Uruguayan Lola Mendez tells us all about the beautiful coast of Uruguay as she uncovers eight of the best beaches in the country, offering her insight and advice on what to do.
Uruguay has been popular for decades among the South American travel elite who head to the country's coastal towns in the summer months to enjoy lazy days under the sun enjoying watersports, fresh seafood and local culture.
The best time of year to visit for beach weather is between November and March, and the tourist season peaks over the holidays in December and January. However, surfers will find the best waves in April and May.
The playas are worth visiting in the off season as well, as temperatures in Uruguay are quite moderate. A major benefit of visiting in the winter months of June, July and August is that you will have a high chance of seeing whales just off the Uruguayan coast.
Read on to discover eight of the best beaches in Uruguay, in order from south to north.
1. Swim in the calm waters at Piriápolis
At over 125 years old, Piriápolis is Uruguay’s oldest beach resort. Located on the sparkling banks of the Rio de la Plata, it has flat smooth waters making it the perfect setting for those who desire long swims in the sea. With many seafront restaurants and shops, it's also an ideal spot for a family vacation. A hike up the hill offers beautiful views of the coastline and town and on a clear day Punta Del Este can be seen in the distance.
2. Whale watching and sunsets at Punta Ballena
Punta Ballena, which translates to whale point, is a peninsula in the Rio de la Plata near Punta Del Este, where it's common to see whales in the winter months. It is best to visit during the off-season as swimming can be difficult here due to many dangerous rock formations in the water that can be hidden during high tide. This is also one of the most beautiful places in the area to watch the sunset dip into the horizon.
3. Explore the beaches in Punta Del Este
Punta Del Este is home to the most popular tourist beaches along the resort’s peninsula coast. On the Atlantic ocean side, Playa Brava is famous for the hand sculpture which was placed in the sand as a warning to swimmers to be aware of the deep waters and deadly undertow. Be cautious and pay attention to the flag warnings about the water conditions.
On the other side of the peninsula you'll find Playa Mansa, a strip of beach with calm waters from the Rio de La Plata and home to many delicious seafood eateries. For a unique experience, hire a boat and spend the day at the nearby Isla Goritti to explore wild natural beaches and collect seashells.
4. Surfing and Paddle Boarding at La Barra's Bikini beach
La Barra is located just a short drive from Punta Del Este across a wavy bridge. Locals flock here to avoid the tourist crowds and sunbathe at the aptly named Bikini beach. During the high season, drum circles tend to pop-up to celebrate the sunset and vendors can be found strolling the beach selling ice cream, sarongs, jewellery and more. One of the most popular spots in Uruguay for surfers and stand up paddle boarding, the beach is best for youths and backpackers looking to party by the sea.
5. Take in the natural beauty at Jose Ignacio
The coastal bohemian fisherman village, Jose Ignacio, is popular with locals and foreigners due to its long stretches of natural beaches. During high season, an international crowd gathers here to party at a secret beach club situated on a secluded island. Playa Brava is popular with surfers and Mansa beach, on the other side of the peninsula, is the best location to enjoy a stunning Uruguayan sunset with the picturesque lighthouse in the foreground. As an ideal place to relax and enjoy Uruguay’s natural beauty, do as the locals do and go on a horseback ride as the sun kisses the sea.
6. Sand Dune Boarding and Watersports at La Paloma
La Paloma is my favourite beach in Uruguay and the seaside village is in my father’s hometown, Rocha. This beach has only recently become known to western tourists but has maintained its authentic small town charm. Facing the Atlantic Ocean, the lovely Cabo Santa Maria lighthouse is surrounded by rocky beaches littered with tiny seashells. The beach doesn't have fine sand but it's very popular with watersports fans and sand dune boarders. Nearby Bahía Chica and Bahía Grande are better locations for those looking to hang out on smooth sandy bays; they are also family-friendly due to the calm waters.
7. Sand dunes galore at Cabo Polonio
Surrounded by nothing but huge sand dunes, Cabo Polonio is a gorgeous wild beach that can only be reached by jeep; an ideal location to enjoy the incredible nature of Uruguay. Just north of Cabo Polonio is the much easier to reach resort of Valizas. From there, head off on a quest to find the secret beach, La Esmeralda, between Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo.
8. Laid-back vibes at Punta del Diablo
Located just 40km from the Brazilian border, Punta del Diablo has been a popular beach destination for locals for many years but has just recently gained traction with tourists. With many local artisans calling the seaside village home, you'll find unique accommodation and beachfront bars in abundance here. With an incredibly laid-back vibe, discover traditional fishing boats dragged up into the sand, eclectic beach shacks dotted along the shore and sweet-smelling flora adding splashes of colour.