Private Journeys

Self-drive Uruguay: Classic highlights

13 days from £2,890pp

(based on two people sharing & excluding flights)

Argentina / Uruguay

Itinerary

map marker Map

Day 1

Arrive Buenos Aires, transfer to your hotel in Recoleta.

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 which is where your hotel is based. Recoleta is even more evocative of the French influence, and was where Evita Perón was laid to rest.

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Stay at - Loi Suites Recoleta

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.

Stay at - Loi Suites Recoleta

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. Colonia 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. Along the way you’ll stop at one of the town’s welcoming little boltholes for a typical Uruguayan snack of wine, bread and cheeses.

Your hotel is in the heart of old Colonia, allowing opportunities to return to your favourite corners of town to linger longer. You might climb the lighthouse for a view over the town and the estuary beyond.

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Stay at - Charco

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 are (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 Campotinto, a small lodge and winery in an idyllic rural setting near Carmelo.

Colonia

Stay at - Posada Campotinto

Day 5

Day at leisure at a wine lodge near Carmelo.

Yesterday was a great introduction to driving in Uruguay but today you may well decide just to hang out around Carmelo and become acquainted with Uruguay’s excellent wines, centering on bold reds – called Tannat – which you’ll find surprisingly different to the Malbecs available across the River Plate. You walk or cycle to local vineyards from the hotel, or visit the little store close by where you can enjoy a glass among the vines.
The sleepy riverside town of Carmelo itself, 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.

Stay at - Posada Campotinto

Day 6

Drive to Montevideo, Uruguay’s waterfront 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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Stay at - Cottage Hotel Puerto Buceo

Day 7

Guided walking tour of Montevideo.

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.

Montevideo

Stay at - Cottage Hotel Puerto Buceo

Day 8

Drive to a traditional rural inn of Uruguay's interior

Drive for around 200km north-east of the capital and into the rural department of Lavalleja, with its low hills and rugged countryside. Inland, Uruguay’s roads are startlingly empty, as is the countryside. Much of it is cattle country, dotted with traditional small estancias (ranches) and alive with nature and birdsong.

Uruguay has several delightful country inns which welcome guests with simple lodgings and warm hospitality – a typically Uruguayan experience. Posada de Campo El Balcon del Abra, your base for the next couple of days, is a charming small rural inn a few minutes’ drive from the settlement of Mariscala, whose population is under 2,000. Depending on your chosen route, the journey to tonight’s accommodation takes around 3 hours.

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Stay at - Estancia El Balcon del Abra

Day 9

At leisure in the countryside

El Balcon del Abra offers peaceful landscapes, homely comforts and the charm of a small Uruguayan posada (inn) with only 8 rooms. Located in well-kept parkland dotted with tall palms and deck chairs, it is a fine base to relax for the day or wander off on a self-guided walk. The estancia also offers its guests a complimentary horse ride during their stay. Optional activities which may be available locally include mountain biking, canoeing and 4×4 trips into the surrounding countryside.

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Stay at - Estancia El Balcon del Abra

Day 10

To the coast: Drive to the small and upscale beach resort José Ignacio.

It’s around 150km 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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Stay at - La Viuda de Jose Ignacio

Days 11, 12

At leisure in José Ignacio.

You have 2 full days at leisure to enjoy the resort’s vibe, sample its fine restaurants and maybe catch up with some sun on the beach.

If you are in the mood for exploration with your hire car, there is no shortage of options. An hour to the west is Uruguay’s most famous beach resort, Punta del Este, with its glorious, sweeping Atlantic beaches, fine restaurants and a very lively atmosphere in summertime.

For something more sedate, head east towards the province of Rocha. One of our favourite parts of Uruguay, 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. Cabo Polonio National Park, one of Uruguay’s highlights, is around 2-hours 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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Stay at - La Viuda de Jose 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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