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Self-drive Uruguay: Classic highlights

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Uruguay, wedged between the behemoths of Brazil and Argentina, is a holiday destination offering a real sense of breathing space. It's the size of England but with a population of just 3.5 million, not much greater than that of Wales. The gently rolling countryside is dreamily bucolic -  the famous beef cattle graze nonchalantly accompanied by a multitude of birds, whose song at sunrise is as enchanting as the unspoilt little towns and increasingly chic range of hotels and restaurants.

Getting around is most satisfyingly achieved with the freedom of your own hire car. Our self-drive holiday explores the UNESCO jewel of Colonia, Carmelo’s vineyards, Montevideo’s art-deco streets, Rocha's glorious countryside and the beaches of José Ignacio. There’s about 900km of driving over nine days and you’ll have the support of pre-booked accommodation allowing you to explore at your leisure.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive Buenos Aires, transfer to your hotel in Recoleta.

Day 2

Guided walking tour in central Buenos Aires.

Day 3

Ferry across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay.

Day 4

Collect your hire car, drive to Carmelo at the head of the estuary.

Day 5

Day at leisure at a wine lodge near Carmelo.

Day 6

Drive to Montevideo, Uruguay’s pleasant capital.

Day 7

Guided walking tour of Montevideo.

Day 8

Drive east shadowing the coast to Rocha.

Days 9-10

At leisure on a working estancia.

Day 11

Drive to the small but upscale boutique-style beach resort José Ignacio.

Day 12

At leisure in José Ignacio.

Day 13

Drive back to Montevideo airport to drop off your car and take your international flight.

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What our experts say

With well marked roads in great condition and very considerate local drivers, Uruguay is one of the best South American countries to hire a car, using the freedom it brings to explore its landscapes and local culture. This holiday is a must for people looking for real authenticity and the chance to dive head first into a country that is packed full of off-the-beaten-track moments. With in-depth knowledge of this country, I have included all the must-see highlights on this trip; including a tour of vibrant Buenos Aires, the chance to explore the old charm of Montevideo and Colonia and the chance to explore the lesser-known charms of this country.

Sophie Barber

Sophie Barber

Travel Consultants

Places visited on this holiday

Self-drive Uruguay: Classic highlights

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Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires
Along with Rio, this is a city worth crossing the Atlantic for in its own right. Dynamic, stylish and nostalgic, it’s the continent’s most European city, but does not lack South American verve. Its contrasting neighbourhoods reveal colonial plazas, shady avenues, quirky antique fairs, street art, world famous theatres and football stadiums and spruced-up metropolitan port districts. Studded with extensive parks, cutting-edge boutique hotels, designer boutiques and a myriad of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, it’s a restless place, challenging to find your way around but well worth the effort. It’s the beating heart of Argentina, the hub for visits throughout the country.
When's the best time to visit Buenos Aires?

Buenos Aires is at its hottest Jan-Mar (very humid with tropical showers, occasionally over 40C during the day). It can be cold and cloudy Jul-Aug, so weather conditions are best for a visit in spring and autumn. Dec-Feb and Jul are local holiday times: Porteños head for the beach.

What's the official language in Buenos Aires?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Buenos Aires?

Argentine Peso.

Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. Please note that in 2016 many of the ATMs were not functioning properly; we are recommending that for the moment you take a good supply of US dollars cash. There are many banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) where you can exchange US dollars cash; rates for euros and sterling frequently poor. 

What's the time difference between Buenos Aires and the UK?

GMT -3 hours. Sometimes daylight saving is observed in the summer, but this is announced ad hoc on a year-on-year basis.

What places combine well with Buenos Aires?

Beach time in Mar del Plata (392 km by road, 5hrs); Colonia or Montevideo in Uruguay across the River Plate: travel by ferry, bus or plane; a stay on a working estancia in the pampa south and west of the city; Iguazú Falls (2hrs approx by air).

How long is the flight to Buenos Aires from the UK?

Average flight time is 14hrs 20mins on a direct flight from London. There are also flights requiring a change of plane in Europe or the USA.

What are the festivals and cultural and sports events in Buenos Aires?

Tango Festival: Aug. The world's – top tango festival, nine days  of concerts, shows, free classes, exhibitions, open-air milongas (Avenida Corrientes is closed for a massive display) and other tango-related festivities.

Opera season: Mar-Dec. Take in a concert or opera at the refurbished Teatro Colón which attracts internationally esteemed artists. 

Argentine Polo Open: Mid Nov-mid Dec. Polo is a passion for many Argentines. This is the year’s main attraction, taking place in Palermo’s 16,000 seater stadium.

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Colonia and Carmelo
Colonia

The little port of Colonia is the oldest town in the country and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fought over by the Spanish and Portuguese for a century, sturdy fortifications suggest Colonia’s history has been as turbulent as it is long. The old part of town is a faded clutter of terracotta roofs and narrow cobbled streets, shaded by sycamores, reminiscent of old Lisbon.  For a few hours daily, Colonia springs to life as a modern army of day-trippers arrives from Buenos Aires. The rest of the time, it’s a typically peaceful Uruguayan backwater.

Even sleepier Carmelo, an hour from Colonia, has long been a popular spot for a game of golf or relaxation by the River Plate. Nowadays, Carmelo is also being discovered by gourmet-seeking visitors as it awakes to its new-found reputation as a centre of Uruguay’s burgeoning wine industry.

When to go
Colonia has cool winters (May - Sep), warm summers and unpredictable springs (Oct - Nov); there are numerous thunderstorms but no tropical cyclones. Rainfall is regular and evenly spread throughout the year: it can be a bit wetter Oct - Nov. Summers are hot and humid (annual temperature range 15-28°C). The town can be extremely busy at weekends. Those wanting to visit the museums should plan a visit Tuesday - Thursday. 
Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency
Uruguayan Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the ATM in town using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also some exchange houses where you can exchange US dollars cash or Argentine pesos; rates for euros and sterling are frequently poor.
Time difference

GMT -3 hours. Usually daylight saving is observed in the summer (GMT -2 hours), from Sep - Oct to early Mar, the date set by presidential decree.

Combines with

A day or two in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, 2.5 - 3 hours by road; beach time at Punta del Este (5 - 6 hours by road); Buenos Aires, Argentina, there are daily direct ferries (45mins and 3 hours).

Getting there

Colonia is a 2.5 - 3 hours drive from Montevideo. There’s a weekly 15mins flight from Buenos Aires and daily ferries from the Argentine capital (45mins and 3 hours).

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Montevideo
Born of the competing interests of colonial powers, Montevideo, in a fine natural harbour on the River Plate, grew to be a prosperous port devoted to overseas trade. It attracted immigrants from all of Europe, resulting in an eclectic cultural mix which survives to this day. The city cannot compete with Buenos Aires for colonial splendour of its architecture, nor for its edgy contemporary scene. However the city, with some monumental public buildings, historic core and lively port area, is an attractive place to spend a few days. Its unpretentious citizens may not wear the latest fashions but they are friendly and well educated, many speak good English and have their feet on the ground.
When to go

Montevideo has cool winters (May - Sep), warm summers and unpredictable springs (Oct - Nov); there are numerous thunderstorms but no tropical cyclones. Rainfall is regular and evenly spread throughout the year. Winters are generally damp, windy and overcast, while summers are hot and humid (range 15-28°C).

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Uruguayan Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs in the city using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also many banks and exchange houses where you can exchange US dollars cash; rates for euros and sterling are frequently poor. In some places US dollars may be accepted as currency.

Time difference

GMT -3 hours. Usually daylight saving is observed in the summer (GMT -2 hours), from Sep - Oct to early Mar, the date set by presidential decree.

Combines with

Argentina, accessing Buenos Aires from Montevideo by air (50mins), road (8 hours) or ferry (2-3 hours); Brazil, with flights to various southern cities especially in summer; beach time at Punta del Este (2.5-3 hours by road). 

Getting there

Average flight time to Montevideo is 17.5 hours.  There are no direct flights from the UK. Some routes involve a change of plane in Brazil, Europe or the USA. The city is a 2.5 hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires. You can fly there from Foz do Iguaçú (for the Falls) in Brazil.

Key events
Carnival, 5 days in Feb/Mar, variable. This is the principal fiesta, and takes place Monday -Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Among other joyous activities, Montevideo hosts displays of traditional Afro-Uruguayan dances, called candombé. 
Semana Santa, Easter, variable; Holy week coincides with La Semana Criolla, and festivities include barbecues, folk music and rodeo exhibitions by gaucho cowboys. There is less of a religious element than in other Latin countries.

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Punta del Este beaches and coastline
Jose Ignacio Beach
The coastline east of Montevideo has huge dunes, rocky capes and yawning stretches of soft sand. Cosmopolitan Punta del Este (East Point) is a glitzy resort on a headland separating the calm waters of the River Plate from the rollers of the Atlantic. The resort is packed with classy hotels, holiday residences, casinos, boutiques, chic bars and restaurants. During the jam-packed summer season Dec-Feb the resort is a magnet for Argentine and Brazilian holiday-makers and some from further afield. Just 40mins drive by road is the even trendier (but quieter) former fishing village of José Ignacio, with its cutting edge boutique hotels and art galleries.
When to go

Punta del Este has a mild climate influenced by the Atlantic Ocean with agreeable summers and cool winters. It rains on and off throughout the year, slightly less in Nov - Dec. The hottest month, Jan, has an average temperature of around 22°C. In winter the temperature may fall to 6°C. The resort is very crowded and expensive Dec - Feb. Mar - Apr is much quieter and services more economical but it’s still pleasant on the beach. Many places are closed Apr - Nov however.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Uruguayan Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs in the resort using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also many banks and exchange houses where you can exchange US dollars cash; rates for euros and sterling are frequently poor. In some places US dollars may be accepted as currency.

Time difference

GMT -3 hours. Usually daylight saving is observed in the summer (GMT -2 hours), from Sep - Oct to early Mar, the date set by presidential decree.

Combines with

Discovering Patagonia in Argentina, accessing Buenos Aires via Montevideo by air (50mins), road (8 hours) or ferry (3 hours); Brazil, with flights from Montevideo to various southern cities especially in summer; a stay on one of Uruguay’s traditional family-run estancias

Getting there

The resort is a 2.5-3 hour drive along the coastal highway from Montevideo.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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Self-drive Uruguay: Classic highlights

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