Things to Do in Uruguay
With its succulent meat markets, charming Old Town, and easygoing pace of life, Montevideo is one of the most underrated cities in South America. Far less crowded than Buenos Aires across the Rio de Plata, Montevideo has a leisurely vibe as relaxing as it is welcome. This isn’t to say it’s slow, however, as the bustle of people on the waterfront is one of the city’s highlights. Officially, the Rambla de Montevideo stretches 13.5 miles along the city’s waterfront. Here you’ll find joggers, walkers, and skaters all enjoying the riverfront parks, or maybe children just flying a kite while their parents sip mate in the shade. It’s the public gathering place to take in the sun or simply go for a stroll, and on the warmer days of summer and fall, is the place to pack a bikini or board shorts and spend a day on the beach.
Located in Punta Ballena near Punta del Este, Casapueblo is the house of famous Uruguayan artist, Carlos Paez Vilaro. On October 13, 1972, a chartered flight carrying 45 people crashed in the Andes Mountains, killing all but 16 people. One of the survivors was Carlitos Paez, Carlos Paez Vilaro’s son. The citadal-style Casapueblo is the artist’s tribute to him, and features a hotel, cafe, museum and art gallery, where you can learn about Uruguayan culture. For something truly beautiful, stay until sunset and enjoy the breathtaking ocean views from the balcony with a champagne toast.
Separating Montevideo’s Old Town and downtown areas, this popular plaza in Montevideo is thought to be the city’s most important, especially since buildings like the country’s oldest theater, the Solis Theatre, and the President of Uruguay’s workplaces, Estevez Palace and the Executive Tower reside here. One very interesting site to see is the 56-foot statue of Jose Gervasio Artigas riding a horse. Artigas was a soldier who fought for equality and democracy and later became Uruguay’s national hero. Underground are Artigas’ remains, which are guarded 24-hours a day.
A trip to Plaza Independencia will allow you to visit his mausoleum, which is open to the public, and give you the chance to read interesting information about his life, printed on the surrounding walls. The mausoleum is located in the center of the square, under the monument, and is open Monday from 12pm to 6pm and Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm.
Prior to 1973 and since 1985, Uruguay's Parliament Palace, or Palacio Legislativo, in Montevideo has served as the seat of the country's Chamber of Senators and General Assembly.
The Palacio Legislativo was inaugurated on Aug. 24, 1925, which coincided with the centennial of the country’s Declaration of Independence. In 1975, the Legislative Palace was declared a National Historic Monument. The impressive palace was designed in a neoclassical style, with noted Greek influence in its exterior facades. Despite Uruguay’s small physical presence in South America, no expense was spared in creating what is considered one of the most beautiful governmental palaces in the world. Parliament Palace includes a variety of luxury materials, including ornamental wood objects, Carrara marble and porphyry and bronze. Carvings, Venetian mosaics, stained glass and various sculptures complement the luxurious materials.
Those looking to learn more about Colonia’s Portuguese heritage will find plenty of interest at the Portuguese Museum (Museo Portugues), a small museum devoted to the town’s rich colonial history. Housed in a beautiful early 18th-century colonial building, the museum lies at the heart of Colonia’s UNESCO-listed historic center, just a short walk from the landmark lighthouse.
The museum’s limited exhibition space none-the-less houses a fascinating collection of Portuguese relics, including 18th-century furniture, porcelain, military uniforms, weapons and naval documents. Highlights include a series of old maps, a family tree of Colonia founder Manuel Lobo and the original stone shield that once adorned the town’s drawbridge.
Mansa Beach, or Playa Mansa, is a popular spot on Uruguay’s Atlantic coast in the southeastern part of the country. Although the area sees a very residential population, the influx of summer tourists definitely keeps the beach booming, where there are two types of coastline: brava (fierce) and mansa (tame).
Mansa Beach extends from the Chilean Beach up to the Port of Punta del Este. The bay is quiet with very calm waters and thick sand, while the water goes from deep to shallow as you approach Punta del Este Port. At the beach you’ll find a fishing club and a nearby wooden bridge to cross for beautiful views of the bay, Gorriti Island and the peninsula.
Gorlero Avenue, or Avenida Gorlero, is the main street in the Punta del Este region of Uruguay. It was named after the first mayor of Maldonado, Juan Gorlero, and is the only street in the area that got its name from a person. All other streets are referenced by street number, while avenues are known by their order from 5000 on.
Here you will find a bulk of Punta del Este’s prime tourist businesses, including cafes, restaurants, bars, art galleries, cinemas and casinos. In addition, there are a number of banks and exchange houses. During the summer tourist season, Gorlero Avenue is noted for its numerous live performers and artisans. Look for the “living statues,” jugglers, photographers and various handicraft artists set up along the avenue.
The street was remodeled in 1998 to make it friendlier to pedestrian traffic, so today its sidewalks are wider and lighting and seating are ample.
Housed in a beautiful historic building, the Montevideo Agricultural Market is over 100 years old and one of the Uruguay’s largest markets. After falling into disrepair, the structure was recently renovated to house dozens of food stalls and restaurants, while maintaining the charm and details of the original architecture.
It doesn’t take long for visitors in Montevideo to realize that Uruguay is an under-the-radar culinary destination, and the Mercado Agricola is the ideal place for foodies to experiment a wide array of Uruguayan specialties and local products. This is the go-to place for the highest quality Uruguayan wines, olive oils, cured meats and produce and also is home to traditional bakeries, steak houses and a craft brewery. The Mercado Agricola is the perfect stop for lunch or a snack while touring the city. And, beyond the food, this is also a great place for souvenirs, toys, and handicrafts.
More Things to Do in Uruguay
Constructed in 1928, Palacio Salvo is a historical landmark building done in a predominantly Italian Gothic-style, with classic and neo-romanticism influences as well. It was built by Italian immigrant Mario Palanti, and is located at the intersection of Plaza Independencia and 18 de Julio Avenue.
For decades, it was the tallest building in South America, and still remains an iconic symbol of the city, even being depicted on many postcards. Today, it is not only considered a “must-see” attraction; it’s also a fully-furnished apartment that visitors and locals can rent out for short to medium lengths of time.
For a sweeping view of the city, visitors can take an elevator ride to the top of the palace, free of charge. Afterwards, stop at Cafe Salvo on the ground level for an invigorating cappuccino.
Punta del Este is a sophisticated and fashionable beach resort reminiscent of the French Riviera. Impressive mansions line the coast and wealthy tourists come from all over South America to enjoy the beaches and nightlife.
Once your cruise ship docks, you will be taken ashore by tenders. The city centre is about 10 blocks from the pier. Taxis may be hard to come by, so you may need to be prepared to walk into town if your ship doesn’t offer transportation.
Without a doubt, the main attraction in Punta del Este are the outstanding beaches. Mansa Beach, Brava Beach and Gorriti Island are some of the most popular and many visitors simply spend their time in Punta del Este enjoying the surf and sun. Brava Beach is ideal for surfing, while Gorriti Island is great for windsurfing and diving. Bikini Beach is the place to go if you’re trying to spot a celebrity or two.
A coastal neighborhood of Montevideo, Pocitos is located along the banks of the Rio de la Plata and is renowned for its beach, Playa Pocitos, and the rambla (boulevard) that borders it. The area features many 10- to 15-story apartment towers that lie along the rambla and feature views of the neighborhood, Rio de la Plata and Playa Pocitos. The rambla features a number of fancy restaurants and trendy shops that attract not only local Uruguayans but also visitors from Argentina and Brazil.
The water at Playa Pocitos is very salty due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. It is also browner than what you find at other beaches in the area; however, the water is clean and locals do swim there. The fine-sand shore only sees small waves, ideal for visitors with young children.
El Prado is a residential neighborhood of Montevideo that features beautiful historic homes and manicured, tree-lined streets. The area includes the former presidential residence, Montevideo’s main park area, the Juan Manuel Blanes Museum and three soccer stadiums.
Parque del Prado is a peaceful spot for residents of Montevideo, as Miguelete Creek flows through the park and the expansive 102-acre (41-hectare) grounds feature a rose garden, botanical garden, fountains and monuments. The botanical garden contains over 1,000 plant species and is the only one of its kind in Uruguay. The rose garden includes imported roses from France and was designed by French landscape architect Charles Recine. Hotel del Prado, built in the French neoclassical style, sits within Parque del Prado’s grounds and serves as a tea house and meeting room today.
Located in Plaza Independencia, Teatro Solis is Uruguay’s oldest theater. Looking at the architecture of the facade and interior, you’ll be immersed in old-world splendor and elegance, as the building has been restored to its original style. It was built in 1856, and is currently owned by the government of Montevideo. At the theater, you’ll be able to take a tour with an English-speaking guide and go behind the scenes, with performers often dropping in to belt out show tunes. Additionally, on certain days, you’ll have the chance to attend a live performance. It’s a great stop to make, not only because of its beauty, but also because it’s a lesson in culture, as the theater holds extreme importance to the local people.
Brava Beach, with the colloquial name Playa de los Dedos, or Beach of the Fingers, is a beautiful beach that attracts a mostly young crowd. With warm golden sand, mouth-watering food stands and rough Atlantic waters, many people who come here choose to relax on the beach instead of getting wet. However, those who enjoy surfing can’t get enough of the beach-break waves. Moreover, it’s a popular place to watch the sunrise.
The beach gets its unique name from the enormous sculpture of five cement fingers that appear to be rising from under the sand, most commonly called La Mano or The Hand. However, because the piece of art resembles a sleeping giant awakening from a long underground slumber, the official title of the piece is actually Hombre Emergiendo a la Vida, or Man Emerging to Life. The piece was meant as a signal for help from a drowning swimmer, as well as a reminder to be careful in the rough sea, giving the piece of art another name, El Monumento al Ahogado.
Although Montevideo was once a fortified city with majestic walls and a grand stone entrance, the colonial citadel was demolished in 1829. All that remains today is the stone gate, called the Gateway of the Citadel.
The fortifications serve as a key example of Spanish military architecture in South America. Construction started around the mid-1700s and took more than 40 years to finish. The walls of the citadel were constructed with 19.6-foot-thick (6-meter-thick) granite and once housed 50 cannons. There were four bastions, which held artillery fortifications, and originally, there was a large, deep moat. It wasn’t until 1829, four years after the country’s declaration of independence, that a decision was made to tear down the fortifications, and the city was then able to expand. The demolition of Montevideo’s fortified walls made room for Plaza Independencia, or Independence Square.
A small fishing town about six miles north of the Punta del Este peninsula, La Barra has been converted into a tourist area with colorful houses, flea markets and antique shops. Despite its popularity with the younger crowd in search of nightlife, La Barra attracts a number of wealthy visitors, including movie stars and models.
Punta del Este has plenty of notable beaches, and La Barra is no exception. Don’t miss Bikini Beach or the popular Montoya, Manantiales, Punta Piedras and El Chorro beaches nearby. Visitors also seek out La Barra’s hot nightlife. The area gets quite busy after dinner, especially around 2 a.m., when the younger crowd hits La Barra to check out the various pubs and discos.
La Barra also has a number of good restaurants if you’re looking to dine in the area and not stay out until sunrise. Choose from traditional Uruguayan eats, sushi places and even Italian restaurants.
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- Things to do in Punta del Este
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