I often find it hard to live in the present, although it is something I’m working on. Sometimes, it’s just too much fun to imagine future itineraries and let your mind get carried away with them.
I’ve been studying Spanish for a while now, and one of my recent readings about Uruguay got me excited about the country for the first time. I knew very little about it, so I’m using this post to teach us both.
My Uruguay To-Do List: 12 Things
Wander the streets of Colonia del Sacramento
Sure, the cobblestone streets of Uruguay’s oldest city, established by the Portuguese in 1680, are a major tourist magnet. But, it’s just one of those places that you’ve got to see regardless. This UNESCO World Heritage City lies at the mouth of Rio del Plata, making it an easy trip from Buenos Aires or Montevideo. Maybe it is overrated, but I’m a sucker for the romance of cobblestone streets and old-world architecture.
Try the mate, the national drink of Uruguay
Mate is big in Uruguay and Argentina. I’ve heard the major difference is that while Argentineans drink plenty of the stuff at home, Uruguayans drink it everywhere–and unsweetened. It’s an acquired taste , but as the highly-caffeinated national drink, you’ve got to give it a chance.
Go wildlife spotting in Santa Teresa National Park
Parque Nacional de Santa Teresa is supposedly one of the best places for wildlife spotting. In 1792, the Portuguese built the Fort of Santa Teresa right in the middle–it still stands preserved there today.
Relax in some hot springs
The hotsprings in northwestern Uruguay are said to have healing properties (I think any place with hot springs makes this claim, but I’ll mention it anyway). Beneath the surface is actually one of the largest groundwater reserves in the world.
Check out off-the-grid Cabo Polonio
Located 7km from the nearest road, this place is kind of like a hippy outpost. Along the coast and in between sand dunes, it’s mostly electricity-free. Some of the village relies on renewable energy, like solar or wind. However, the “off-the-grid” draw has made it a bit of a tourist destination that can get quite busy depending on the time of the year.
Witness the gaucho way of life
There are a lot of cows in Uruguay, so there are also a lot of gauchos–Uruguayan cowboys. There are plenty of tours where you can explore the countryside by horseback, alongside some of these gauchos.
Take a zillion photos of Casapueblo
This city, to the southeast of Montevideo, is named “Minas,” Spanish for “mines,” due to the rich minerals in the surrounding soil. The hills surrounding the city make for some nice hiking, and the tiny hilltop village of Villa Serrana is a pretty unique visit.
Get to know Montevideo
Uruguay’s capital is a mix of colonial, modern, and European influence. An impressive number of writers and other artists have called it home over the years. Today, this city of over 1.3 million people is pretty hip and easy on the eyes.
Do some shopping in Tristán Narvaja market
Montevideo’s Tristán Narvaja market is just east of downtown. On Sundays, it becomes a sea of vendors selling pretty much anything: jewellery, antiques, live birds…
Schedule in some serious beach time
Uruguay is said to have some of the best coastline in South America. Luckily, it’s pretty overshadowed by the beaches of Brazil, just across the border to the north. This means the best of both worlds (or so I’ve heard): beautiful stretches of sandy beach without the crowds. Punta del Este is one that is particularly famous, and has been known to be a hangout for celebs.
Experience the Carnaval del Uruguay
This 40-day festival begins somewhere between January and February each year. I won’t try to go over the origins here, but you can find out a lot here. Just know that it’s the biggest festival of the year in Montevideo, and means plenty of music, parades, and partying (I’m sure you got that from the title).