Private Uruguay luxury travel
Wedged between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay sits upon 400 miles of sandy Atlantic coast backed by a hinterland of undulating countryside. Travelers sometimes overlook the small country—about the size of Washington State—but not for lack of charm or allure; it’s simply the type of place that more commonly whispers than shouts. There are no superlative waterfalls or mountain peaks, no great migrations, nor ancient ruins. And yet, Anthony Bourdain once described it as “Easily one of the top underappreciated travel destinations on earth.” Rather, Uruguay is a place to be; to catch a vibe; to throw away the idea of travel as a bucket list, and to simply imbibe its joie de vivre. Travelers who journey here are paid dividends in small luxurious moments, rich with connection to people and place.
What is Uruguay known for?
Globally, Uruguay is known for football, sunny beaches, tannat wine, yerba mate, and its laid-back, tolerant attitude. At times, it’s viewed as an extension of Argentina, but you don’t need to squint to see that it wears an identity all its own.
Uruguay is a place with a history not so old that it has grown cold. The territory traded hands as a possession of the Portuguese and then the Spanish until it was established as an independent country in 1828. From crumbling fort walls to colonial facades to the ruins of Jesuit wineries, Old World European influences are worn visibly across the country.
Following a decade of civic dictatorship in the mid-80s, Uruguay emerged as a liberal-leaning, progressive bastion of democracy in Latin America. Stable and appreciative of tourists, the country is a safe, comfortable, and pleasant travel destination.
Uruguay travel highlights
Most commonly experienced as a road trip, once you leave the laid-back capital of Montevideo, you’ll take the slow road, calling on picturesque winelands, quaint colonial towns, and coastal enclaves.
- Stroll along the world’s longest rambla in Montevideo
- Dine on sizzling asado in Montevideo’s historic port market
- Take a dance lesson in tango’s contested birthplace
- Sip tannat wine in the vineyards of Carmelo
- Cycle through wine country, stopping for long, unhurried lunches
- Relax in the dreamy beach resorts of José Ignacio
- Go horseback riding across the pampas with a gaucho as your guide
- Sip, savor, swim and shop in Punta del Este
- Admire world-class art in Casa Pueblo’s boutique galleries
- Catch a colorful sunset from a sailboat in Rio de La Plata
- Tour Colonia’s storied cobblestone streets, a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Dine at Garzón, a Francis Mallman restaurant in a village of the same name
- Take part in a yerba mate workshop to learn how the ritual drink is woven into the social fabric of Uruguay
What to expect on a luxury trip to Uruguay
Memorable accommodations: From premier lodgings like Estancia Vik, Bahia Vik, and Sacromonte Landscape Hotel to farmhouse-chic Narbona Wine Lodge and the boutique, hygge-luxe Charco Hotel, Uruguay’s inviting accommodations look as if they’ve been lifted off the pages of a glossy design magazine. On a private luxury Uruguay itinerary, we will curate a combination of memorable oceanfront beach resorts, historic urban hotels, and destination lodges in wine country.
Expert guides: Whether you’re interested in art in the city or argri-tourism in the country, English-speaking guides will offer context and expert insight, connecting you deeper to the destination.
Exclusive experiences: Share your niche interests with your E.J. travel specialist, and we’ll do our best to unlock exclusive experiences with our golden concierge key. We love to plan surprises, from cooking classes to private tango lessons to picnics in extraordinary settings.
Seamless, worry-free travel: Your Uruguay specialist will thread your journey together, arranging transfers, car rentals, and connections so you can enjoy seamless, worry-free travel.
24/7 in-destination support: Our job doesn’t end when your boarding pass is printed. Extraordinary Journeys is always by your side—even while traveling. We have reliable boots-on-the-ground support and a 24/7 concierge just a phone call away.
Given its location and access, Uruguay is commonly an add-on for travelers visiting Argentina (especially Buenos Aires) or Brazil. If you only have three nights, you can enjoy a pleasant visit to the beach and a charming town like Colonia or Narbona Wine Lodge in Carmelo. Those who want to truly explore the country should dedicate a week or two. Uruguay is ideal for slow travel, slow food, and ample relaxation.
Once travelers arrive in Uruguay, most get around by car. It’s a small country, so driving distances are typically just a few hours and roads are well-maintained and easy to navigate. Choose between self-driving or a private guide and driver.
Montevideo is home to Carrasco International Airport. Few direct flights arrive from the United States; most arrive and depart for other South American hubs. There is also a small airport in Punta del Este, with flights from neighboring countries. You can also arrive by water. A ferry runs daily between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and Buenos Aires and Colonia.
The official language of Uruguay is Spanish, but about 10 per cent of locals speak some English (most of those will be in the larger cities). Hospitality workers often speak at least basic English. Uruguay is a very friendly country whose locals will make you feel welcome no matter what minor language barriers there may be. All Extraordinary Journeys-arranged guides will be fluent in English.
Uruguayan pesos are used throughout Uruguay and credit cards are widely accepted in most major towns. Some shops and restaurants in Colonia and some parts of Punta del Este and Montevideo accept U.S. dollars, but it is better to have pesos on hand, just in case.
U.S. citizens do not require a visa to travel to Uruguay.
Uruguay sits at the top of the list of safest South American countries according to the 2022 Global Peace Index. Tourists are well looked after, but just like anywhere in the world, travelers should exercise situational awareness and avoid flaunting valuables.
The best time to travel to Uruguay
Located in the southern hemisphere, Uruguay is a year-round destination with pleasant weather during spring, summer, and fall (September through May).
If you want to catch some sun on Uruguay’s beaches, the best time to travel to Uruguay is November through March.
Uruguay can be visited year-round, but it can be chilly in the winter months, with many businesses shuttering for the season. On the plus side, southern right whales breed offshore from June to November.
Mid-December and January can be very crowded with tourists from neighboring countries, making November, February, and March the ideal months to visit Uruguay.
If you happen to come in February, get ready for the Carnival of your life. Montevideo has the longest Carnival celebrations in the world and rivals Rio when it comes to celebrating in the streets.
Click to read more about The Best Time to Visit Uruguay, including a month-by-month guide.
Where to travel in Uruguay
There is no “classic” route through Uruguay, and the country is so small that it’s easy to get from place to place.
Where to travel will depend mostly on your interests. Do you prefer to learn about history, ride horses across the pampas, or dance ‘til dawn? Do you crave a pulsing city or the rhythms of nature? These are the cities, towns, and experiences that are commonly included on an Extraordinary Journeys luxury trip to Uruguay.
The remarkably laid-back capital city is clean, relatively quiet, and seated right on the expansive Rio de la Plata—which looks more like the ocean than a river. It’s a very walkable city, and every visitor should go for a stroll along the world-famous rambla, stopping at one of the many cafés to people-watch. Montevideo is an art and culture hub of South America, included among UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.
Colonia del Sacramento
Established by the Portuguese in the 17th century, this tiny historical town on the banks of the Rio de la Plata is characterized by cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, vintage cars, and lovely cafes and restaurants. Colonia’s Barrio Historico is under UNESCO protection, ensuring it holds onto its old-world charm. All travelers should make a point to walk the Calle de los Suspiros (“Street of Sighs”), a pedestrian street lined with picturesque houses dating back to the first colonial period, and Calle de Portugal, where antique cars are parked along the road that leads to the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament, one of the oldest churches in all of Uruguay.
This upscale beach town on the Atlantic attracts the wealthiest South Americans with its sand dunes, windswept beaches, art galleries, and trendy seaside restaurants. It’s also the playground of famous Latin American Chef Francis Mallmann. While not outwardly flashy like neighboring Punta del Este, José Ignacio offers quiet luxury reminiscent of the Hamptons or Cape Cod. Traveling inland, you trade the beach for expansive pampas and estancias (ranch estates), where guests can experience gaucho culture with a luxury twist. (We’re looking at you, Estancia Vik.)
Punta Del Este
Jose Ignacio’s polar opposite, Punta del Este is unapologetic glitz and glam, populated with high-rise buildings, casinos, and nightclubs that evoke Miami’s South Beach. Visitors can enjoy Punta del Este’s lively urban beaches by renting a chair and umbrella. For a break from the sun, nearby Casa Pueblo is an architectural and artistic marvel, and shopping in Punta del Este abounds with designer luxury brands such as Carolina Herrera, Desigual, Louis Vuitton, Versace, and Emporio Armani.
Uruguayan Wine Country
Distinct from the wines produced in the arid, higher-elevation valleys of Chile and Argentina, Uruguay’s viticulture is influenced by the temperature-moderating and breezy Atlantic Ocean. About 30 per cent of the vines that grow here are thick-skin tannat grapes—handily making it Uruguay’s signature vintage.
Tannat is always on the menu, but a tour through Uruguayan Wine Country is a splendid way to relax into the quiet countryside while meeting winemakers. Many wineries are multi-generational, family estates. Most of Uruguay’s wine flows from vineyards near Montevideo and Canelones, but a stay at Narbona Wine Lodge near Carmelo makes for a splendid rustic-luxe escape in an approachable setting. Winemaking in the Maldonado Region (eastern Uruguay) is not as long-established but will delight oenophiles with its beach-meets-pampas landscape, historic estancias, and destination wine resorts.
Uruguay can be experienced as a stand-alone destination, but its convenient location and connections to other continental hubs mean it works well as an add-on to a broader South America luxury trip. With Brazil at its northern border, quick ferries that whisk you to Argentina, and a well-functioning international airport with direct flights to Chile, Uruguay only seems off the beaten path in theory.
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