El Ceibo is a typical ‘estancia’ in Uruguay—a South American sheep and cattle ranch—set 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 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.
Your board includes four home-cooked meals a day. The estancia uses local produce when possible. The lamb is 100% raised on the pastures of El Ceibo.
What you should know
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 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 You hear no traffic whatsoever. And of course, light pollution is minimal. Oh the Milky Way!
Winter time is wonderful and cosy. There is an open fireplace in the living room.
Carmen speaks good 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. El Ceibo offers four meals a day. Carmen is happy to adjust mealtimes. 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).
The estancia may receive a large group of day visitors at some point during your stay. It’s not an issue as 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.
How to get to El Ceibo
Driving Directly from Montevideo it’s very simple. Take Ruta 5 to Florida. The entrance is at kilometre 97.400. 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.
What’s close by
- 25 de agosto A remarkable village with over 100 murals
- Florida The departmental capital boasts a cathedral, the curious chapel of San Cono and is home to the Uruguayan grill delicacy, the pamplona
- Cardal Birth place of Uruguay’s One Laptop Per Child initiative and the haunted Fenocchi Chapel
- San Pedro de Timote the birth place of Uruguay’s agricultural history
- The Carrillon at Cerro Colorado, also known as the Bell Tower in the Middle of Nowhere.
[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]