While Uruguay’s attractions may be less dramatic than those of its neighbors Argentina and Brazil, its appeal lies in miles of fine-sand beaches and dunes, enormous ranches where guests get a taste of gaucho life, and a riverside capital that is interesting and welcoming. Nowadays there’s lots of buzz about Uruguay: its vineyard touring; its active and eco-oriented adventures; and its expanding roster of upscale designer hotels and resorts by the sea, matched by estancia lodgings. Montevideo, now connected to the U.S. with American Airlines’ nonstop service to Miami, sprawls along the wide Rio de la Plata. About a 2-hour drive from the capital, the country’s most famous destination, Punta del Este and its surrounding villages, sits on a peninsula separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Rio de la Plata estuary. The draw here is miles and miles of sand, great surfing off Playa Brava on the Atlantic side, deep-sea fishing, tennis, golf, whale watching (July-November), gambling and a nonstop nightlife (in season). Nowadays, many of the smart set have moved on from “Punta” to the fishing village of La Barra, 15 minutes north, and then to Jose Ignacio, another 15 minutes away; both have a bevy of small, charming and often very chic lodgings tucked into the rocks by or near the sea. Three hours north from Montevideo is Colonia del Sacramento (a.k.a. Colonia), located on the broad Rio de la Plata, a hydrofoil ferry trip away from Buenos Aires. Founded by Portuguese settlers, the quiet little town is a beauty, distinguished by its cobblestone streets and a carefully restored and protected 17th century district known as Ciudad Vieja, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fifty miles away (and accessible overland from Argentina) is Carmelo, centerpiece of a bucolic world of horses, Model T Ford cars, wide open spaces, vineyards, pristine beaches and the Four Seasons Carmelo Hotel (fourseasons.com/carmelo). Also near Carmelo is Estancia Tierra Salta (estanciatierrasanta.com), one of many guest ranches that make their guests at home on the range. (turismo.gub.uy)
What’s New in Uruguay
✘ An increasingly lively arts scene, spurred by the Ralli Museum of Contemporary Latin American Art and the Pablo Atchugarry Foundation, is another reason to spend time any season in “Punta.”
✘ Rural tourism is the newest visitor option, and currently 50 farms and ranches are registered to host travelers in guest houses, farms and ranches.
✘ New to the marketplace is Lares Tours’ Open Voucher System program beckoning independent visitors to explore Uruguay in a self-drive car, staying at small estancias and cozy posadas along the way. (larestours.com)