Uruguay has a population of just three million. During the summer the number doubles. The vast majority of visitors are from Argentina—many who have holiday homes here. Followed by Brazilians who love the safety a holiday in Uruguay offers.
This not a recent phenomenon. Uruguayan beaches have been hugely popular tourist destinations for over a century especially with Argentinians. The Hotel Argentino in Piriápolis was the largest and most glamorous resort in the whole of South America when it was built in the 1920s.
North Americans and Europeans make up just one in ten visitors and you’re in the vanguard. So where are the best beaches in Uruguay? Where should you go for your beach holiday?
The wild, wild beaches of Rocha
The wildest beaches are in the department of Rocha (say ROH-cha) on the Atlantic coast closest to Brazil. These beaches were isolated and frequented solely by locals until a trickle of intrepid Argentinian backpackers started arriving in the 90s. In the last few years Punta del Diablo and La Pedrera have become party towns for younger Argentinians and Brazilians around New Year but there’s almost perfect solitude the rest of the year. The vibe at most Rochense beaches is Uruguayan hippie though this is beginning to slowly change as more sophisticated offerings begin to emerge.
The sophisticated beaches of Maldonado
The most well-established beaches with the best infrastructure are in the department of Maldonado. Punta del Este is probably the most famous beach resort in South America after Rio de Janeiro, full of highrises and a frenetic summer scene. La Barra is hipper with surfing competitions and art galleries. Jose Ignacio, a tiny semi-rural peninsula with 28 permanent residents, has become the vacation choice of an international jet-set—think Mark Zuckerberg. If Punta is glitzy and La Barra hippie-chic, Jose Ignacio inclines to the haute-hippie.
The charming beaches of the Costa de Oro
Beaches on the Costa de Oro or Gold Coast in the department of Canelones have a kind of nostalgic fifties summer air to them. Sleepy towns and simple pleasures. Middle-class Uruguayan families own holiday homes here passed from generation to generation. A vacation in these towns feel like you have been transported back to the kind of holidays you might have had when you were a kid.
We don’t recommend coming to the capital specifically for a city beach, when there are such outstanding ones very close by. But while you soaking in the culture and gastronomy, the more than ten beaches are definitely worth checking out.
When to visit
Uruguay is a temperate country in the southern hemisphere with four seasons. Summer runs from December to February when the temperature is around the high 20s to early 30s. Temperatures can hit 36 C but that is rare.
Off-season is a great time to visit Uruguay. Autumn (March-May) and Spring (September-November) are particularly lovely times weather-wise. Days are mild, around 20 degrees and there are frequent Indian summers.
Where to stay at the beach
Be prepared to be delighted by choosing a Guru’Guay Top Pick. These are places that we’ve personally vetted and absolutely love. Or if there’s something that’s not 100% perfect, you’ll read about it in our evaluation.