El Ceibo is a typical, South American sheep and cattle ranch set in farmland amid the gently rolling plains of Uruguay. The ranch building dates back to 1849. At that time the local registrar performed weddings and christenings there. Thankfully the ranch has changed little. Even the wisteria which was planted back then still perfumes the central patio.
So you do feel like you are stepping back in time. But you are just one hour from the capital of Uruguay and a little more than an hour from the country’s international airport.
The ranch, or estancia as ranches are called in Spanish, is attended by its owners, Carmen and Joselo, a couple who moved to the estancia from Florida, a nearby town, with their children two decades ago.
What to do at El Ceibo
Relax to red sunsets, star-filled nights and the sound of water running over rocks.
As there are no mountains in Uruguay, just gentle hills, any area of high ground affords impressive views of the surrounding countryside. Joselo will take you out horse-riding for an hour in the morning and in the afternoon every day. There’s a wide track which goes for miles and the highest ground is about 3 miles (4-5 km) from the estancia.
Unfortunately there are few trails and treks available in Uruguay. However El Ceibo has over 120 acres of native woods and you can take a two-hour trek following trails cut by Joselo on a 1950s Ford tractor (which he takes into the wood to collect firewood before winter). There are also take river-side walks.
Ten minutes walk across the property from the main house is a lagoon -perfect for paddling in the four-person canoe– and a river which forms a natural rock pool which is safe for swimming and a sandy beach.
Birdwatching. Where there’s water and trees you’ll see a lot of birds and El Ceibo is host to around one hundred species. Dawn is spectacular. The ranch has bird books for you to consult and binoculars.
Fishing. The most commonly caught species is the tararira, which also comes with the dramatic name, Blue Wolf Fish. Rods are available for guests. Note there are no new-fangled reels here, instead the old-fashioned fishing rods you may have used as a child.
For experienced riders, El Ceibo can organise a week-long cross-country ride for groups of a minimum of four riders. The rides take place on request in spring and autumn and cover about 30 miles (40-50 km) every day. The Uruguayan interior has a hugely popular tradition of cross-country endurance rides, known as raids.
The Guru analysis of Estancia El Ceibo
There are lots of estancias in Uruguay to stay at, so check the Guru analysis to see if El Ceibo is the estancia for you.
Deepest Uruguay with minimal travel time. Most estancias take hours to reach, often on poorly-maintained roads. El Ceibo is unusual in that it is just one hour from the centre of Montevideo and 1.5 hours from the airport
Within easy reach of towns and the capital. Many estancias are absolutely miles from anywhere. Once you are there, you are “stuck there” until you leave. El Ceibo is notable because it’s close enough to Montevideo to make it an easy day trip. It is also just 20 minutes drive from Florida, the capital of the province, perfect for family members who prefer their Deepest Uruguay in doses
Total peace and quiet. Estancias in more remote parts of Uruguay may actually be close to a highway and you’ll see and hear cars occasionally. No roads pass by El Ceibo and you hear no traffic whatsoever. And of course, light pollution is minimal. Oh the Milky Way!
Winter time is wonderful and cosy. There are open fireplaces in the living rooms and even the bedrooms
Abundant native woodland, which unfortunately is uncommon in Uruguay
Carmen speaks great English and is well-travelled. She can tell you a lot about Uruguay and the surrounding countryside. And she has a wicked, sophisticated sense of humour
Good value. The cost per person per day for full-board and all activities is around 100 USD.
Flexible mealtimes. Like most estancias, El Ceibo offers four meals a day. Carmen is happy to adjust mealtimes to what you’re used to. So while Uruguayans might sit down for dinner after 10pm, at that time you can already be tucked up in bed after your 6.30pm dinner
Air conditioned guestrooms (not the case in all estancias).
Gastronomy is not prioritised. Food is hearty and simple and totally typical of what Uruguayans from the countryside eat. This may mean some canned fruit and vegetables and “galleta de campaña”, a type of biscuit designed to last for a week, for breakfast
The estancia may receive a large group of day visitors at some point during your stay
There are lots of insects at night
Very hot in the summertime.
If gourmet food or freshly-made bread every morning is essential to your stay, choose a different estancia. If you want to know experience how real Uruguayans eat, this is your chance. For instance, if it rains, it’s inevitably time for tortas fritas!
Estancia guests have exclusive use of the main estancia house. Groups are limited to an area behind the house and will not be in view
The rooms have screens on every window and romantic mosquito nets. I slept super soundly.
If you dislike the heat, the best time to visit is March to November.
In the summertime, the river never dries up and is a ten-minute walk away. El Ceibo is also building a swimming pool close to the house.
How to get to El Ceibo
Driving Directly from Montevideo it’s very simple. Take Ruta 5 to Florida. After passing the Florida exit, at the next roundabout you will see a very visible sign to El Ceibo on the right. The drive from Ruta 5 is along country lanes, takes 20 minutes and is very well sign-posted.
Bus Buses from Montevideo to Florida are very frequent (several per hour depending on the time of day) and take anything from 1-2 hours. Arrange pickup with Carmen and Joselo for half the price of a taxi.
Airport El Ceibo can arrange a pickup from the airport. If you have time to spare and the inclination, Carmen has all the details about how you can take a three-hour bus journey which winds through the countryside passing through little villages using the Las Marias bus company.
Contact El Ceibo
The Estancia El Ceibo website is in English, Spanish and Portuguese or write to Carmen and Joselo at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guru discount When you book, mention Guru’Guay and get 5% off your entire stay paying with credit card or 10% off paying cash.
[Note: Uruguay is in the southern hemisphere so seasonal references are the opposite of the North. So for example, summertime in Uruguay is December to February. See my article on the best time to visit Uruguay for a complete explanation of when each season is in Uruguay]
Hearty thanks: Guru’Guay would like thank the ever-knowledgeable Sylvana Cabrera of ComeryBeber for recommending we visit El Ceibo