Beef up on the Oxo cube
Not many people may know this but the humble Oxo cube was invented in Uruguay. Today, you can contemplate the international impact of this stock cube, which was manufactured here and prized by everyone from Edmund Hillary to WWI troops, by visiting the Museo de la Revolución Industrial. This 19th-century meat processing plant-turned-museum is in Fray Bentos, where another gastronomic icon was born: corned beef.
Experience a Uruguayan football match
Wedged between two of the world’s great footballing nations, Argentina and Brazil, Uruguayans are also passionate about the beautiful game. Attend a match and share in the uniquely South American carnival spirit on the terraces. Serious fans can also visit the Museo del Fútbol in the Estadio Centenario, the Montevideo stadium where Uruguay's national team won the first World Cup in 1930.
Have a soak in Salto’s hot springs
Northwest Uruguay is home to one of the world’s most important underground aquifers, producing warm medicinal springs. Near the town of Salto are some wonderful spas where you can wash off the Pampas dust, including the remote and tranquil Termas de Arapey, the family-friendly Termas de Daymán, or the Termas de San Nicanor.
Hit Montevideo’s markets
Savour the racks of roasting meat and vegetables at Montevideo's Mercado del Puerto, a popular lunch spot in an old covered market by the waterfront, and get lost in a sea of street vendors at Montevideo's Tristán Narvaja market, just east of downtown. Every Sunday several city blocks are filled with stalls selling everything from antiques to jewellery to live birds.
Join Montevideo’s Carnival frenzy
Get swept up by the joyous dancing and drumming in the streets every February during Montevideo's exuberant Afro-Uruguayan Carnival. Although celebrated throughout the country, the capital hosts the best carnival festivities, with its roots in the Candomble beliefs of the African slaves brought here by the Spanish. The main events take place over two days before Mardi Gras, but many locals take the whole week to join in the fun.
Meander around Montevideo, Uruguay’s stylish capital
Enjoy the eclectic mix of colonial, European and modern influences in Uruguay's capital. Walk around the palm-shaded plazas of the Ciudad Vieja (Old Town), see the fascinating Gaucho Museum, the Carnival Museum and cool off in appealing beach suburbs such as Playa Carrasco, east of town.
Party with the jet set of Punta del Este
Spend the day parasailing, windsurfing, waterskiing, sport fishing or lounging on the long sandy beaches at Punta del Este, one of South America’s most exclusive resorts. And when the sun goes down, put on your party togs and shimmy with the rich and famous at Punta's chic nightclubs, in Punta Ballena and La Barra.
Relive the border battles at Santa Teresa and San Miguel
Get a feel for the historic conflict between Spanish and Portuguese forces at the fortresses of Santa Teresa and San Miguel near the northeastern town of Chuy close to the Brazilian border. Built in the 18th century, today the fortresses have been completely restored and are open to visitors, offering an impressive experience of the region’s colonial past.
Saddle up with the gauchos on an Estancia
Go for a horse ride, stargaze by the barbecue and get a taste of gaucho life at one of Uruguay's tourist estancias, dozens of which are dotted all over the vast pampas. Two of the best are San Pedro de Timote and La Sirena, or if you fancy trying an authentic experience some ranches offer working stays, such as the Estancia El Silencio.
Sample Uruguay’s Swiss cheeses
Low-lying, temperate Uruguay may hardly be comparable to the Alps, but thousands of visitors each year seek out the fine dairy products in the 19th-century Swiss settlement of Nueva Helvecia (formerly Colonia Suiza: Swiss Colony), west of the capital. The town also features Swiss-style hotels and restaurants, which are popular with locals and homesick Europeans alike.
See a tango at Teatro Solís
Attend a concert, play, or tango performance at Montevideo's renovated 19th-century opera house, Teatro Solís; or enjoy live music and dance at one of the city's dozens of other nightspots, with many clustered along Ciudad Vieja’s pedestrianised areas, as well as in Punta Carretas and Pocitos.
Stay in Casapueblo, a ‘liveable sculpture’
Carlos Paéz Vilaró was one of Uruguay’s foremost abstract artists and you can visit one of his most famous works: the extravagantly whimsical art studio, Casapueblo. This nine-story whitewashed ‘liveable sculpture’ cascades down the cliffs of Punta Ballena, near Punta del Este. The remarkable complex now also includes a gallery, museum, cafe and a hotel.
Stroll along the Rambla
For an unforgettable slice of Montevideo life, take a weekend stroll along the Rambla (riverfront promenade), where you'll find joggers, windsurfers and throngs of sociable locals cradling thermoses of mate (herb tea) as they chat with friends on the beach. Go at dusk to see a stunning sunset over the Rio del Plata.
Surf the South Atlantic at Punta del Diablo
Ride the waves and wander the endless sandy beaches at the low-key Atlantic resort of Punta del Diablo, then head south to the perfect surf breaks of La Paloma and La Pedrera. Punta del Diablo is a quiet fishing village for most of the year, but every summer it fills up with diehard surfers and other adventurers kept busy with dune surfing, horseback riding and jeep forest safaris.
Visit Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay’s historic treasure
Colonia del Sacramento's cobblestoned streets and sycamore-shaded plazas are perfect for whiling away a lazy day. Enter this ancient treasure via the reconstructed city gate, the Portón de Campo, and spend the day browsing art galleries, dining in cosy restaurants and kicking back in cafes. Come nightfall, watch sunset over the Río de la Plata.
Watch the wildlife
Uruguay’s vast empty landscapes are a nature-lover’s paradise. Trek over sand dunes to see the lighthouse and abundant marine life at Cabo Polonio on the Atlantic coast. Observe the rich array of bird life at one of eastern Uruguay's coastal lagoons, including Laguna de Rocha near La Paloma, Laguna de Castillos near Barra de Valizas, and Laguna Negra near Punta del Diablo.