Travel & Learn Spanish in Uruguay
Known as the Switzerland of South America, Uruguay is one of the continent’s smallest and most economically stable countries. Situated between Argentina and Brazil, it is a liberal, progressive nation that proudly upholds its gaucho culture.
While city life reigns in Montevideo, royal history charms in Colonia, and beach dwelling booms in Punta del Este, the majority of the country lies in the interior. Uruguay is vastly campo (farm) territory, which translates to spectacular rolling hills, horseback riding, and the infamous parilladas of fresh meat and seafood.
With European and African roots, Uruguay’s eclectic history and tranquilo attitude make it an alluring place to learn Spanish. Sip on mate, enjoy candombe drum beats, savor a chivito sandwich, and bask in the Atlantic sun. In Uruguay, you can have it all.
What to See & Do in Uruguay
Experience Tranquilo City Life in Montevideo
Montevideo is Uruguay’s capital, economic hub, and where almost half of Uruguayos call home. This vibrant city gives you an opportunity to see the country’s cosmopolitan side - without the hurry. Head to Ciudad Vieja to learn about some of Uruguay’s most esteemed artists at museums like Museo Torres García, dedicated to the artist who flipped South America upside down. Get intimate with Uruguay’s roots through candombe, local music drenched in African drum beats. Make new friends at the boliches (corner bars), sipping on a medio y medio (half white wine, half champagne). And don’t forget to watch a passionate show of authentic tango at El Milongón while savoring traditional cuisine.
Explore Uruguay’s European History in Colonia
With its cobblestone streets, crumbling colonial architecture, and horse-drawn carriages, it’s no wonder that Colonia de Sacramento is a UNESCO site. Located on the southwestern coast of Uruguay, along Rio de la Plata, Colonia was the country’s first colonized city. Bicycle down the promenade until the sun sets, or enjoy a merienda with café and sweets, lingering over conversation for hours. Climb the stairs to the top of the Faro (lighthouse) for panoramic views of the town and its river. No matter what you’re doing in Colonia, there’s no reason to rush.
Be a Beach Bum in the Uruguayan Riviera
The Uruguayan Riviera is a fabulous place to beach hop, surf, swim, boat, kite surf, parasail, or simply soak in the rays. The most famous of its beaches is Punta del Este, a resort town that draws in celebrities and beautiful people from across the globe. During the summer, be prepared for large crowds and VIP people-watching opportunities. If you’re not into the glamorous lifestyle, don’t fret. Playa Verde offers lush greenery juxtaposed by white sand beaches, fishing, and eco-friendly tourism. For a low-key experience, stay in a cabana at Punta del Diablo, where you can dune board, surf, and swim. Take a short drive to Parque Nacional Santa Teresa, hike amongst two million trees, and whale watch during the summer.
Get to Know the Gaucho Lifestyle in El Interior
While it progresses, Uruguay’s heart is still in the campo, or country. Enter the interior to discover cattle ranches, green rolling hills, and excellent cuisine. To see what gaucho life is like, stay at an estancia turística (tourist farm). For the real deal, stay at Estancia Panagea in Tacuarembó and be prepared to work! If you’re there in early March, don’t miss celebrating La Patria Gaucha (The Gaucho Nation).
Indulge in Uruguay’s National Plates
Uruguay has some of the best - and biggest - parrilladas (open-fire grills) in the world. Chivito, the national dish, is a sandwich made with churrasco beef, cheese, mayonnaise, a fried egg, and ham. Also notable are the asado de tira (barbequed ribs) and morcilla dulce (sweet blood sausage). If you’re not feeling carnivorous, try an empanada (stuffed turnover) or a torta frita (fried cake) with dulce de leche (caramelized sweet milk).
Birdwatch along Rio de la Plata
In the indigenous language, Guaraní, Uruguay means “river of painted birds.” Its location along Rio de la Plata makes it an excellent area for birdwatching. Witness the beauty of the national bird, the southern lapwing, as well as flamingos, mockingbirds, tropical kingbirds, and other native species. José Ignacio is particularly popular for its birdwatching opportunities.
Head to the peaceful lakeside village of Villa Serrana for beautiful views and respite from city life and hard work on the farm. If you like to keep active, there are plenty of scenic trails to hike or horseback ride. Don’t miss the nearby waterfall, Salto del Penitente.
Observe Sea Lions in Isla de Lobos
Witness one of the world’s biggest populations of sea lions just 5 miles off the coast of Punta del Este. Isla de Lobos is a rocky island that is home to over 180,000 sea lions. Elephant seals and a variety of birds also populate the island.
Party - for 3 Months - During Carnaval
Uruguay’s extravagant carnaval might be the country’s best kept secret. The centuries-old tradition began as a way for all people in Uruguay - the indigenous, European, and African - to leave behind their differences and celebrate as one. From January to March, Uruguayans dress in costume, dance, drink, and revel in joy.
The Uruguay Trail
Rapido travel2 weeks or less
Uruguayos don’t like to rush, but with two weeks or less, you’ll doubtlessly be left wanting more. Thankfully, Uruguay is a small country, and easy to navigate.
Montevideo – Colonia de Sacramento – Cufré (stay at an estancia turística) – José Ignacio (birdwatching) – Punta del Este – Montevideo
Tranquilo travelUp to a month or more
With a month or longer to explore (perfect if you’re going to study Spanish in Uruguay), you will get to see the many facets of the country. This amount of time will allow you to better understand how richly complex the country and its people truly are.
This itinerary starts in Colonia, assuming you have arrived via ferry. It ends in Montevideo, where the airport is located, to facilitate further travel.
Colonia de Sacramento – Tacuarembó (stay at Estancia Panagea) – Canelones (wine tasting) – Villa Serrana/Salto del Penitente – Punta del Diablo/ Parque Nacional Santa Teresa (dune board/whale watch) – José Ignacio (birdwatching) – Punta del Este – Isla de Lobos – Montevideo
Uruguay Travel Tips
- The main entrance into Uruguay is Montevideo, where the international airport resides. Uruguay can also be accessed by ferry from Buenos Aires, Argentina to either Colonia or Montevideo.
- There are no domestic flights within Uruguay. The best way to explore the country is by bus or rental car. The bus system is very organized and offers comfortable seating. The major highways are in excellent condition, so driving should be relatively easy for tourists.
Study Spanish in Uruguay
With its abundant activities, art culture, and diversity, Montevideo is the perfect place to study Spanish in Uruguay. Life in the city will give you endless opportunities to practice your newly acquired language skills. The capital is also a major hub for travel to other areas in the country, so your weekends can easily be spent exploring the surrounding beach towns, villages, and countryside.
The best school in Montevideo to learn español is Academia Uruguay, located in the happening area of Ciudad Vieja. In addition to Spanish classes of varying levels, the academy offers tango lessons and frequent cultural activities, providing for an experience of full immersion. If you want an even more authentic experience, the school can arrange homestays with Uruguayan families.
guest author bio - Cristina luisa
Cristina Luisa is a travel writer obsessed with Latin America. So much so, she learned Spanish and Portuguese and got an M.A. in Latin American Studies. She’s also been to Asia, Europe, and a tiny bit of Africa.
Currently, Cristina is working on a travel memoir while blogging at Chronicles of a Travel Addict.