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12 Best Beaches in Uruguay

Written by Diana Bocco
Nov 22, 2019

Uruguay's beach-lined coast might not be full of palm trees and turquoise waters, but you'll still find plenty of soft, rolling sand dunes and unique beach destinations in this small South American country.

Because Uruguay is not well-known as a beach destination, and it mostly only receives tourism from neighboring countries, it's never truly overcrowded, and the coastline has remained clean and not overdeveloped.

From upscale Punta del Este beaches to remote areas such as Cabo Polonio—where you'll probably just share the sand with seals—Uruguay has plenty of options for beach lovers. Here is our list of the best beaches in Uruguay.

1. Punta del Este

The Mano at Brava Beach

Punta del Este is Uruguay's most happening coastal area—the place where models, actors, and anybody who's even remotely famous heads to in summer.

Brava Beach, perhaps the most famous of the beaches here, extends for over eight kilometers and offers plenty of places to rent equipment for surfing and paddling, and places to grab food and drinks. Sun loungers and umbrellas are also available for rent, but arrive early in the day for any hope of getting one—things get busy quickly during hot days.

Towards the southern end of the beach, you'll find The Mano, a giant sculpture of a hand that seems to be coming out of the sand and a famous photo spot. Continue walking, and you'll run into tall sand dunes, where you'll see teens practicing sandboarding.

Punta's other famous beach, Playa Mansa (which roughly translates to "tame beach") has no waves, smaller crowds, and some of the most stunning sunsets you'll find in Uruguay. It also has a beautiful long walkway filled with cafés, stores, and places to sit for a bite overlooking the ocean.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Punta del Este

2. Pocitos

Pocitos Beach

The upscale Pocitos neighborhood is perhaps best known for its beautiful beach, which sits on the Rio de la Plata banks, and for the Rambla, a long walkway boulevard lined with apartment buildings, hotels, cafés, and restaurants. Pocitos is in a great location for easy access to other entertainment, including museums, galleries, parks, and attractions.

Pocitos beach is home to several championships during the year, more notably competitions of beach soccer, volleyball, and swimming but also nautical races and events.

Throughout the summer, Pocitos is one of the country's most-loved and most-happening beaches, where you can soak up the sunshine, enjoy the golden sand, and even add a visit to the Naval Museum of Montevideo, right across the beach.

3. Playa del Rivero

Playa del Rivero

A small bay area in the town of Punta del Diablo (Devil's Point), Playa del Rivero is quiet and underdeveloped, with waves perfect for surfing year-round (though keep in mind that winters are cold in Uruguay, so come prepared).

This is a nice, clean family beach, perfect for water sports and swimming (lifeguards are on duty during the summer) or to just relax at the oceanfront shacks selling food and drinks. You could even be lucky enough to spot some whales or dolphins out in the water.

Cross the boulders at the end of the beach, and you'll enter the grounds of Santa Teresa National Park, which covers 3,000 hectares and offers forests, many kilometers of hiking trails, its own small hidden beaches, campgrounds, and even a giant greenhouse and the ruins of an 18th-century fort.

The town of Punta del Diablo offers a famous arts and crafts fair in the evenings.

4. Piriapolis

Piriapolis

The city of Piriapolis was once the most popular summer resort in Uruguay, long before Punta del Este became the hip destination for sun lovers.

Piriapolist is home to over 25 kilometers of coastline, with many unnamed small stretches of beach interrupted by boulders and soft hills growing into the distance. The beaches are clean and can get busy during summer, when tourists from Argentina and all over Uruguay arrive to enjoy the sand.

A long walkway runs alongside the beach, where visitors can jog, bike, or just stop for a quick coffee or snack. Piriapolis is all about tourism, and the area along the beach has been developed to offer high-end hotels, restaurants, and many green areas.

For the best sweeping view of the coastline and the ocean, get on the chair lift that goes to the San Antonio church, right at the top of a hill. The Cerro Pan de Azúcar (Sugar Loaf Hill) is just outside town and is surrounded by a nature preserve—if you're up for the challenge of climbing the steep hill, you'll be rewarded with more amazing views.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Piriapolis

5. Cabo Polonio

Cabo Polonio sand dunes at sunset

If your idea of the perfect beach is "as isolated as it gets," Cabo Polonio is the place for you. A tiny hamlet with no roads leading in or out of it, Cabo Polonio can only be reached by trekking for around seven kilometers over tall, soft sand dunes from the main highway.

The tiny population of Cabo Polonio (just under 100 permanent residents) lives right on the sand dunes, the rustic cabins surviving with no electricity, no running water, and no Wi-Fi by choice. Visitors come here for a different type of beach experience—a place away from everything, where your eyes can get lost in the breathtaking gold of the sand dunes one way and the ocean waves the other.

Posadas (small inns), a couple of restaurants, and a grocery store—all of which have generators to produce electricity—offer enough for a cozy stay near the water. Cabo Polonio is also home to a large colony of friendly sea lions.

6. La Esmeralda

La Esmeralda Beach

Although La Esmeralda (The Emerald) receives plenty of tourism during the summer, the area remains underdeveloped, with no large hotels and only one restaurant around. Still, the seaside resort is slowly growing, and while there are currently about 60 permanent residents here, there are almost 300 dwellings, most of which are small summer houses or cabins that are available for rent.

The white, fine sands of La Esmeralda beach slowly blend into wide dunes covered in trees, shrubs, and grass—a picture-postcard mix of wild coastlines and calm blue waters perfect for those who want their own piece of sunny paradise.

7. La Pedrera

La Pedrera Beach

A tiny seaside village that's a mix of bohemian sporty and chic rural charm, La Pedrera (a reference to the many rocks on this sandy stretch of coast) sits against a green, grassy cliff.

La Pedrera is a popular destination for surfers and nature lovers, especially because the quiet sands here don't see much nightlife—which makes the area perfect for families and those looking to unwind.

There are limited options for accommodation and dining here, and much of the fun is about gathering around bonfires on the beach. The sand and the rustic atmosphere of the beaches in this area attract tourists looking for something different, and although the area has been growing over the past few years, it's still mostly a destination for low-key sea escapes in untouched surroundings.

8. Costa Azul

Lifeguard hut at Costa Azul beach

Just 55 kilometers from the capital city of Montevideo, Costa Azul (Blue Coast) is the perfect beach escape for those who find the main city beaches a little too crowded.

The soft sloping shore makes this a perfect area for swimming, and the winds and waves are mild enough that you can truly enjoy both the water and the sand all summer long—but this is also a perfect destination for windsurfing and kitesurfing beginners looking for a safe place to practice their skills. There's also an area reserved for sports like beach volleyball.

Just west of Costa Azul is La Floresta, another coastal city that's less developed but still offers large, open white beaches for those just looking for a spot to enjoy the sun. For those who want an open view of the Atlantic Ocean, a walk up El Cerro de la Virgen (Virgen's Hill) is great to catch the sunrise or see whales swimming in the distance.

9. Punta Ballena

Casapueblo in Punta Ballena

A small peninsula with 12 kilometers of uninterrupted beaches directly opening over the ocean, Punta Ballena (Whale Point) is close to Punta del Este but feels worlds away. Although the area is well-developed, it doesn't see crowds as big as the neighboring popular beaches, making it a better destination for people who want comfort and amenities in a quieter atmosphere.

Punta Ballenas is famous for the large pods of southern right whales and orcas that come to the area during winter and for the beautiful towering cliffs that offer great opportunities for hang gliding.

A very popular attraction atop one of these cliffs is Casapueblo, the former residence and workshop of Uruguayan painter and sculptor Carlos Paez Vilaro. Vilaro was originally inspired by the white houses that dot the island of Santorini for his home's design, but he continued to build and expand the property until he ended up with 13 different floors and terraces. The building is now a museum and café and offers the best views over the Punta Ballena coastline.

10. Jose Ignacio

Aerial view of Jose Ignacio

Jose Ignacio is just 30 minutes from buzzing Punta del Este and offers everything the jet-set beach doesn't: a rustic, windswept peninsula that's mostly deserted except for just a few weeks every summer.

This charming, windy town is so tiny, many of the streets are dirt—the ones that aren't are lined with fancy restaurants, boutique hotels, and yoga studios to satisfy the tourists from all over South America that come here starting the day after Christmas.

The rest of the year, this sleepy fishing village remains almost deserted. If you have a chance to visit late in spring or early fall, you'll see a completely different side of Jose Ignacio, when you might even be able to claim the entire beach to yourself.

Besides lounging on the beach for some people watching and sun-worshiping, you can find your way to the local lighthouse before you put your shoes back on and explore what else the village has to offer. Horse riding is big here, and so are sleepy restaurants, with breathtaking ocean views, where you can try the famous local asado (a BBQ-style meal cooked over an open fire).

11. El Pinar Beach

Sand dunes at El Pinar Beach

A seaside resort with a very rural feeling to it, El Pinar has the whitest beach you'll find in Uruguay—and if you arrive early in the summer before Christmas or in early March, chances are you'll be the only one here.

Even better, this beach is just minutes away from Montevideo, so if you feel the need to escape back to a louder, busier stretch of seacoast, you can head back to the capital at any time.

El Pinar is a beach of soft dunes and golden, clean sand with no rocks around, perfect for digging your toes in before you walk into the calm waves for a swim. Some of the small local restaurants here double as kayak rental shops, while a few cafés and pizzerias offer live music in the evenings.

The nearby Pando Stream is surrounded by a large, lush park popular for picnics.

12. Carmelo Beaches

The beach at Carmelo, Uruguay

The town of Carmelo has often been called "the Uruguayan Tuscany," a place where people come to relax, take long walks among the vine-covered fields, and enjoy the quiet marina and its beautiful parillas (steakhouses) and hotels.

The Sere Beach in Carmelo has a rustic charm, and while it wasn't originally one of the main attractions of the town, it has become very popular in the past couple of decades. This is in part because the Sere Beach is unspoiled and remains clear of developments and the noise and crowds you would expect in larger towns.

The Zagarzazú beach nearby, which sits against the banks of the Rio de la Plata (Silver River), is even less crowded—and while the water itself is not the clearest (the river carries sediments that make the water brownish in color) it's a beautiful sight as the sun sets, when the lights bounce on the river and give the water a silvery appearance.

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