Uruguay

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Uruguay’s interior is comprised mostly of low, rolling plains of little interest to visitors. The country’s coasts are where you’ll find most of the action, including the dazzling political and cultural capital of Montevideo and a wealth of gorgeous beach towns, each with a unique personality: Punta del Este boasts Miami-esque skyscrapers and all-night beach parties; José Ignacio is where jet-setters like model Gisele Bündchen flock for the anti-sceney scene; and Piriápolis retains its laidback, Old World charm.

Uruguay Cities and Regions

Montevideo

Sophisticated Montevideo is an undiscovered treasure that Uruguayans seem content to keep to themselves. Often overshadowed by Punta del Este, the architecturally rich, art-filled capital is unapologetically Uruguayan – old-fashioned and reserved, its Old World charm most apparent in the Old Town, where elegant townhouses line the narrow streets. Like neighboring Buenos Aires, the city is affordable, pedestrian friendly, and passionate about tango and steak.

Colonia

Time seems to have stood still in Uruguay’s oldest settlement, which dates back to 1680. Returned to Portugal by the Spanish in 1763, Colonia has a unique and impeccably preserved blend of Spanish and Portuguese architecture evident in the cobblestone streets and colorful homes, as well as an astonishing collection of vintage cars (vehicles from the ‘20s and ‘30s are a common sight). Though day-trippers from Buenos Aires are common, the town rarely seems crowded.

Carmelo

An hour’s drive north of Colonia on Rio de la Plato is Carmelo, a pretty and charming colonial village untouched by commercialism. Home to wineries and open land, the area’s biggest draw is the Four Seasons Resort and Spa Carmelo. Just outside the city lies a eucalyptus and pine forest where outdoor activities include horseback riding, canoeing, hiking, polo, and golfing.

Punta del Este

One of South America’s hottest destinations (and the most expensive in Uruguay), Punta del Este is a land of Miami-esque skyscrapers and all-night beach parties. The scene, which is not at all indicative of typical Uruguayan life, draws wealthy Argentines and Brazilians, as well as curious Americans looking for an alternative to Miami.

La Barra de Maldonado (La Barra)

Just a few miles east of Punta, La Barra is known for its trendy beach bars, excellent restaurants, and boutique hotels. Getting there is half the fun, as you’ll pass the bizarre residential suburb of Hollywood, where eclectic mansion styles range from modern to mock-Tudor.

José Ignacio

A half hour's drive from Punta del Este, José Ignacio is a remote and rustic (yet very "in") town where life revolves around the beach and the table. If the streets seem deserted in this former fishing village, it’s because everyone is living it up on the superb strands or filling up on the country’s best seafood. The anti-sceney scene has even lured the likes of model Gisele Bündchen.

Piriápolis

An hour west of Punta, Piriápolis is a perfect afternoon stop en route to Montevideo. Built in the late 1800s as an elegant resort town recalling the Côte d’Azur, the Belle Epoque style is evident in the architecture and in the waterfront promenade. Take a chairlift to the Templo de San Antonio, a funky chapel with panoramic views, or climb Cerro Pan de Azúcar, Uruguay’s third highest peak, and visit the nature reserve there.

Isla Gorriti and Isla Lobos

Just off the coast of Punta del Este, these islands have deserted beaches and a Spanish colonial background. Isla Gorriti has an 18th-century fortress and Isla Lobos has one of the world’s largest sea lion colonies (an estimated 20,000 sea lions live here); boats leave from the marina at the tip of Punta del Este.

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