Uncovering Uruguay

The secret is out about this South American gem

By: By Jimmy Im


Getting There: American Airlines offers direct flights to Montevideo’s Aeropuerto Carrasco from Miami and recently revamped its business class. Most international flights to and from Montevideo pass through Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paolo.

What to Do: Uruguay is a budget traveler’s paradise thanks to the favorable exchange rate, but it also offers much in terms of its beaches, historic cities, nightlife and cuisine. Most travelers visit Montevideo, Colonia del Sacramento and Punta del Este during their stay, but your clients should also look into Punta del Diablo, Maldonado and interior river towns.

Where to Eat: Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo offers a range of traditional meats, wines, cheeses and seafood.

Where to Stay:
Conrad Punta Del Este Resort & Casino

Sheraton Colonia Golf Resort & Spa

Sheraton Montevideo Hotel

For More Information:
Uruguay Ministry of Tourism

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I’m drinking a mate tea in the Sheraton Montevideo’s Club Lounge on the 23rd floor. It’s one of the best spots to take in a view of the sprawling city below that includes the coastline, La Rambla de Montevideo. The view is one of the city’s major highlights. Some U.S. travelers aren’t even aware that Montevideo has a buzzing beach scene. In fact, Uruguay has struggled for attention against its neighbors for decades.

Montevideo is home to a bustling beach scene that, for many years, was virtually unknown to U.S. travelers. // (c) Gabriel Millos
Montevideo is home to a bustling beach scene that, for many years, was virtually unknown to U.S. travelers.

Uruguay is fast becoming a favorite "undiscovered" destination among in-the-know travelers. In fact, visitors have doubled from 6 million to 12 million within the past two years, according to minister of tourism Benjamin Liberoff, and the number of ports in Punta del Este has more than doubled from 35 to 90 in the last two years. The historic city of Colonia del Sacramento is also receiving a new port, and Montevideo, will have a brand-new, expanded airport by year’s end. Now, travelers are extending their previously brief visits to the country in order to savor its sublime beaches, art-deco architecture and genuine, old-world charm.

Montevideo’s European allure, a mix of Portuguese, Spanish and Italian, makes it unique. Here, clients should explore the historic neighborhood of Ciudad Vieja, a charming labyrinth of shops, cafes and restaurants along with a thriving nightlife. A stroll away is the exciting Mercado del Puerto, a market square that is packed with restaurants and vendors selling leather goods, antiques and knickknacks. The burgeoning neighborhood of Punta Carretas has already emerged as a hot spot for locals, and more and more travelers are discovering it as well. Montevideo is also home to South America’s longest celebration, the 45-day-long Carnaval de Montevideo.

Colonia del Sacramento
Visitors can also find great attractions in and around Colonia del Sacramento. Here, the cobblestone streets of the historic quarter, Barrio Historico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are so erratic, they effortlessly capture the town’s well-preserved allure, which has enchanted people for more than 300 years. The most striking attraction here are the remnants of the original wall built by the Portuguese. Travelers often stroll down the famous Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs), once the preferred street of prostitutes back in the late 1600s. At night, the entire district magically transforms with golden lanterns, while music drifts out from cafes and restaurants until the late hours.

In Vino Veritas
Popular vineyards mark the rural landscape of Uruguay, and the wine industry is growing. The charming Los Cerros de San Juan is a favorite.

And if wine isn’t your clients’ beverage of choice, they should visit El Terruno, a 40-year-old dairy farm and estate that offers ranch tours, carriage rides and some of the freshest meats.

Punta del Este
The jet set prefer the shores of Punta del Este, a glamorous getaway for models and celebrities. Here, unique attractions abound. For example, in Punta Bailena, the private home/art gallery of Casa Pueblo museum is a must. The museum itself is an art masterpiece, made up of Greek-inspired, maze-like rooms decked out in a white adobe exterior — and the $5 admission is worth the sunset alone.

Discerning clients will head to La Barra in the Mondono district, which includes boutique hotels and some of the best beaches. Even farther out is the burgeoning Jose Ignacio district, where locals swear it is just like the Punta del Este from 50 years past. The beaches are less cramped, and the lack of high rises gives the area an authentic flavor. The oceanfront La Huella is a favorite spot for dining, drinking clerico (a concoction of sugar, white wine and fruit) and people watching.