Last updated: 08:00 AM ET, Tue November 20 2018
Lighthouse in Jose Ignacio near Punta del Este, Uruguay (photo via xeni4ka / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Uruguay

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Uruguay, a small country nestled between two behemoths (Brazil and Argentina), is often overlooked as a tourist destination. But, with miles of beaches, a scenic countryside and cities that are rich in history, culture, dining and nightlife, Uruguay is well worth a visit. Uruguay’s major regions are the Atlantic Coast, with beach resorts like Punta del Este; Rio de la Plata, where the capital city of Montevideo and the historic town of Colonia del Sacramento are located; the Northern Interior, with gaucho (cowboy) culture; and the Central Interior, an agricultural area on the Rio Negro.

Montevideo offers colonial, European and modern influences. Its Ciudad Vieja (Old Town) recently was transformed into the city’s nightlife core. Among the cultural attractions are the Museo del Gaucho y de la Moneda (GauchoMuseum), with cowboy and ranch memorabilia, and the recently opened Carnival Museum, with exhibits like costumes, masks and drums. Visitors to Montevideo also can see a concert, play or tango performance (which isn’t just an Argentinian dance) at Teatro Solís; browse among street vendors selling items like antiques, jewelry and even live birds on Sundays at the Tristán Narvaja market; and stroll along the Rambla (riverfront promenade).

Colonia, a 17th-century port and Uruguay's oldest city, whose oldest part is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers cobblestone streets, plazas, restaurants and cafes along the Rio de la Plata. And Punta del Este lures jet-setters with fine dining restaurants, vibrant nightlife, and beaches and water sports. Beyond the cities, visitors can explore Uruguay's Atlantic coastline, with its the dunes, lagoons and abundant bird and marine life; soak in the hot springs near Salto; and stay at a tourist estancia (ranch) in gaucho country.

Uruguayan cooking uses lots of grains and meat, with very little spice. Local specialties are available at a range of venues, including Montevideo's Mercado del Puerto, with its racks of roasting meat, parrilladas (grill-rooms) and fine dining establishments. Among the specialties are empanadas and gramajo (fried potatoes, eggs and ham). Seafood is also plentiful and tasty; and Uruguay is gaining traction as a winemaking region.

Carrasco General Cesáreo L. Berisso International Airport in Montevideo is served by 11 carriers, including American. An airport bus takes passengers to and from the city center. Taxis and car rentals are also available. In addition, there is limited commuter train service, including tourist trains that don’t run on a fixed schedule. Buses are more prevalent, running to different cities throughout Uruguay and into Brazil. By boat, high-speed ferries operate between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo, Uruguay, and ferries continue to Punta del Este.

Uruguay’s climate is subtropical and temperate but can be windy and unpredictable. It has mild summers (December through March) and cool but tolerable winters (June through August) with some wind and rain. Average daytime highs in Montevideo range from the mid 50s in July to the 80s in January.