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Best Places to Visit in Uruguay, Top Attractions
Are you wondering what the best places are to visit in Uruguay? Uruguay is a small country located in South America that tourists often overlook. It has a lot to offer though. From the beautiful beaches of Punta del Este to the charming village of Colonia del Sacramento, there is something for everyone in Uruguay. If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination in South America, you want to visit Uruguay! In this article I’ll share with you the top places to visit in Uruguay and what each place has to offer. Uruguay is one of the smallest countries in South America, and one that often gets overlooked by travelers, even those visiting neighboring countries such as Argentina and Brazil. The top three most visited destinations in the country are Montevideo, the capital city, Colonia del Sacramento, a famous day tour destination for people from Buenos Aires, and Punta Del Este, South America’s most exclusive beach resort. Despite being dwarfed by neighboring Argentina and Brazil, visitors to Uruguay will be surprised and impressed at all of the incredible things that there are to see and do in South America’s second smallest state. One of the safest countries on the continent, Uruguay’s sophisticated cities are fascinating to explore as delightful colonial-era centers, pulsating tango clubs and a wide range of historic and cultural landmarks entice you onwards. The beautiful beaches that border the Atlantic Ocean offer up sun, sea, sand and surf as well as fun and friendly beach resorts while in the interior stunning nature reserves lie side by side next to expansive cattle ranches. Very easy to travel around, Uruguay is a laidback country that has a lot to offer and so don’t be surprised to find yourself yearning to return as soon as you’ve left its shores.
#1- Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales
Uruguay’s largest collection of paintings is housed here in Parque Rodó. The spacious rooms are graced with works by Blanes, Cúneo, Figari, Gurvich, Torres García and other famous Uruguayans. For a closer look at some of these same artists, visit the Museo Torres García, Museo Figari and Museo Gurvich in Ciudad Vieja, or the Museo Blanes in the Prado neighborhood north of Centro.
Gleaming white in the sun and cascading nine stories down a cliffside, Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró’s exuberantly whimsical villa and art gallery sits atop Punta Ballena, a jutting headland 15km west of Punta del Este. Visitors can tour five rooms, view a film on the artist’s life and travels, and eat up spectacular sunset views at the upstairs cafeteria-bar. There’s a hotel and restaurant adjacent. It's a 2km walk from the junction where Codesa’s Línea 8 bus drops you.
#3- Teatro Solís
Just off Plaza Independencia, elegant Teatro Solís is Montevideo’s premier performance space. First opened in 1856, and completely renovated during the past decade or so, it has superb acoustics. Regularly scheduled tours provide an opportunity to see the actual performance space without attending a show.
#4- La Mano en la Arena
Punta’s most famous landmark is this monster-sized sculpted hand protruding from the sands of Playa Brava. Constructed in iron and cement by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal, it won first prize in a monumental art contest in 1982 and has been a Punta fixture ever since. The hand exerts a magnetic attraction over thousands of visitors every year, who climb and jump off its digits and pose for photos with it. Look for it just southeast of the bus station.
#5- Museo de Artes Decorativas
The Palacio Taranco, a wealthy 1910 merchant’s residence designed by famous French architects Charles Girault and Jules Chifflot, is filled with ornate period furnishings and paintings by European artists including Ghirlandaio and Goya.
#6- Yacht Harbor
In summertime, Punta del Este's busy yacht harbor overflows with beautiful people, who come to see and be seen at the surrounding restaurants and clubs. The harbor is also the departure point for boat tours to Isla Gorriti and Isla de Lobos.
#7- Fortaleza de Santa Teresa
This impressive hilltop fortress, 4km north of park headquarters on Ruta 9, is the star attraction of Parque Nacional Santa Teresa. Construction was begun by the Portuguese in 1762 and finished by the Spaniards after they captured the fortress in 1793.
#8- Isla de Lobos
About 10km offshore, this small island is home to the world’s second-largest southern sea-lion colony (200,000 at last count), along with colonies of southern fur seals and South America’s tallest lighthouse. The island is protected and can only be visited on an organized tour.
#9- Isla Gorriti
Boats leave every half hour or so (daily from December through Carnaval, weekends rest of year) from Punta del Este’s yacht harbor for the 15-minute trip to this nearby island, which has excellent sandy beaches, a couple of restaurants and the ruins of Baterías de Santa Ana, an 18th-century fortification.
One of the town’s most prominent landmarks, Colonia’s 19th-century working lighthouse provides an excellent view of the old town and the Río de la Plata. It stands within the ruins of the 17th-century Convento de San Francisco, just off the southwest corner of Plaza Mayor 25 de Mayo
#11- Museo del Carnaval
This museum houses a wonderful collection of costumes, drums, masks, recordings and photos documenting the 100-plus-year history of Montevideo’s Carnaval. Behind the museum is a cafe and a courtyard where spectators can view performances during the summer months. Touch-screen displays offer limited English-language commentary.
#12- Centro Cultural Bastión del Carmen
Incorporating part of the city’s historic fortifications, this theater and gallery complex adjacent to Colonia's Puerto Viejo hosts rotating art exhibits and periodic concerts. The grassy riverside grounds out back, with outdoor sculptures and an industrial chimney dating from 1880, make a picturesque spot for a midafternoon break.
#13- Museo de los Andes
This unique museum documents the 1972 Andean plane crash (made famous in the book Alive!) that cost 29 Uruguayans their lives and profoundly impacted Uruguay's national psyche. Using original objects and photos from the crash site, it tells the story of the 16 survivors, who battled harrowing conditions for 72 days before returning alive to a stunned nation. The museum is a labor of love for director Jörg Thomsen, a personal friend of many of the families affected.
#14- Monte de Ombúes
On Laguna de Castillos' western shore (near Km 267 on Ruta 10), brothers Marcos and Juan Carlos Olivera, whose family received this land from the Portuguese crown in 1793, lead two- to three-hour nature excursions. Tours begin with a 20-minute boat ride through a wetland teeming with cormorants, ibis, cranes and black swans, followed by a hike through the ombú forest.
#15- Plaza Independencia
Montevideo's largest downtown plaza commemorates independence hero José Artigas with a 17m, 30-ton statue and the subterranean Mausoleo de Artigas, where an honor guard keeps 24-hour vigil over Artigas’ remains. Other notable structures surrounding the plaza include the stone gateway Puerta de la Ciudadela, a lonely remnant of the colonial citadel demolished in 1833; the 19th-century Palacio Estévez; and the 26-story Palacio Salvo, the continent’s tallest building when it opened in 1927, and still a classic Montevideo landmark.
#16- Palacio Legislativo
Dating from 1908, and still playing host to Uruguay’s Asamblea General (legislative branch), the three-story neoclassical parliament building is also open for guided tours at 10:30am and 3pm Monday to Friday.
#17- Plaza Matriz
Also known as Plaza Constitución, this leafy square was the heart of colonial Montevideo. On its west side stands the Iglesia Matriz, Montevideo’s oldest public building, begun in 1784 and completed in 1799. Opposite is the Cabildo, a neoclassical stone structure finished in 1812. Benches under the trees and eateries along the adjacent sidewalk offer opportunities for a noon break.
#18- Palacio Salvo
On the east side of the Plaza Independencia, the 26-story structure with the crazy beehive hairdo is Palacio Salvo, the continent's tallest building when it opened in 1927.
#19- Museo del Gaucho
Housed in the ornate Palacio Heber, this museum eloquently conveys the deep attachments between the gauchos, their animals and the land. Its superb collection of historical artifacts includes horse gear, silverwork, and maté (a bitter ritual tea)and bombillas (metal straws with filters, used for drinking maté) in whimsical designs.
#20- Mercado del Puerto
No visitor should miss Montevideo’s old port market building, at the foot of Pérez Castellano; the building's impressive wrought-iron superstructure shelters a gaggle of bustling parrillas (steak restaurants). On weekend afternoons in particular, it’s a lively, colorful place where the city’s artists, craftspeople and street musicians hang out.
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