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Self-drive Uruguay: Classic highlights

Day 1

Arrive Buenos Aires, transfer to your hotel in Recoleta.
Buenos Aires

Arrive in Buenos Aires, an elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan city famed for its interesting museums and the fascinating port district of La Boca, with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses – it’s where the tango was born. The centre of town is home to the colonial heart, government buildings and churches as well as chic shopping and residential districts which have a nostalgic Parisian feel.

The bohemian quarter of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and classy restaurants. Slightly further out of the centre is the Recoleta district (your hotel is here), even more evocative of the French influence, where Evita Perón was laid to rest.

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Buenos Aires

Day 2

Guided walking tour in central Buenos Aires.

Although the modern Buenos Aires skyline is dominated by its mass of high-rise towers, typical of any rapidly expanding 21st century metropolis, at street level it reveals architectural gems and peeling relics which tell a story best appreciated on foot.

The historic neighbourhoods of Montserrat and San Telmo are the focus of your guided walking tour, which includes a visit to the famous Plaza de Mayo, adorned with the Presidential Casa Rosada (Pink House) and ends in San Telmo, with its many antique and bric-a-brac shops, weekend street market and tango clubs.

Day 3

Ferry across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay.

Take the hydrofoil ferry across the River Plate to the port of Colonia in Uruguay.  Travel along a forest-fringed estuary, dotted with upmarket residences, to this peaceful little port, and its UNESCO-protected historic centre. It’s a real contrast to the hubbub of Buenos Aires.

You’ll have a guided walk to explore this quaint town where the evocative colonial grid of tree-shaded, peaceful lanes is a photographer's delight. It was founded by the Portuguese, so the architecture is a bit different from the Spanish and French styles of Buenos Aires and elsewhere in Spanish America.  Upon reaching Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs), you'll stop at an 18th century Portuguese taberna for a typical Uruguayan snack of wine, bread and cheeses.

Have a meal or drink in the yacht club overlooking the sparkling water, where little boats gaily bob around. You might climb the lighthouse for a view over the town and the estuary beyond.

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Day 4

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

Uruguay is a tranquil place, its roads beyond the capital are paved, mostly well-maintained and signposted; petrol stations are frequent and local driving standards (relatively) good.  Roads leading to the coast are most busy during the peak summer holiday season of mid-December to late February but elsewhere you should find there is relatively little traffic, especially if you're accustomed to driving in the UK. You should be in for a relaxing driving experience, where you can confidently make a detour to explore a place off your basic route which tickles your fancy.

Your car will be delivered to your hotel this morning and once on the road, you’ll be heading west to Carmelo (78km, around 1 hour direct), a sleepy little port at the end of the River Plate estuary with a pretty colonial plaza and a waterside promenade. It’s the centre of the wine-producing region and there are several important vineyards in the vicinity, all ensconced in peaceful countryside studded with eucalyptus trees which is a delight to drive through. Spend two nights at Narbona Wine Lodge, a beautiful vineyard estancia 20 minutes' drive beyond Carmelo.

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Day 5

Day at leisure at a wine lodge near Carmelo.
Narbona Wine Lodge

Yesterday was a great introduction to driving in Uruguay but today you may well decide just to hang out at Narbona Wine lodge. Exquisitely restored, it captures the flavour of a bygone era to perfection and is one of Uruguay's most desirable places to stay.

You can have a guided tour of the winery itself, explore the estate on a mountain bike, and unwind in the reading room or by the pool.  Pay a bit more locally and you can have a massage or a round of golf at the local club.

The town of Carmelo, with its single-storey dwellings shaded by jacaranda trees and churches, is worth a look around: there’s a nice little museum a ruined Jesuit mission from the 18th century and a couple of wineries.

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Narbona Wine Lodge

Day 6

Drive to Montevideo, Uruguay’s pleasant capital.

It’s off on the road back east towards Montevideo, the nation’s capital.  You could well stretch the 245km journey to a full day. There are a couple of alternative roads, but in general you’ll be driving through open farmland with vast fields of wheat and soya, the ubiquitous cattle and small farmsteads. Close to the estuary you’ll cross rivulets and marshlands, before you see the Montevideo skyline loom up on the horizon.

Arriving in the capital you’ll discover a lively waterfront city with a great setting, where modern skyscrapers jostle with art deco façades and grand, monumental colonial buildings. For a national capital there’s relatively little traffic or pollution, so you should feel at ease driving through the city to your hotel.

Born of the competing interests of colonial powers, the city, on the shores of 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.

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Day 7

Guided walking tour of Montevideo.
Montevideo old town

You’ll have a guided walking tour in the morning, passing through the colonial centre, viewing some of the historic public building and monuments: there’s a distinct retro feel, with many art-deco buildings displaying a faded charm.

You’ll be taken to the port market for lunch: this is a fascinating place, popular among the locals who throng to its open-air bars and restaurants. Here, you can enjoy a steak to rival anything you might have savoured in Buenos Aires, washed down with a local wine.

In the evening you might take a stroll down the beachfront Rambla, where Montevideños may well be out jogging, cycling or roller-skating.

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Montevideo old town

Day 8

Drive east shadowing the coast to Rocha.
Pueblo Barrancas

Drive east parallel to the coastline to the department of Rocha, a point-to-point trip of around 280km. Inland, there are views across bird-animated pastures to the Serrania Minas hills. The ocean to your right is fringed by undulating sand dunes. Once beyond the glitzy resort Punta del Este, beloved of celebrities, there are a just few small beach resorts, clusters of pine trees and some holiday homes, but no wholesale development of the coastline – powder-white and creamy gold beaches stretch out towards a limitless horizon. Inland Rocha is a picture of utter peace and tranquility. It has some of Uruguay's most alluring countryside, dotted with old estancia houses, ombu and palm trees.

Rocha has several delightful rural estancias which welcome guests with simple lodgings and warm hospitality - a typically Uruguayan experience. Tucked away in the countryside but within a short drive of the beach these are perfect bases to relax and explore. Spend three nights at Estancia Guardia del Monte, a small working ranch on the shores of Laguna de Castillos.

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Pueblo Barrancas

Days 9-10

At leisure on a working estancia.
Guarda del Monte

Two full days to enjoy your surroundings. As usual on an estancia, there are optional outdoor activities to take part in: horse riding in the wetlands and bird watching are the highlights.

Nearby there are other attractions: Cabo Polonio National Park, one of Uruguay's highlights, is just a short drive away. Walking amidst its sand dunes and wild, windy coastline makes for a bracing day out. The remote hamlet of Cabo Polonio itself feels almost cut off from the outside world, with its brightly painted houses, iconic lighthouse, small eateries and sea lion colony. Rocha also has several small beach resorts such as La Pedrera and La Paloma, popular among surfers with a hip nightlife in summer. Meanwhile, its nature reserves and lagoons are great for birding.

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Guarda del Monte

Day 11

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

It’s only 119km to drive today to reach José Ignacio, a cool, sophisticated and affluent coastal resort with upmarket boutiques, art galleries and restaurants yet not at the expense of its charm. The town only has about 300 permanent residents but this number swells by the thousand in the buzzy summer, including socialites, Hollywood stars and international supermodels. They are attracted to the laid-back, low-key atmosphere: there are still some dusty, acacia-shaded lanes with pop-up bars and al fresco celebrity chef eateries - you may be fighting for space with a Porsche if you want to park outside one of these.

You’ll be staying at a hotel around 3km from José Ignacio and just 200m from the beach in a peaceful location away from the relaxed nightlife (discos have to shut at 2am by law).

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Jose Ignacio

Day 12

At leisure in José Ignacio.
José Ignacio

You have a day at leisure to enjoy the town’s vibe, sample its fine restaurants and maybe catch up with some sun on the beach.

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José Ignacio

Day 13

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

An early start for the 145km drive to from José Ignacio to Carrasco airport near Montevideo, which should take around 2 hours.

UK clients arrive home the following day.


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Self-drive Uruguay: Classic highlights

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Self-drive Uruguay: Classic highlights

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Self-drive Uruguay: Classic highlights

13 days from £2,693pp

Price excludes international flights at the beginning and end of the trip


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