Boasting picturesque beaches, rolling countryside, colonial old towns and atmospheric cities, Uruguay comes in a small but highly impressive package. The country’s laid back, welcoming charm and year-round temperate climate is being discovered by more and more tourists from further afield each year, and they find out what many of their South American counterparts have known all along: that Uruguay is a destination with spades of personality, beauty and often striking panorama.
For such a small country, Uruguay has a lot to offer its visitors, and a surprising degree of contrasting scenery. The capital Montevideo is arguably the jewel in its crown: an eloquent, cosmopolitan and thriving metropolis where art deco buildings, a lively business and shopping district, a breezy beachfront promenade and the world's longest carnival celebration collide to create a heady experience.
Colonia del Sacramento is another gem; its beguiling cobbled streets, leafy plazas, 18th-century Portuguese colonial architecture and quaint riverside setting make it a perfect destination for cultured romantics. High rollers looking to top up their tans on a beach or yacht before dancing away the early hours will likely be drawn to the glamorous Punta del Este; its stunning beaches, fancy hotels, classy nightclubs and swanky restaurants ensure it is the most expensive and brazenly showbiz place in Uruguay. Maldonado is a slightly less pricey alternative for beach bums on a budget, but aside from those places, there are scores of small villages and towns dotted across the country each with their own distinctive charms and character to explore, lest we forget a thrilling Atlantic coastline with dunes, lagoons and perfect surf, the fisherman’s paradise of Punto del Diablo, soothing hot springs near the pretty town of Salto and the wide open grandeur of gaucho country.
Uruguayans are, by and large, a liberal, relaxed and friendly people who enjoy a relatively high standard of living, and they will likely delight in showing you their homeland. They are also known worldwide for their garra charrúa, a fighting spirit derived from the original indigenous settlers that has seen a country of just 3.4 million people punch above its weight on the international stage both economically and in sport. The inaugural Olympic soccer champions, improbable double winners of the FIFA World Cup and ahead of their much larger neighbours Brazil and Argentina in South American titles, Uruguayans are an immensely proud people who delight in fighting against the odds, and often succeeding.
The compact nature of Uruguay, at roughly the same size as the USA’s Oklahoma, means it its possible for visitors to discover a good wedge of the country in a relatively short period of time. That’s not to say that repeated visits to Uruguay are unnecessary or excessive; returning travellers will either discover more of the country’s distinctive beauty that they missed out on the first time out, or nostalgically reacquaint themselves with what made them fall in love with it in the first place. In the vein of its famous sizzling beef steaks, Uruguay is best digested and enjoyed at a leisurely pace. And there is little doubt you will want more.