Uruguay is a fascinating country in it’s own right, yet many people don’t have it on their radar. Argentina gets all the glory, but Uruguay is a lovely gem just waiting to be fully discovered.
I don’t want to say “off the beaten path” because we all know that is an overused phrase that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Or anything really. But it does feel a little bit like a secret…
What really shocked me about the country when I got there was how expensive it was. I foolishly thought that it would be cheaper than Argentina because who goes to Uruguay?
Apparently, they are not dependent on tourism and prices in Montevideo are comparable to New York City. Eeeeek…
But, it really does have amazing beaches and a lot more to offer than weed culture. You could easily spend several weeks here, eating fresh seafood and drinking mate.
Don’t forget that the summer months in the southern hemisphere are November through February, which is usually the warmest and driest time to visit. It is also high season AND carnival season, so if you prefer less crowds, plan accordingly.
There are of course many ways to get in and out of Uruguay, but generally flights to Argentina are cheaper, so this trip starts and returns from Buenos Aires. If you fly into Montevideo, you might choose a slightly different route.
Day One: Ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento
It is recommended you book this in advance for two reasons. One, the boat can get full very quickly. Two, you can often get cheaper fares online the sooner you book. You will also get a cheaper rate if you book a round trip ticket, but this of course can limit your plans. The ferry ride takes between 1 to 3 hours depending on which company you use.
The ferry drops you in Colonia. If you take an earlier ferry, you could walk around town in a few hours and make your way to Montevideo that night. Colonia is cute but small, and cobblestone streets are only charming for so long…
Day two: Montevideo
The bus station is next to the ferry and has frequent trips from Colonia to Montevideo. The ride takes about 3 hours.
Montevideo has its charm, but in the end is just a metropolitan city. Some people really love cities and have to include them on their itinerary, but you could equally spend a few hours here and not feel guilty about leaving.
Walk along the Rambla and enjoy the river. Smoke a joint if you are so inclined. Enjoy some mates with locals. Check, check, check.
Day three: Barra de Valizas
Montevideo to Valizas is about a 3 and half hour bus ride. You will have to walk from where the bus drops towards the beach to find accomodation.
The entire “town” of Valizas is a strip of street, ending on the beach. Nowhere is quiet in town and there are always vendors and street performs out and about. It’s has a fun little beach, party town vibe. This is the easiest beach to book from Montevideo.
There are rock formations you can climb along this walk for amazing views of the area. Valizas also has good swimming and sand boarding possibilities if you are so inclined!
Day four: Barra de Valizas
Cabo Polonio is the more famous neighbor, but it can be difficult to book accommodations in advance, as there is no (or limited) electricity in the town. However, one of the best things I can recommend is hiking over the dunes from Valizas to Cabo. It was a beautiful, serene walk to the next beach over, like walking through a desert with the ocean to your left. The walk takes about 2 hours depending on your pace.
Besides the gorgeous walk, once you arrive in Cabo Polonio, you can more securely book accommodation for your stay the next few days. Have a lovely seafood lunch overlooking the ocean, and then start walking home again.
Alternatively, you can just laze about in the sun in Valizas. Always a good idea.
Day five: Cabo Polonio
Buy a bus ticket to Cabo Polonio, which will take you near the entrance of the national park of the same name. From here you need to pay 170 pesos for a round trip ticket in and out of the town on a 4×4. You can walk, but it would probably take over two hours. Through sand. With no shade. Choose your own adventure.
Many of the accommodations in town do NOT stay open year round, which is why it’s important to book in advance, especially in January.
This beach is a wonderful place to relax and do nothing. If WIFI and a big bar scene are important to you, then skip it. If you want to chill out and drink a beer on the beach in peace, then this is the place.
Day six: Cabo Polonio
Enjoy the beautiful beaches. If you walk outside of town to the right, facing the ocean, and walk for about 10 minutes, you will find you have the beach entirely to yourself (except for some cows!) You can spend the day swimming naked in the ocean, conversing with Mother Nature.
Just be aware that the 4x4s drive along this stretch of beach every hour or so. If you don’t want a truck full of strangers to see your butt, cover up or get in the water. I managed to time it right. Nothing like swimming in the nude.
If you’re lucky enough to be there during a full moon, spend some time on the beach at night. There are no lights in town so the moon lights everything like a lamp. The reflection on the water with the sound of the waves is majestic and surreal. Regardless, on a clear night you will see plenty of stars.
Day seven: Return to Buenos Aires
Having already bought your ferry ticket in advance (you smarty pants you) make sure to get up early and catch a 4×4 out of town to the entrance of the park. From there you will need to get a bus back to Montevideo.
You will probably have to change buses, either in Valizas, Castillos or Rocha so make sure to leave plenty of time. Also be sure to check in for the ferry at least 30 minute before departure to avoid any issues.
If you have 10 days in Uruguay…
Continue to Punta del Diablo from Cabo Polonio. It’s another fun beach town, with a bigger scene.
Stay at Compay hostel and buy a fresh caught fish to cook on the asada outside. It’s open for anyone to use. Enjoy the beaches and waves, plus a few more bars than Valizas or Cabo Polonio.
I almost didn’t visit Uruguay because I hadn’t heard much about it, but it’s totally worth a week’s trip.
I would have stayed longer, but I didn’t budget enough money for the trip there! But I had an amazing time enjoying a different country and it’s beautiful beaches.
So…is Uruguay on your radar now?
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