This relaxing road trip covers several provinces in South America's smallest country with overnights in friendly estancias (meals included). Pick up your car in Colonia, where you'll sample maté and have access to biking trails and vineyards. From here, head to Montevideo for a slice of urban life and then back to the countryside for several days of gauchos, horses, gorges, and exotic birds. Finish along a quiet stretch of Atlantic coast for some beachside hiking to complete the journey.

Highlights

  • Walk along Uruguay's most charming cobbled streets with a local guide
  • Have lunch in the seaside capital's Port Market followed by a cultural tour
  • Assist traditionally-dressed gauchos with daily duties and moving their stock
  • Observe a great variety of birds and native mammals while staying in Rocha
  • Take a half-day trek along the Uruguayan coastline to see shifting sand dunes

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Colonia Valdense - Tour of Colonia del Sacramento Colonia Valdense
Day 2 Drive to Montevideo - City Walking Tour Montevideo
Day 3 Drive to Treinta y Tres - Free Time Treinta y Tres
Day 4 Free Day in Treinta y Tres Treinta y Tres
Day 5 Trek in National Park of Quebrada de Los Cuervos - Drive to Mariscala Mariscala
Day 6 Free Day in Mariscala Mariscala
Day 7 Drive to Rocha - Free Time Rocha
Day 8 Drive to Valizas - Coastline Trek - Return to Rocha Rocha
Day 9 Drive to Montevideo - Depart Uruguay  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Colonia Valdense - Tour of Colonia del Sacramento

Bougainvillea in the historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento
Bougainvillea in the historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento

Welcome to Uruguay! Upon arrival in the small city of Colonia Valdense, collect your luggage and head to the car rental desk to pick up your vehicle and begin the adventure. 

Your first stop is Colonia del Sacramento (35 miles/56 km) where you'll meet your guide for a walking tour. This historic UNESCO-listed Portuguese city dates back to the 17th century and offers cobbled streets and colorful facades, so keep your camera close. At some point during the tour, you'll try the caffeinated drink called maté, made with infused leaves of a South American shrub.

After lunch at a local restaurant, you'll drive to your first estancia (ranch) in the Uruguayan countryside, where you'll get a taste of local life. Spend the rest of the day hiking, biking, walking through vineyards, or swimming in the pool! 

Dinner is served on-site—all you have to do is sit back and relax.

Day 2: Drive to Montevideo - City Walking Tour

Have lunch in the capital's Port Market
Have lunch in the capital's Port Market

After breakfast at your estancia, say goodbye to your hosts and drive to the capital city of Montevideo (78 miles/126 km) for lunch at the lively Port Market, which dates back to the 19th century.

In the afternoon, meet your guide and begin a walking tour of the Old City. Montevideo was once surrounded by a wall that protected the first settlers of the capital. From the market, your guide will lead you to the Carnival Museum, where you'll discover the Spanish tradition and African roots of this yearly festival. While here, learn about the murgas and candombe (Uruguayan styles of music and dance). Note: If you are in Uruguay during the carnival season (late February or early March) you could even participate in one of the events!

From here, the tour continues with visits at the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, the Constitution Square, and the Torres Garcia Art Museum, one of the most renowned art schools in Uruguay. Continue to the Solis Theatre before ending the tour at Independence Square and the gate of the Old City.

Following the tour, you'll check into your hotel with free time to explore the city on your own.

Day 3: Drive to Treinta y Tres - Free Time

Enjoy the landscapes as you head inland
Enjoy the landscapes as you head inland

After breakfast in Montevideo, you'll make the drive to Uruguay's province of Treinta y Tres (185 miles/298 km) where you'll stay two nights in the countryside.

Upon arrival at your estancia, check-in, have lunch, and then enjoy some leisure time. If you're feeling energized, you can participate in the daily activities of rural life and learn about gaucho culture and its traditions. 

Head to the estancia's restaurant in the evening for dinner with your fellow guests.

Day 4: Free Day in Treinta y Tres

Learn about the gaucho lifestyle
Learn about the gaucho lifestyle

Today, you'll spend the day at the estancia (meals included). You can simply relax on the property, or learn about everyday rural life by participating in the daily activities of the estancia as you work alongside the gauchos and their herds.

The work varies depending on the time of the year. No matter what the season is, these friendly gauchos wearing traditional berets, bombachas (riding trousers), and knives tucked into their colorful belts, always welcome a bit of help checking and moving their stock or putting animals in the corrals. They all seem to have been born on a horse, and it is a delight to be riding with them!

Day 5: Trek in National Park of Quebrada de Los Cuervos - Drive to Mariscala

Spend a half day hiking in this national park
Spend a half-day hiking in this national park

This morning, you'll get an early start with a drive to the National Park of Quebrada de Los Cuervos (62 miles/100 km), where you will spend the day trekking* down a fantastic gorge formed at the junction of the Yerbal Stream and Olimar River. Keep your eyes peeled for a variety of birds and wildlife in the area!

For lunch, you'll find a scenic place to enjoy a picnic that was prepared for you by the estancia, allowing you to spend as much time as you'd like exploring the park. 

After the hike, take an afternoon drive along Route 8 towards Mariscala (71 miles/115 km), where you will check into another estancia and have dinner (included).

*A local guide can be arranged for an extra fee.

Day 6: Free Day in Mariscala

This is a great opportunity to go horseback riding
Today is a great opportunity to go horseback riding

Today, you will have the entire day to enjoy an estancia that breeds horses. The scenic property is well-suited for horses as its surrounded by rugged countryside and the rolling hills of Uruguay's Lavalleja province.

You'll have some options for activities in the area. Perhaps you'd like to organize some trekking or take a horseback riding tour to a nearby estancia. If you're seeking some relaxation, you can also lounge with a good book by the swimming pool.

In the evening, join your fellow guests for dinner in the estancia's restaurant.

Day 7: Drive to Rocha - Free Time

Look for pink flamingos amongst other bird species
Look for pink flamingos amongst other bird species

Today you can enjoy a relaxing breakfast in Mariscala before checking out. When you're ready, drive southeast along the winding and panoramic Route 109 towards the province of Rocha (53 miles/85 km). 

Upon arrival at your next estancia, you'll have free time for lunch and peaceful landscapes. This traditional estancia offers outstanding beauty and essential ecosystems containing a great variety of birds and native scrublands. You can partake in some quality birdwatching along a vast area of marshlands and wetlands, teeming with hundreds of species. 

You might be able to spot the graceful black-necked swan since the largest populations in the world live here. Also, look for the rare white goose, the pink flamingo (a species of flamingo that is quite common in Uruguay with very bright pink pigment), and the largest bird in South America: the ostrich-like ñandú (American rhea). The area is also home to otters, coypus, and capybaras—the latter of which are native to South America. 

In the evening, enjoy dinner with your fellow guests in the restaurant.

Day 8: Drive to Valizas - Coastline Trek - Return to Rocha

Sand dunes in Cabo Polonia
Hike along sand dunes in Cabo Polonia

After breakfast in Rocha, you'll drive to the town of Valizas (42 miles/67 km) where a local guide will be waiting to start an unforgettable half-day tour and trek near Cabo Polonio.

After a short walk in the village, you'll begin a trek along the coastline to see the incredible shifting sand dunes, some of the biggest in the world. Part of the trek includes an ascent to Buena Vista Hill, where a fantastic view of the ocean can be appreciated. Finish in Cabo Polonio (4 hours trek).

Back in Cabo Polonia, you'll have lunch at a local seaside restaurant. Then, visit a lighthouse and have the chance to see sea lions along the shore.  

In the late afternoon, drive back to your estancia in Rocha in time for dinner.

Day 9: Drive to Montevideo - Depart Uruguay

Goodbye, Montevideo!
Goodbye, Montevideo!

It's time to say goodbye to Uruguay!

After breakfast in Rocha, you'll drive back to Montevideo Airport (122 miles/197 km). If there's time in the schedule, you'll have the opportunity to visit beaches along the coast. Even better, tack on a few extra days and check into a beach resort in Punta del Este or Jose Ignacio!  

When it's time to say goodbye, drop-off your car rental and connect to your departure flight. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Uruguay Self-Drive Adventure - 9 Days
Map of Uruguay Self-Drive Adventure - 9 Days