Known for its beach-lined coast, Uruguay is the perfect spot for a sun filled vacation during North American winter months. With only a population of 3.4 million, this laid back country has a dynamic coastline that can offer you everything from surfing to UNESCO World Heritage sites.
When to Go
The summer months, December to February, are the best times to visit for sunny and warm weather. If heading there in February, make sure to take part in their Carnival festivities. If you want to avoid tourist peak season, head over in March, October or November.
The only direct flight (9 hours and 15 minutes) from the US into Montevideo’s Carrasco International Airport is from Miami on American Airlines which operates daily. There are no direct flights from Canada. You can find many other routes to get here though with Copa Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Avianca Airlines and LAN Airlines.
If traveling around the country, the most efficient way is to travel by bus. They are comfortable, cheap and have Wi-Fi. If you are coming or heading to Buenos Aires, plan to take the ferry from Colonia instead of Montevideo as it will be much cheaper. It is about $20US from Colonia instead of $100US from Montevideo. If coming into the country from Buenos Aires and headed to Punta del Este, or another town that isn’t Colonia, book a Colonial Express bus and ferry package as you will save a lot of money. It will cost about $50US to take the ferry and bus all the way to Punta del Este and you won’t have to switch buses.
Currency & Payment
In Uruguay they use Uruguayan pesos ($U). $1US is equal to approximately $U28. $1CAD is equal to approximately $U21. Change minimal amount of currency at the airport because the exchange rate is horrible (you lose about 7 pesos for each dollar). Most places (including grocery stores and restaurants) will take USD for a better exchange rate than posted at banks. Credit cards are accepted in many places here and ATMs are found everywhere. It is customary to leave 10% tip in restaurants but there is no need to leave tip for taxi drivers.
Before you Go
- Make sure you have proof that you are going to exit the country before you arrive. They will ask you for this before you board your flight or boat.
- Marijuana is legal in Uruguay. It was the first country to legalize it back in 2013. You will find many cannabis shops around the city. Technically it is illegal for shops to sell to tourists but they do it anyways.
- There is absolutely no drinking and driving in Uruguay. Your blood alcohol level must be 0% so make sure you don’t have even one beer if you are planning to drive.
- Be sure to bring sunscreen and apply it every day even if it is overcast. The weather changes drastically in short periods of time and the sun is very strong here.
- You will need to bring a converter as here they us a round two pronged plug (type C or type F). The standard voltage is 230 V and standard frequency is 50 Hz.
You will likely fly in and out of the capital city if coming from North America. It is definitely a city you must visit but you only need about two days here.
Montevideo’s Carrasco International Airport is about 25km outside the city. At the Montevideo airport there is a COT bus station and office where you can purchase a ticket into the city center or to another city. A taxi to get into the city center from the airport will cost you around $35US and will take you from 30-40minutes. You can also take a shuttle into the city center which will cost around $14US per person. You can book this when you land at the airport.
The CA-1 bus is the best bus to get around the city. It picks up at the Tres Cruces bus terminal, runs along the main street of 18 de Julio and drops off 3 blocks from the port in the old town. One ride costs only $U22 pesos. If you arrive at the Tres Cruces bus terminal, take the escalator upstairs and head outside to catch the bus. Buses come quite frequently but stop running at 9pm. After 9pm, you can catch two other buses that go to the old town. Bus 180 and 188 will go there and will have “Ciudad Vieja” written on the front. These buses will cost $U30. A taxi from the Tres Cruces bus terminal to the city center will cost you around $U180.
Where to Stay
Stay near the Old Town if you can, because everything to see is around this area. Centro Montevideo, Barrio Sur and Palermo are all within walking distance to the Old Town.
- Ukulele Hostel – this is a great place to stay and is very central. It is a beautiful home with a swimming pool and has great common areas to hang out in. It is about a 10-15 minute walk from the old town where you will find the majority of the tourist attractions.
- Hostel Babilonia – located in the heart of the Old Town. They also offer private rooms.
- El Viajero Hostel & Suites – located in central Montevideo, this hostel is only a short walk from all the tourist attractions and the water. They offer private rooms as well as dorms.
- Radisson Montevideo Victoria Plaza (if budget isn’t an issue) – located in Plaza Independencia in Centro Montevideo.
- Don Boutique Hotel (if budget isn’t an issue) – located in Old Town, right across the street from el Mercado de Puerto.
- Esplendor Hotel Montevideo (if budget isn’t an issue) – located in Centro Montevideo.
What to Do
- Walk around the old town. Start at Plaza Independencia and head through the gate to the original city (which was built in 1746) down Sarandi Street (an only pedestrian street). This street is lined with shops and stands. Next to Plaza Independencia you will also find el Teatro Solis which was built in 1842. You can also find many free walking tours that start in Plaza Independencia lasting about 3 hours if you want to learn a little bit about the history.
- Walk along La Rambla Wilson in el Parque de las Instrucciones del Ano XIII.
- Rent bikes and tour the city. Orange Bike rental, located just off of Sarandi Street near the port, rents cruiser bikes that have baskets for $U300 from 9:30am to 7:45pm.
Where to Eat
Most restaurants are closed on Sundays so make sure to check online before going.
- Mercado de Puerto located right across the street from the ferry terminal in old town has many restaurants to choose from.
- La Fonda Café in the old town by the ferry terminal.
- Jacinto in the old town.
- La Pulperia in Punta Carretas. Don’t go before 8pm because it won’t be open. It doesn’t really have a sign so look out for the orange house.
PUTA DEL ESTE
This is a beach town where all the locals and many Argentinians travel to for their summer vacation. Relax by the beach during the day and get dancing at night. But be prepared for the late nights as locals won’t hit the bars and clubs until around 1am.
The town is so small and you can walk everywhere. The restaurants, shops, beaches and main hotels/hostels are all located within a 10-15 walk from everything. There are taxis around if you want to visit some nearby attractions.
There are also some free bike rental stands around the town provided by Itau. They are orange stands that are open 8am to 8pm and all they need is to take a credit card number (which they won’t charge) in case something happens to the bike. One location is on the corner of Resalsero (calle 26) and Muergos (calle 27) by Emir beach.
The best way to get to Punta del Este is to take a bus from Montevideo (about 2 hours). It will cost you only $10US (one way) and they leave every hour. COT is a good bus to take there and back. The bus will drop you off right in the town center and you can walk to your accommodation. There is also the Airport of Laguna del Sauce is 20 minutes away if you don’t want to take a bus.
Where to Stay
- Golden Beach Resort and Spa – if you aren’t on a tight budget, stay here. Make sure you get a renovated room. Comes with a small kitchenette that includes a microwave but no stove. You can fit up to 4 people in a room as they have pull out couches. One night here will cost about $200US in high season.
- Tas d Viaje Hostel – located right in the heart of town a few minutes’ walk from the beach. They have shared and private rooms and breakfast included. A 4 person mixed dorm room costs $20US.
- Trip Hostel – if you want something cheap with a great party atmosphere stay here, but don’t count on getting a quiet sleep before 2am. It may be a little dirtier than other hostels as well but all the people all friendly. One night in a 12 person mixed dorm is about $20US in high season and includes breakfast.
What to Do
- Walk along La Rambla, the boardwalk that lines the outside of the whole point.
- Take a picture with La Mano at Playa los Dedos. A sculpture created by the Chilean artist Mario Irarrazabal. The other hand is located in the Atacama Desert, Chile.
- Hang out on the beach! There two main beaches. Playa Mansa will be calmer and will rarely have waves. Playa Brava is on the other side of the point will tend to have nicer water and waves to surf.
- Surf – Playa Brava and other beaches located on that side of the point are known to have good waves for surfing. Rent a board and join the locals! You can drink on the beach here so buy some beers at a mini market and bring them with you!
- Visit Plaza Artigas in the afternoon or night where you will find over 200 local craftsmen selling a variety of products. It is open until 1am.
- Walk past el Faro de Punta del Este (the lighthouse). Stand on the corner of el Trinquete and Capitan Miranda, a location called Esquina 4 Mares. Ever direction you look you will see water and it will seem like you are on an island.
- Take a day trip to Jose Ignacio. It is very expensive here, more than Punta del Este, but if you can stay here for a night or two, definitely do so.
- Visit Casapueblo in Punta Ballena. It is a short distance away from Punta del Este so you will need to take a bus or taxi to get there. It is the workshop of Carlos Paez Vilaro, who worked closely with Pablo Picasso. Tickets to the museum cost approximately $8US and it is open from 10am until sunset.
Where to Eat or Drink
Everything is expensive here. Be prepared to spend a lot on food and drinks. Here are a few places that are worth checking out.
- Artico – next to the marina and serves delicious seafood.
- Moby Dicks – has a typical American menu and you get 18% off if you pay with a credit card. Great place to go out at night for drinks.
- Garage Bar – for an American restaurant pub vibe.
- Mercado Verde – for natural and organic foods. Here you can find vegan and vegetarian items.
COLONIA DEL SACRAMENTO
Only 50km from Buenos Aires by ferry, Colonia del Sacramento is an easy trip (and can even be a day trip) from Argentina. With sycamore trees lining the cobblestone streets, this small quaint town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is worth visiting.
The town only has a few main streets so the best way to see the town is to walk everywhere. You can also rent golf cart type vehicles to take you around the town if you wish.
To get to Colonia, you can either take a bus from Montevideo (which is 3 hours) or take a ferry from Buenos Aires (about 1 hour). The Cot bus will cost about $13US (one way) and they have buses every two hours. There are a few ferry companies that cross over from Argentina. Buquebus, Colonia Express and SeaCat. Prices range depending on the time of day you take it and the time of year, but usually this will cost around $20US (one way). The port and bus station are right next to each other and a short 10-15 minute walk from el barrio historico.
Where to Stay
One night in Colonia is enough time to see the city. Here are two place that I recommend.
- Hostel del Rio – great hostel with very clean rooms and bathrooms. It is about $20US per night during the high season and it includes breakfast.
- El Viajero B&B – located in the barrio historico. All rooms have AC and heating. One room for two people will cost between $70-90US.
- Charco Hotel (if budget is not an issue) – located right on the river within the walls of the barrio historico. They have a great bistro and bar here as well.
- Radisson Hotel Colonia del Sacramento (if budget is not an issue) – located in the barrio historico, this hotel has a pool and a casino.
What to Do
- Walk around el barrio historico – walk through the city gate, down la Calle de los Suspiros, around the main square and visit the lighthouse. Check out the 1866 Wharf as well.
- Walk along La Rambla – the whole boardwalk is about 8km one way
Where to Eat or Drink
- Gibellini Restaurant – located one block from Hostel del Rio, this Italian restaurant is perfect for a late night arrival outside of the old town walls.
- Charco Bistro and Charco Bar – located within the walls of the old town with a view of the river.
- There are many restaurants with great settings in the old town. Most of them will have a cover charge though.