With its remote ranches, pristine coastline and sleepy surf towns beside acres of olive groves, Uruguay is emerging as a beacon of covid security, topped with one of the highest vaccination rates anywhere in the world.
Summer season runs from November to March. Foreigners protected with two jabs and a negative test result will be welcomed from November 1, 2021. Ready to plan?
Most journeys begin in the liveable and liberal capital, Montevideo. Once brilliantly captured by chef Anthony Bourdain as “a lot like Old Havana” – but with infrastructure – the city’s grand colonial boulevards, art deco façades and 13 mile-long coastal promenade or rambla, mean there’s plenty to enjoy before heading inland or to the beach.
What to do in Montevideo
An influx of younger Uruguayans, many who returned during the pandemic as the country fared well, are helping to transform the arts and culinary scene. This means long lunches at Republica Rotiseria, Demorandanga and Misión Comedor that serve twists on classic dishes using produce cultivated on allotments nearby. Installation Ocho Y Medio, the Museum of Visual Art and Rodó Park, where rotating outdoor exhibitions stand among the tropical palms are all within walking distance.
Hiring a bicycle to take to the rambla is recommended. The boardwalk runs past several urban beaches, fit for bathing and kitesurfing, to the Old Town, where café culture permeates. Head to the carnival museum by the port to learn about annual celebrations, followed by an array of Latin American coffees at modern roastery, Culto, or old-style Café Brasileiro. Look out for the dozens of ateliers dedicated to design, textiles and instruments in the old town. Brunch is served best by Sometimes Sunday, a new local favourite on a pedestrianised street. Finish off with ice cream infused with River Plate flavours, like fernet and dark chocolate, at Crema, directly opposite.
Nightlife here is late, don’t expect to be dancing before midnight. For tango classics and a bit of history, take to the legendary Baar Fun Fun.
Children in Uruguay
With the kids? Tristán Narvaja outdoor market sells everything and anything, from hard-to-find toys and football flags, to antiques and comic strips each Sunday. Secure tickets for a match at the first World Cup football stadium or the Natural History Museum, where giant dinosaurs are housed inside this former prison. Don’t forget the worthwhile modern arts space adjacent. Finish off with Uruguay’s traditional chick-pea flatbread, fainá, and chivito sandwiches at La Tortuguita on Tristán street.
We recommend hiring a car to travel east at your own pace from Montevideo, where dozens of unspoiled beaches can be found along the Atlantic coast. From smart José Ignacio closer to Punta del Este, to the sandy dirt roads of Cabo Polonio, La Pedrera and Punta del Diablo. Buses tend to make several stops while on route to terminals, with extended timetables during the warmer months. Distances in Uruguay are manageable when compared to neighbours Argentina and Brazil.
We’ve got the keys to some outstanding properties, some simple and soulful, others designed to impress. Establish a base from where to beach hop, and enjoy sailing, fishing, riding and paddle boarding. Or even a week’s long surf-yoga retreat at The Shack.
Where to stay in Jose Ignacio?
José Ignacio, closer to the capital, is known for its sun-seekers and socialites. To accommodate guests, stylish hotels, boutiques and restaurants have replaced the fisherman’s cottages over the years, but the village still holds on to its discretion and charm.
New arrivals include Rizoma, a magical bookshop-come café which also provides several exclusive rooms hidden between the shady pines. Posada Ayana, a 17-room hotel with saltwater pool by Mansa beach, opened in 2020. And as of November, the first free-standing Skyspace in South America designed by artist James Turrell opens adjacent, as part of the Posada. Some of Turrell’s other work is in Colome, Salta.
Where to eat in Jose Ignacio?
Argentine chef Francis Mallmann has set himself up halfway down Brava beach with his summer lunch spot, Chiringuito, right on the sand. Arrive on horseback and order an aperitif under one of the restaurant’s waterside tents. Mallmann knows the area better than most, having first opened a restaurant here in 1978. Other mainstay dining options include Mostrador Santa Teresita, La Susana and La Huella Parador.
Mid-January sees the arrival of the José Ignacio International Film Festival (JIFF), with outdoor village screenings under the stars. This season from January 15-23.
Beyond the coast
For those who prefer a break from the beach, the interior is worth exploring. Get a taste of local estancia life and jineteada (gaucho rodeos) in Rocha and explore the bougainvillea-lined cobblestone streets of Colonia and Carmelo, west of the capital.
Sleepy hamlet Pueblo Garzón is a short drive inland from José Igancio. Visit the CAMPO art collective, browse the stores stocked with handmade merino wool blankets and the world famous sustainable vineyard. Mallmann also hosts spectacular “7 Fires” dinners at his country estate at Garzón on request.