Guru’Guay thanks Canelones-based real estate developers Balsa & Asociados for making this article possible. Until now the Uruguayan department of Canelones has had no visibility internationally in English. Now Guru’Guay and Balsa have put Canelones on the map with a series demonstrating why Canelones is an unexpectedly interesting place to live, work and visit. Guru’Guay’s opinions are always our own.
The Costa de Oro or Gold Coast in the department of Canelones is one of Uruguay’s most popular tourist destinations. However it may be one of the country’s best kept secrets because most of the tourists are… Uruguayan.
So what are the Uruguayans keeping under their hats? Sleepy beach towns and simple pleasures. The family-friendly seaside resorts of the Costa de Oro are characterised by quiet, tree-lined beaches with white sand, as powdery as confectioners sugar. Middle-class Uruguayan families have holiday homes here, passed from generation to generation. And nowadays locals—and a few foreigners, especially Europeans—choose to live full-time on the Costa de Oro. Besides weekends and holidays, the beaches are almost always empty.
The Río de la Plata has really melded into the Atlantic Ocean at this point—especially as you go further east. The water is generally blue-green. Some days it’s calm as a mirror. Other days it looks—and acts—like a calmer version of the ocean. It’s very safe for children.
Activities are all about sunbathing, swimming, walking, and building sandcastles. Parking is a breeze. Perhaps that’s why the beaches on the Costa de Oro have a nostalgic fifties summer air to them.
The region is home to some thirty seaside settlements and towns stretching for just over forty miles (70 kilometres) between the Carrasco and Solís Grande rivers minutes from Montevideo’s international airport. Let’s take a tour.
Ciudad de la Costa
Between the Carrasco and Pando rivers, lies Ciudad de la Costa, a municipality of around 100,000 people, and to the north, minutes away from the international airport. The beaches of Barra de Carrasco, Parque de Carrasco, Shangrilá, San José de Carrasco, Lagomar, El Bosque, Solymar, Parque de Solymar, Lomas de Solymar, Médanos de Solymar and El Pinar have become home to permanent residents in recent decades. They still retain the beauty of their beaches.
What was once a culinary desert—with a handful of chivito-serving family favourites—is now host to a number of outstanding restaurants, taking advantage of Canelones’ proximity to both the coast and countryside. Why the change? A new awareness in Uruguay of good eating and the arrival of new residents from more affluent parts of Montevideo.
Cycle the rambla
A four-kilometre bike path along the Ciudad de la Costa rambla, from Calcagno to El Pinar, has places to tether bikes along the route.
El Pinar has four kilometres of pine-fringed beaches, which give the area its name, and offer some shelter from the sun if you’re happy to sit back from the beach. Great restaurants in the area. Kids love sandboarding the dunes.
For locals, Atlántida is the “tourist capital” of the Costa de Oro. At 45 kilometres from Montevideo, this sleepy town combines the comfort of the services of a city with the nature and tranquillity of a seaside resort. Its two beaches, Mansa and Brava (‘calm’ and ‘rough’ respectively, like those of Punta del Este), are lined with pine and eucalyptus forests. In the seaside resort of Villa Argentina, a short walk along the beach, is one of the most emblematic buildings on the Canelones coast: a giant eagle-head made of stone called the Águila or La Quimera looks out from the embankment over the water. Noone really knows why the Eagle was built in 1945. Definitely a talking-point for families as you look up from the beach.
UNESCO Heritage Cristo Obrero Church
The church of Cristo Obrero and Nuestra Señora de Lourdes by Uruguayan engineer Eladio Dieste was inaugurated in 1960 and was recognised in 2021 by UNESCO. It is a construction with a 15-metre high tower, made entirely of bricks, with stunning curved walls and roofs, without a single supporting column or beam.
Atlántida fruit and vegetable market
To the north of Atlántida, in the area of Estación Atlántida, the Mercado de Cercanía, is an initiative of the producers of the region and the Municipality of Canelones. Several stands sell organic fruit and vegetables, cheeses, honey and conserves at affordable prices. Route 11 kilometre 164.5 between El Petiribí and Los Paraísos. Saturdays 8am to 4pm.
Close by is Isla Verde (R 11 km 161), an ‘edible forest’ of organic fruit and veg including bananas.
Parque del Plata
One of the largest beach resorts in the area, with approximately four kilometres of beach framed by wide white dunes. The sandbar at the mouth of the Solís Chico river has created a sheltered spot for nautical sports and fishing. Currently, the Municipality of Canelones is undertaking actions to recover the dunes.
The area is also the location for several award-winning local films including “Viaje hacia el mar” (2003), whose ending takes place on the beach of the resort, and Alelí (2019), both Uruguayan nominations for the Oscars as Best Foreign Film.
The oldest seaside resort on the Costa de Oro took its name from the company which planted a million trees on the dunes in the early 1900s. Like Atlantida it’s an established resort by Uruguayan beach standards. Locals have owned holiday homes there for generations. In summer, residents promote family-friendly cultural events like the Noche Blanca, or White Night on a full moon (according to Floresta’s mayor the Noche Blanca will take place in November in 2022). Its beach stretches from Las Vegas on the Solís Chico, to the Sarandí, which marks the border with Costa Azul. A famous resident is one of Uruguay’s most renowned musicians, Jaime Roos.
Along the Interbalnearia Route at kilometre 62 you get to San Luis, one of the least developed parts of the Costa de Oro, characterised by its quiet beaches and native forest. The beach and the nearby Bagre river are popular spots for artisanal fishing (for corvina, anchoa and pescadilla). Locals throw in a line to snag pejerrey, majuga and burriqueta and most Uruguayans are up for a bit of fishing in the shallows at night using flashlights (known as ‘pesca a la encandilada’). Two of Uruguay’s most outstanding chefs Laura Rosano and Adrian Orio live in San Luis and you can go visit them. (see Canelones Gastronomy).
Caribe Oriental, Los Titanes, La Tuna, Araminda, Santa Lucía del Este, Biarritz, Cuchilla Alta, Sierras del Mar, Santa Ana, Balneario Argentino
The coast of Canelones becomes more oceanic, with slightly larger waves and the landscape becomes a little more overgrown. The island of La Tuna—once the destination of a wild swimming competition—is visible on the horizon. Cuchilla Alta has options to go fishing by boat and water sports.
With the hills of Piriápolis as a backdrop, the gentle white sand dunes and the dramatic mouth of the Solís Grande river, the unpronounceable Jaureguiberry (how-reg-ee-BERRY, thank me in the comments) is the last beach on the Costa de Oro. It is home to the first fully off-the-grid public school in Latin America built with 2,000 tyres, 3,000 glass bottles, 1,500 plastic bottles and 12,000 empty cans. You can see the school from the highway. It’s just before the bridge over the river Solís Grande on the right.
Check out the Costa de Oro
Most Uruguayans will be surprised to see an international publication like Guru’Guay recommending beaches in Canelones to our readers. Especially as Uruguay’s most well-known beaches in Maldonado are just over an hour’s drive and Rocha 3-4 hours.
It’s as if they consider the beaches of Costa de Oro too homely and maybe in part because they are literally ‘too close to home’ (ie Montevideo). I’d say it’s time for them to reconsider, especially considering how lovely the beaches are, the solitude and nature so close to the capital, and literally minutes from the international airport.
Consider yourselves pioneers.