Uruguay

East from Montevideo

This beautiful coast consists of an endless succession of small bays, beaches and promontories, set among hills and woods. The beach season is from December to the end of February. An excellent four-lane highway leads to Punta del Este and Rocha, and a good two-lane highway to Chuy. This route will give you a chance to see the most important Uruguayan beach resorts, as well as Parque Nacional Santa Teresa and other natural attractions. If driving there are three tolls each way, but this route is the easiest and the most comfortable in Uruguay with sufficient service stations along the way.

Piriápolis

This resort set among hills, 101 km from Montevideo, is laid out with an abundance of shady trees, and the district is rich in pine, eucalyptus and acacia woods. It has a good beach, a yacht harbour, a country club, a motor-racing track (street circuit) and is particularly popular with Argentines. It was, in fact, founded in the 1890s as a bathing resort for residents of Buenos Aires. Next to the marina is a small cable car to the top of
Cerro San Antonio
. Magnificent views of Piriápolis and beaches, several restaurants. Recommended, but be careful when disembarking. North of the centre, at
Punta de Playa Colorada
, is a
marine rescue centre
,
that looks after injured sea creatures before releasing them to the wild.

About 6 km north on the R37 is
Cerro Pan de Azúcar
(Sugar Loaf Hill), crowned by a tall cross with a circular stairway inside, fine coastal views. There is only a steep path, marked by red arrows, up to the cross. Just north of Piriápolis R 37 passes the La Cascada Municipal park which contains the house of Francisco Piria, the founder of the resort,
Museo Castillo de Piria
. About 4 km beyond Cerro Pan de Azúcar is the village of Pan de Azúcar, which has a
Museo al Aire Libre de Pintura
where the walls of the buildings have been decorated by Uruguayan and Argentine painters, designers and writers with humorous and tango themes (direct bus every hour from Piriápolis).

Portezuelo and Punta Ballena

R93 runs between the coast and the Laguna del Sauce to Portezuelo, which has good beaches. The
Arboreto Lussich
, on the west slope of the Sierra de la Ballena (north of R93) contains a unique set of native and exotic trees. There are footpaths, or you can drive through; two
miradores
; worth a visit. From Portezuelo drive north towards the R9 by way of the R12 which then continues, unpaved, to Minas. Just off R12 is
El Sosiego
, www.lapataia.com.uy/tambo/lapataia.htm
, a dairy farm open to the public, selling ice cream,
dulce de leche
, homemade pizzas and pastas, with an international jazz festival in January.

At Punta Ballena there is a wide crescent beach, calm water and very clean sand. The place is a residential resort but is still quiet. At the top of Punta Ballena there is a panoramic road 2½ km long with remarkable views of the coast.
Casa Pueblo
, the house and gallery of Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaro, is built in a Spanish-Moroccan style on a cliff over the sea; the gallery can be visited, there are paintings, collages and ceramics on display, and for sale; season: 1 November to 1 April. Walk downhill towards the sea for a good view of the house.

Maldonado

The capital of Maldonado Department, 140 km E of Montevideo, is a peaceful town, sacked by the British in 1806. It has many colonial remains and the historic centre is being restored (2005). It is also a dormitory suburb of Punta del Este. Worth seeing is the
El Vigia watch tower
; the Cathedral (started 1801, completed 1895), on Plaza San Fernando; the windmill; the
Cuartel de Dragones exhibition centre
, and the
Cachimba del Rey
, an old well - legend claims that those who drink from it will never leave Maldonado.
Museo Mazzoni
 has regional items, indigenous, Spanish, Portuguese and English.
Museo de Arte Americano
, a private museum of national and international art, interesting.
Tourist office
, www.maldonado.gub.uy
.

Punta del Este

About 7 km from Maldonado and 139 km from Montevideo (a little less by dual carriageway), facing the bay on one side and the open waters of the Atlantic on the other, lies the largest and best known of the resorts,
Punta del Este
, which is particularly popular among Argentines and, recently, Brazilians. The narrow peninsula of Punta del Este has been entirely built over. On the land side, the city is flanked by large planted forests of eucalyptus, pine and mimosa. Two blocks from the sea, at the tip of the peninsula, is the historic monument of El Faro (lighthouse); in this part of the city no building may exceed its height. On the ocean side of the peninsula, at the end of Calle 25 (Arrecifes), is a shrine to the first mass said by the Conquistadores on this coast, 2 February 1515. Three blocks from the shrine is Plaza General Artigas, which has a
feria artesanal
(handicraft market); along its side runs Avenida Gorlero, the main street. There are two casinos, a golf course, and many beautiful holiday houses.

Punta del Este has excellent bathing
beaches
, the calm
playa mansa
on the bay side, the rough
playa brava
on the ocean side. There are some small beaches hemmed in by rocks on this side of the peninsula, but most people go to where the extensive
playa brava
starts, opposite the Hotel Playa
. Papa Charlie beach on the Atlantic (Parada 13) is preferred by families with small children as it is safe. Quieter beaches are at La Barra and beyond.

There is an excellent yacht marina, yacht and fishing clubs. There is good fishing both at sea and in three nearby lakes and the Río Maldonado. The
Muriel
, a late-19th-century yacht, makes three sailings daily.
See the websites www.puntaweb.com, www.puntadeleste.com and www.vivapunta.com.

Isla de Gorriti
, visited by explorers including Solís, Magellan and Drake, was heavily fortified by the Spanish in the 1760's to keep the Portuguese out. The island, densely wooded and with superb beaches, is an ideal spot for campers. On
Isla de Lobos
, which is a government reserve within sight of the town, there is a huge sea-lion colony.

Beaches east of Punta del Este

Between the Peninsula and the mouth of the
Río Maldonado, a road runs along the coast, passing luxurious houses, dunes and pines. Some of the most renowned architects of Uruguay and Argentina design houses here. The river is crossed by a unique undulating bridge, like a shallow M, to
La Barra
, a fashionable place, especially for summer nightlife, with b
eaches, art galleries, bars and restaurants. The
Museo del Mar Sirenamis
,
has an excellent collection
on the subject of the sea, its life and history and on the first beach resorts (it claims to have 5,000 exhibits). The coast road climbs a headland here before descending to the beaches further north, Montoya and
Manantiales
. Some 30 km from Punta del
Este is the fishing village of
Faro José Ignacio
with a
lighthouse
, a beach
club and other new developments, now the
road is paved. Coastal R10 runs some way east of José Ignacio, but there is no through connection to La Paloma as a new bridge across the
mouth of the Lago Garzón is not operational. A car ferry sometimes runs; rowing boats will take pedestrians and cyclists across.

La Paloma and around

Protected by an island and a sandspit, this is a good port for yachts. The surrounding scenery is attractive, with extensive wetlands nearby. You can walk for miles along the beach. The pace is more relaxed than Punta del Este.
.For the Department of Rocha see
www.turismorocha.gub.uy.

Coastal R10 runs to Aguas Dulces (regular bus services along this route). About 10 km from La Paloma is
La Pedrera
, a beautiful village with sandy beaches. Beyond La Pedrera the road runs near pleasant fishing villages which are rapidly being developed with holiday homes, for example
Barra de Valizas
, 50 minutes north. At
Cabo Polonio
(permanent population 80), visits to the islands of Castillos and Wolf can be arranged to see sea lions and penguins. It has two great beaches: the north beach is more rugged, while the south is tamer by comparison. Both have lifeguards on duty (though their zone of protection only covers a tiny portion of the kilometres and kilometres of beach). The village is part of a nature reserve. This limits the number of people who are allowed to stay there since the number of lodgings is limited and camping is strictly forbidden (if you arrive with a tent, it may be confiscated). During January or February (and especially during Carnival), you
have
to reserve a room in one of the few posadas or hotels, or better yet, rent a house . From Km 264 on the main road all-terrain vehicles run 8 km across the dunes to the village. Day visitors must leave just after sundown . Ask locally in Valizas about walking there, 3-4 hours via the north beach (very interesting, but hot, unless you go early). There are also pine woods with paths leading to the beach or village.

The
Monte de Ombúes
 is a wood containing a few
ombú
trees (Phytolacca dioica - the national tree),
coronilla
(Scutia buxifolia) and
canelón
(Rapanea laetevirens). It has a small circuit to follow and a good hide for birdwatching. To reach the woods from Km 264, go 2 km north along R10 to the bridge. Here take a boat with guide, 30 minutes along the river, US$5 including tour (
Monte Grande
recommended as they visit both sides of the river). You can also walk from Km 264 across the fields, but it's along way and the last 150 m are through thick brush. The bridge is 16 km from Castillos on R9: turn onto R16 towards Aguas Dulces, just before which you turn southwest onto R10.

Punta del Diablo

At Km 298 there is a turn to a fishing village in dramatic surroundings, again with fine beaches. Punta del Diablo is very rustic, popular with young people in high season, but from April to November the solitude and the dramatically lower prices make it a wonderful getaway for couples or families. Increased popularity has brought more lodging and services year round, although off-season activity is still extremely low compared to summer. See www.portaldeldiablo.com.

Parque Nacional Santa Teresa

www.parquesantateresa.com.uy.

This park has curving, palm-lined avenues and plantations of many exotic trees. It also contains botanical gardens, fresh-water pools for bathing and beaches which stretch for many kilometres (the surf is too rough for swimming). It is the site of the impressive colonial fortress of Santa Teresa, begun by the Portuguese in 1762 and seized by the Spanish in 1793. The fortress houses a
museum
, of artefacts from the wars of independence. On the inland side of Route 9, the strange and gloomy Laguna Negra and the marshes of the Bañado de Santa Teresa support large numbers of wild birds. A road encircles the fortress; it's possible to drive or walk around even after closing. From there is a good view of Laguna Negra.

There are countless campsites (open all year), and a few cottages to let in the summer (usually snapped up quickly). Here there are also a small supermarket, greengrocer, butcher, bakery, medical clinic, petrol station, auto mechanic, post and telephone offices, and the
Club Santa Teresa
, where drinks and meals are available, but expensive. Practically every amenity is closed off-season. Tour by taxi can be made to Santa Teresa fortress, Laguna Negra, and the collection of native and exotic plants from the bathing resort of
La Coronilla.

Chuy

At Chuy, 340 km from Montevideo, the Brazilian frontier runs along the main street, Avenida Internacional, which is called Avenida Brasil in Uruguay and Avenida Uruguaí in Brasil. The Uruguayan side has more services, including supermarkets, duty-free shops and a casino.

On the Uruguyan side, on a promontory overlooking Laguna Merín and the gaúcho landscape of southern Brazil, stands the restored fortress of
San Miguel
, dating from 1734 and surrounded by a moat. It is set above a 1500-ha wetland park, which is good for birdwatching and is 7 km north of Chuy along Route 19 which is the border. There is a small
museum of
criollo
and
indígena
culture, displaying, among other artefacts, old carriages and presses. Not always open in low season. .

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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