Many unique things to do in Uruguay lie in the most remote parts of the country. In the north of Uruguay, you can hike ‘flat top hills’, taste very rare Uruguay wines and pan for gold. Did you even know Uruguay had a gold rush? Me neither and I’ve lived here for over twenty years. So I was delighted to discover the Posada del Minero (Miner’s Inn), a cosy thematic hotel in remote Minas de Corrales close to the Brazilian border in the Department of Rivera.
Uruguay was not even called Uruguay when gold was discovered. It was 1820. Legend has it that someone discovered gold in Minas de Corrales and kept his find secret. His house was robbed, the nuggets hidden in a jar were found and word got out—there was gold in northern Uruguay. Gold fever hit and prospectors flooded in from Brazil and Europe.
A French mining company arrived in Minas de Corrales in 1879. They built the Cuñapirú, the first hydroelectric dam in all of South America, and a steam train line—the latest technology at the time. Gold was processed for forty years and you can visit the old factory and see the original machinery today. The turquoise waters of the mining quarry is a product of mining in the 20th century.
The Posada del Minero—or Miner’s Inn—was built in 1887 by an Englishman who provided food and lodging to the many visitors who came to the gold town. Nowadays, it’s a truly authentic place from which to discover the north of Uruguay, and well worth a visit in its own right.
The 22 rooms are small but clean and comfortable. They decorated with a nod to the goldmine in history. Little tags telling stories accompany many of the curios you may find in your room. The hotel has been in the family of owner Mercedes for the last eighty years. She and her partner Edelweiss have been brave enough to create possibly Uruguay‘s first thematic hotel. Brave because this is a real outpost even today. They focus on warm hospitality and have added a few special features such as heated outdoor pool, hot tub, Jacuzzi and a garden.
Click to enlarge gallery
What to do at the Miner’s Inn
Don’t miss taking at least one of the Inn’s tours.
The Ruta de Oro—Gold Road—tour places you back through the history of Uruguay’s goldrush. The ruins of the goldrush town of Santa Ernestina—“like a Swiss cheese underneath” says Edelweiss. Go panning for gold with an expert. Visit South America’s first every hydro-electric dam and head underground into the mining galleries to see how gold was mined, almost two centuries ago.
Tasting the wines of northern Uruguay Even in Montevideo, we rarely get a chance to try wines from northern Uruguay. This is a rare treat of bi-national wine tasting of wines from both Uruguay and across the border in Brazil. Weather permitting, your tasting will be open-air overlooking the turquoise waters of the old goldmine quarries at sunset.
Unique geography – hiking, waterfalls and stargazing This part of Uruguay is dotted with the so-called ‘flat hills’ (cerros chatos in Spanish)—conical hills with the tops cut off. Those of us who are used to the gently rolling plains of the rest of Uruguay, dotted with sheep and cows, are fascinated by how different the landscape is in Rivera. Daily walks to the iconic flat hill Miriñaque and the largest population of dwarf palms in Uruguay. Consult for hiking and stargazing.
Children and the young-at-heart are more than welcome The inn has developed its own games, so you can explore the story of the goldrush. The board games are super cute—you move around the board with gold nuggets! And you’re not stuck at the table. To be able to win the game you must follow the clues hidden around the hotel and outside.
There is a playroom with lots of games, table, football and table tennis.
What you should know
Don’t expect luxury. This is deepest Uruguay. The inn is modest but comfortable, prioritising a very warm welcome and abundant home-cooked cuisine. Prices are very affordable.
It gets very hot in northern Uruguay during the summer. But the Inn encourage you to bring your swimsuit whatever time of year you visit.
How to get to Minas de Corrales and the Miner’s Inn
By car, it takes 6 hours from Montevideo along highway 5. The highway has little traffic.
There is a daily bus with CUT that drops you off at the door from terminal in Montevideo.
To avoid a long drive north but still have my own transport as I explored northern Uruguay, I took the bus to Tacuarembó (5 hours) and then picked up a hire car. I later returned it and jumped on the bus back to Montevideo. Very relaxing.
Things to do in Uruguay – around the Miner’s Inn
Lunarejo national park
The ‘flat hills’ of Rivera and hiking Consult the Inn for hiking, visits to local waterfalls and flora and fauna spotting.
Cerro Chapeau winery Creators of some of Uruguay’s best wines and the road there takes you multiple times across the Uruguay-Brazil border
Artigas and Rivera Carnivals in February Uruguay’s most famous Carnival after Montevideo’s takes place in Artigas, just one hour drive from the inn. They offer packages which include a samba class to get your hips engaged the day before and transportation to, and from the Artigas carnival and a late check out. There’s also an option to add the Rivero carnival to your itinerary. Book well in advance.