The best things to see and do in gay Uruguay

Uruguay might get consistently overshadowed by its ever-beloved neighbours Argentina and Brazil, but don’t let this country’s status as a perpetual underdog fool you. Sophisticated, safe, and progressive, Uruguay seduces visitors with its sprawling countryside, impressive beaches, pulsating tango clubs, and world-class wines—all in one of South America’s most open-minded, gay-friendly nations. Those travellers who do land in Uruguay tend to stick to hip and happening Montevideo, but venturing outside the eclectic capital pays big rewards. From leafy colonial cities to glittering beach resorts, here are our top choices for the best things to do in Uruguay.

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Colonia del Sacramento | Photo: Dpkelly07

Gay Uruguay

Largely considered the most LGBT-friendly country in South America, Uruguay has an outstanding reputation among gay travellers for its legislative framework protecting LGBT citizens. In 2008, Uruguay became the first Latin American country to recognize same-sex civil unions—and in 2013 legalized same-sex marriage. Social acceptance for LGBT individuals and families is high, and gay travellers to Uruguay can rest assured that virtually everywhere in the country is a safe space to be as you are. Montevideo is the most gay-popular city in Uruguay, boasting a riveting gay nightlife scene and even one of the world’s few gay monuments—La Plaza de la Diversidad Sexual.

When to visit Uruguay

Beach bums chasing the sun and sand at Uruguay’s top coastal resorts should seek out the height of summer, between late December and February. October through mid-December is shoulder season and a smart time to visit if you prefer consistently sunny days but emptier stretches of sand. Many of the country’s top beach resorts close in autumn and winter, but if it’s culture and city life you’re after, Uruguay is a rewarding destination year-round. Temperatures hover around 12°C in winter, though prepare for powerful coastal winds. Easter and Carnival are big deals in Uruguay; expect higher prices and crowds during these weeks.

Photo: Emir Saldierna

Photo: Brandon Atchison

1. Montevideo

Uruguay’s laid-back yet worldly capital is home to nearly half the nation’s population. Here you’ll find a delightful mélange of architectural styles, from art deco and neoclassical buildings to glittering skyscrapers, a major industrial port, and modern beachside communities. A new generation of entrepreneurs has brought a fresh jolt of energy to the city, with a rise in chic restaurants, boutiques, and bars transforming once-sleepy Montevideo into the hip and happening place to be. Yet alongside these thrumming beachfront discos and posh shopping districts, elegant colonial theatres and intimate tango bars remain. The result is a beguiling mixture of old and new, quaint and cutting-edge.

Ciudad Vieja is the oldest part of Montevideo, a lovely assortment of leafy plazas and historic monuments. Don’t miss the Citadel Gate, what’s left of the walls that once surrounded the entire city, and Plaza Independencia, the dividing line between old town and new. The district also offers interesting flea markets and pretty pedestrian streets. La Rambla is 15 miles of coastal promenade, where locals descend to amble along the sea, play sports, or watch the sunset. Playa de Los Pocitos is beautiful and easy to get to, while Carrasco and Miramar beaches skew more gay. A city rich in cultural heritage, Montevideo doesn’t want for world-class museums and art galleries. The National Museum of Visual Arts and the Museo Torres Garcia are top-notch. For more on what to see and do, including the best Montevideo gay bars (and some of the best gay clubs in Uruguay) don’t miss our in-depth gay Montevideo travel guide.

Montevideo | Photo: Pirizluz

2. Piriápolis

Developed as a coastal resort in the early 20th century by trailblazing Uruguayan entrepreneur Francisco Piria, Piriapolis is a Mediterranean-esque beach town sandwiched between small mountains and a lengthy waterfront promenade. Come for old-world glamour, fresh seafood amongst belle-epoque buildings, expansive coastal lookouts, and the chance to see whales breaching in the distance. The grand Argentino Hotel and opulent Piria’s Castle are landmarks, both attributed to the resort’s founder.

3. Colonia del Sacramento

Called Colonia by most, this picturesque city is also the oldest in Uruguay. In a bid to collect passport stamps or simply escape the hubbub of the city, day trip warriors frequent from Buenos Aires—only an hour or so away by ferry. That said, this historic centre and UNESCO World Heritage site is well worth an extended stay if your Uruguay itinerary allows.

The old town centre of Colonia is all tree-lined plazas, cobbled streets, and colonial buildings. Ruled by both the Spanish and Portuguese, there’s an exciting mix of architectural influences and styles. Top attractions in Colonia include the Puerta de la Ciudadela drawbridge, the Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento and the iconic Colonia del Sacramento Lighthouse. Climb all 111 steps of the latter for rewarding city views.

Colonia del Sacramento | Photo: Jorge Salazar Tovar

Photo: Ari Crespo

4. Punta del Diablo

Once a bohemian fishing village, today Punta del Diablo is one of Uruguay’s most sought-out beaches, attracting surfers, backpackers, and upscale travellers alike. Yet despite its growing fame and increasing development, Punta del Diablo still exudes a certain old-school charm. (Just avoid visiting during high peak season when the number of residents grows by 25 times!) With deep swells and golden beaches, surfing is one of the top things to do in Punta del Diablo. Travellers who prefer to keep their feet on dry land can enjoy hiking or horseback riding on the dunes. After a sun-drenched day, stroll through the breezy town dotted with candy-coloured houses and delightful artisan shops.

5. Rocha

Continuing our list of what to do in Uruguay is a visit to Rocha. Stretching more than 100 miles along the Atlantic coast, Rocha seduces with its lush pastures, dense pine forests, hidden lagoons, and easygoing villages. The long sandy beach is punctuated with palm trees and rocky outcroppings, and swaths of surrounding wilderness remain untamed. La Paloma is an excellent base for exploring the laid-back splendour of the region, with a smattering of smart hotels and restaurants to keep you comfortable, and Anaconda Beach has a barefoot ease that lends itself to sun-soaked afternoons and mesmerizing sunsets.

Rocha | Photo: Romy Pawlak

6. Santa Teresa National Park

Located within Rocha and bordering the hippy enclave of Punta del Diablo is Santa Teresa National Park, a forested seaside reserve graced with a diverse array of flora and fauna. There are several self-guided trails for exploring, along with picnic and camping facilities. If the sun is blazing, cool off in El Chorro, a semi-natural bathing pool, or make a beeline for the 12 kilometres of spectacular beachfront. Along with the many natural wonders of the park is the Fortaleza de Santa Teresa, an impressive fortress built by the Portuguese in 1762. A number of historical artefacts are on display inside, and the site offers up tremendous views of the stunning surroundings.

7. Punta del Este

Nicknamed “the Monaco of the South,” Punta del Este is a heady mix of haute cuisine, infamous nightlife, and bronzed beauties. The coastal resort is a magnet for the rich and famous—don’t be surprised by the flashy yachts, glitzy casinos, and mega-mansions that dominate the beachfront. Join in the fun of this hedonist’s playground, or simply while away a leisurely afternoon on any one of the golden sand beaches, relishing in the fun-loving atmosphere. When it comes to gay Punta del Este, the vibe is thrumming. You’ve got the gay male-only hotel Undarius, the quintessential gay-popular beach Playa Chihuahua, and a healthy smattering of frenetic discotheques where you can shake your booty all night long.

Puerto Punta del Este | Photo: Leandro Riviello

Punta del este | Photo: Guilherme Roveda Hellwinkel

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Cabo Polonio is easily Uruguay’s most wild destination, a rustic village where craggy boulders dissolve into lapping waves and windblown sand dunes dot the landscape

8. Cabo Polonio

In stark contrast to Punta del Este, Cabo Polonio is easily Uruguay’s most wild destination, a rustic village where craggy boulders dissolve into lapping waves and windblown sand dunes dot the landscape. What makes this off-the-beaten-track destination so fascinating is that there’s limited electricity, no running water, and only one sometimes-open town shop—and that’s to the choosing of the less than 100 residents. Visit for the rugged scenery, deserted beaches, and mellow way of life. Oh, and also for one of the largest sea lion colonies in all of South America.

Photo: Pedro Slinger

Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko

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Explore bucolic vineyards, golden riverfront beaches, a cobbled historic center, and more in Carmelo, Uruguay’s most illustrious winemaking region

9. Carmelo

Explore bucolic vineyards, golden riverfront beaches, a cobbled historic centre, and more in Carmelo, Uruguay’s most illustrious winemaking region. Located on the Rio de la Plata, the river separating Argentina and Uruguay, you need not be an oenophile to appreciate the boutique wineries encircling the colonial town. Tannat is the regional grape; sample it via a personalized wine tour of the area or over a romantic meal at Finca Narbona, a gourmet farm-to-table kitchen tucked away in a beautifully restored country building. There’s also plenty of horseback riding, fishing, canoeing, and even polo lessons to be had if active adventures are more your style.

10. Salto

Rounding out our list of the best places to visit in Uruguay is Salto, a good-looking riverfront town named for the falls where Rio Uruguay makes its ‘big jump,’ or Salto. Here is where you’ll find the country’s coveted hot springs, a rejuvenating way to round out any gay Uruguay vacation. The Dayman Hot Springs is perhaps the most developed, with seven adults-only pools, tennis courts, mini-golf, and dining. Arapey Hot Springs is the oldest thermal resort in the country; the slightly cooler natural spring waters make lazing away an entire day in the therapeutic springs an easy-peasy task.

Photo: Fabrício Eduardo Gonçalves

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