it is less recognized as a beach destination per se, the miles of beachfront undoubtedly enhance its allure.
For an overnight stay, The Four Seasons and Sheraton have outposts in Colonia, while Casa Los Jazmines is a beloved B&B. Lentes Maravillas (Santa Rita 61) is a waterfront café with outdoor and indoor seating for breakfast or a snack that serves memorable baked goods. El Drugstore (Portugal and Vasconcellos) with its eclectic décor is a popular lunch or dinner spot, as well as El Buen Suspiro. For sightseeing, many people choose to walk the historic neighborhood, including stops at the lighthouse and drawbridge, or rent a motorbike or golf cart to get around.
Thinking of a trip to Uruguay?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our online Uruguay Travel Guide.
Photo Credits: Punta del Este Beach via Shutterstock