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Often left behind, considered as some sort of secondary priority among visitors when compared to its giant neighbors Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is ready to receive very well and to surprise those who decide to flee commonplaces. The second smallest country in South America (larger only than Suriname) is also the third least populous in the continent. Think of that as factors contributing to make this one of the most peaceful, more transparent and least corrupt nations in the region. Doesn’t that sound appealing?

With more than half of its population living around the capital, Montevideo, Uruguay is a country of great rural expanses scattered by many small towns. Montevideo is, in fact, the main gateway to the country, thanks to its international airport, connected to several destinations in neighboring countries and a few in North America and Europe. The capital also has a fluvial terminal, which offers multiple daily departures do the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, located just over 2 hours away. Montevideo has a lot to offer its visitors, featuring a pretty historic center and promenades bordering the River Plate.

Plaza Independencia, Montevideo, Uruguay
Plaza Independencia, Montevideo, Uruguay

About 180km (110mi) west of Montevideo, Colonia del Sacramento, was the first European settlement in the territory that now forms Uruguay. This is a wonderful place to relax amidst World Heritage streets and to walk casually along the River Plate banks. Buenos Aires is so close, across the river, that on a clear day it is possible to see the highest skyscrapers of the Argentine capital.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Heading north of Colonia del Sacramento along the Uruguay River, alongside the border with Argentina, and then turning right, following the border with the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, the landscape becomes more bucolic. Agriculture and livestock are the engines of this Uruguayan region, whose main centers are the cities of Paysandú, Salto, Artigas, Rivera, Tacuarembó and Melo.

Going back to the coast, this time in the Atlantic Ocean, Uruguay surprises again in destinations like the Fortress of Santa Teresa, near Chuy (on the border with Brazil) the fishing village of Punta del Diablo and the nature reserve of Cabo Polonio. The Atlantic coast is also home to several lighthouses, which helps making it an even more striking setting.

The theoretical encounter between the Atlantic Ocean and the River Plate hosts the resort town of Punta del Este. Considered the most bustling resort of Uruguay and one of the most famous of South America, Punta del Este sparks especially during January, when part of the Argentine and Brazilian jet-sets decides to show up here. From Punta del Este it’s a quick 150km (90mi) road back to Montevideo.

Punta del Este, Uruguay
Punta del Este, Uruguay

This country is as safe as the continent gets to be, and largely unexplored by mass tourism, being mostly quiet and relatively inexpensive. With the obvious exceptions of Punta del Este during the summer season, Colonia del Sacramento on weekends and parts of the capital, you are quite likely to be the only tourist wandering the area: just another reason to come and find out what Uruguay has to offer.

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