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Self-drive Uruguay: Classic highlights

13 days from £2,680pp

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Self-drive Uruguay: Classic highlights:
Trip Dossier

Uruguay, wedged between the behemoths of Brazil and Argentina, is a holiday destination offering a real sense of breathing space. It's the size of England but with a population of just 3.5 million, not much greater than that of Wales. The gently rolling countryside is dreamily bucolic -  the famous beef cattle graze nonchalantly accompanied by a multitude of birds, whose song at sunrise is as enchanting as the unspoilt little towns and increasingly chic range of hotels and restaurants.

Getting around is most satisfyingly achieved with the freedom of your own hire car. Our self-drive holiday explores the UNESCO jewel of Colonia, Carmelo’s vineyards, Montevideo’s art-deco streets, Rocha's glorious countryside and the beaches of José Ignacio. There’s about 900km of driving over nine days and you’ll have the support of pre-booked accommodation allowing you to explore at your leisure.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive Buenos Aires, transfer to your hotel in Recoleta.

Day 2

Guided walking tour in central Buenos Aires.

Day 3

Ferry across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay.

Day 4

Collect your hire car, drive to Carmelo at the head of the estuary.

Day 5

Day at leisure at a wine lodge near Carmelo.

Day 6

Drive to Montevideo, Uruguay’s pleasant capital.

Day 7

Guided walking tour of Montevideo.

Day 8

Drive east shadowing the coast to Rocha.

Days 9-10

At leisure on a working estancia.

Day 11

Drive to the small but upscale boutique-style beach resort José Ignacio.

Day 12

At leisure in José Ignacio.

Day 13

Drive back to Montevideo airport to drop off your car and take your international flight.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive Buenos Aires, transfer to your hotel in Recoleta.
 

Arrive in Buenos Aires, an elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan city famed for its interesting museums and the fascinating port district of La Boca, with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses – it’s where the tango was born. The centre of town is home to the colonial heart, government buildings and churches as well as chic shopping and residential districts which have a nostalgic Parisian feel.

The bohemian quarter of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and classy restaurants. Slightly further out of the centre is the Recoleta district (your hotel is here), even more evocative of the French influence, where Evita Perón was laid to rest.

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Buenos Aires

Day 2

Guided walking tour in central Buenos Aires.
 

Although the modern Buenos Aires skyline is dominated by its mass of high-rise towers, typical of any rapidly expanding 21st century metropolis, at street level it reveals architectural gems and peeling relics which tell a story best appreciated on foot.

The historic neighbourhoods of Montserrat and San Telmo are the focus of your guided walking tour, which includes a visit to the famous Plaza de Mayo, adorned with the Presidential Casa Rosada (Pink House) and ends in San Telmo, with its many antique and bric-a-brac shops, weekend street market and tango clubs.

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Day 3

Ferry across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay.
 

Take the hydrofoil ferry across the River Plate to the port of Colonia in Uruguay.  Travel along a forest-fringed estuary, dotted with upmarket residences, to this peaceful little port, and its UNESCO-protected historic centre. It’s a real contrast to the hubbub of Buenos Aires.

You’ll have a guided walk to explore this quaint town where the evocative colonial grid of tree-shaded, peaceful lanes is a photographer's delight. It was founded by the Portuguese, so the architecture is a bit different from the Spanish and French styles of Buenos Aires and elsewhere in Spanish America.  Upon reaching Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs), you'll stop at an 18th century Portuguese taberna for a typical Uruguayan snack of wine, bread and cheeses.

Have a meal or drink in the yacht club overlooking the sparkling water, where little boats gaily bob around. You might climb the lighthouse for a view over the town and the estuary beyond.

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colonia

Day 4

Collect your hire car, drive to Carmelo at the head of the estuary.
 

Uruguay is a tranquil place, its roads beyond the capital are paved, mostly well-maintained and signposted; petrol stations are frequent and local driving standards (relatively) good.  Roads leading to the coast are most busy during the peak summer holiday season of mid-December to late February but elsewhere you should find there is relatively little traffic, especially if you're accustomed to driving in the UK. You should be in for a relaxing driving experience, where you can confidently make a detour to explore a place off your basic route which tickles your fancy.

Your car will be delivered to your hotel this morning and once on the road, you’ll be heading west to Carmelo (78km, around 1 hour direct), a sleepy little port at the end of the River Plate estuary with a pretty colonial plaza and a waterside promenade. It’s the centre of the wine-producing region and there are several important vineyards in the vicinity, all ensconced in peaceful countryside studded with eucalyptus trees which is a delight to drive through. Spend two nights at Narbona Wine Lodge, a beautiful vineyard estancia 20 minutes' drive beyond Carmelo.

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Vineyard

Day 5

Day at leisure at a wine lodge near Carmelo.
 

Yesterday was a great introduction to driving in Uruguay but today you may well decide just to hang out at Narbona Wine lodge. Exquisitely restored, it captures the flavour of a bygone era to perfection and is one of Uruguay's most desirable places to stay.

You can have a guided tour of the winery itself, explore the estate on a mountain bike, and unwind in the reading room or by the pool.  Pay a bit more locally and you can have a massage or a round of golf at the local club.

The town of Carmelo, with its single-storey dwellings shaded by jacaranda trees and churches, is worth a look around: there’s a nice little museum a ruined Jesuit mission from the 18th century and a couple of wineries.

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Narbona Wine Lodge

Day 6

Drive to Montevideo, Uruguay’s pleasant capital.
 

It’s off on the road back east towards Montevideo, the nation’s capital.  You could well stretch the 245km journey to a full day. There are a couple of alternative roads, but in general you’ll be driving through open farmland with vast fields of wheat and soya, the ubiquitous cattle and small farmsteads. Close to the estuary you’ll cross rivulets and marshlands, before you see the Montevideo skyline loom up on the horizon.

Arriving in the capital you’ll discover a lively waterfront city with a great setting, where modern skyscrapers jostle with art deco façades and grand, monumental colonial buildings. For a national capital there’s relatively little traffic or pollution, so you should feel at ease driving through the city to your hotel.

Born of the competing interests of colonial powers, the city, on the shores of a fine natural harbour on the River Plate, grew to be a prosperous port devoted to overseas trade. It attracted immigrants from all of Europe, resulting in an eclectic cultural mix which survives to this day.

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Montevideo

Day 7

Guided walking tour of Montevideo.
 

You’ll have a guided walking tour in the morning, passing through the colonial centre, viewing some of the historic public building and monuments: there’s a distinct retro feel, with many art-deco buildings displaying a faded charm.

You’ll be taken to the port market for lunch: this is a fascinating place, popular among the locals who throng to its open-air bars and restaurants. Here, you can enjoy a steak to rival anything you might have savoured in Buenos Aires, washed down with a local wine.

In the evening you might take a stroll down the beachfront Rambla, where Montevideños may well be out jogging, cycling or roller-skating.

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Montevideo old town

Day 8

Drive east shadowing the coast to Rocha.
 

Drive east parallel to the coastline to the department of Rocha, a point-to-point trip of around 280km. Inland, there are views across bird-animated pastures to the Serrania Minas hills. The ocean to your right is fringed by undulating sand dunes. Once beyond the glitzy resort Punta del Este, beloved of celebrities, there are a just few small beach resorts, clusters of pine trees and some holiday homes, but no wholesale development of the coastline – powder-white and creamy gold beaches stretch out towards a limitless horizon. Inland Rocha is a picture of utter peace and tranquility. It has some of Uruguay's most alluring countryside, dotted with old estancia houses, ombu and palm trees.

Rocha has several delightful rural estancias which welcome guests with simple lodgings and warm hospitality - a typically Uruguayan experience. Tucked away in the countryside but within a short drive of the beach these are perfect bases to relax and explore. Spend three nights at Estancia Guardia del Monte, a small working ranch on the shores of Laguna de Castillos.

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Pueblo Barrancas

Days 9-10

At leisure on a working estancia.
 

Two full days to enjoy your surroundings. As usual on an estancia, there are optional outdoor activities to take part in: horse riding in the wetlands and bird watching are the highlights.

Nearby there are other attractions: Cabo Polonio National Park, one of Uruguay's highlights, is just a short drive away. Walking amidst its sand dunes and wild, windy coastline makes for a bracing day out. The remote hamlet of Cabo Polonio itself feels almost cut off from the outside world, with its brightly painted houses, iconic lighthouse, small eateries and sea lion colony. Rocha also has several small beach resorts such as La Pedrera and La Paloma, popular among surfers with a hip nightlife in summer. Meanwhile, its nature reserves and lagoons are great for birding.

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Guarda del Monte

Day 11

Drive to the small but upscale boutique-style beach resort José Ignacio.
 

It’s only 119km to drive today to reach José Ignacio, a cool, sophisticated and affluent coastal resort with upmarket boutiques, art galleries and restaurants yet not at the expense of its charm. The town only has about 300 permanent residents but this number swells by the thousand in the buzzy summer, including socialites, Hollywood stars and international supermodels. They are attracted to the laid-back, low-key atmosphere: there are still some dusty, acacia-shaded lanes with pop-up bars and al fresco celebrity chef eateries - you may be fighting for space with a Porsche if you want to park outside one of these.

You’ll be staying at a hotel around 3km from José Ignacio and just 200m from the beach in a peaceful location away from the relaxed nightlife (discos have to shut at 2am by law).

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Jose Ignacio

Day 12

At leisure in José Ignacio.
 

You have a day at leisure to enjoy the town’s vibe, sample its fine restaurants and maybe catch up with some sun on the beach.

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José Ignacio

Day 13

Drive back to Montevideo airport to drop off your car and take your international flight.
 

An early start for the 145km drive to from José Ignacio to Carrasco airport near Montevideo, which should take around 2 hours.

UK clients arrive home the following day.

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Essential information

Insurance and documents

Travel insurance is essential. 

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Car insurance:

Your trip is based on a compact category 2WD vehicle. Limited collision damage waiver and vehicle theft protection (CDW/TP) cover is included. There may be an excess payable but additional CDW/TP cover with zero excess can usually be purchased at additional cost. Please check the level of your coverage with us when making your booking.We strongly recommend you consider buying your own car hire excess waiver insurance policy before you travel: these are widely available from insurance companies in the UK.  All incidents involving collision, robbery and theft must be reported to the police and a report obtained. 

An international driving licence is recommended for Uruguay. Since 8 June 2015 no paper counterpart of UK driving licences is required but you need to apply to the DVLA for a code. This may be required by the rental company when you collect your car. Please check https://www.gov.uk/government/news/driving-licence-changes for further details.

You will need to return the car to the specified office at the end of the rental period. If you are leaving on a morning flight we advise you to do this the day before you depart.

Transport

1 ferry journey (1hr);  car hire for 9 days.

Accommodation

We invite you to stay at a variety of accommodation styles, from urban boutique to wine lodge and countryside ranch. They all have beautiful settings and very good facilities. 

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch day 7, dinner days 8-10.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Included excursions

• Buenos Aires: Walking tour of Montserrat and San Telmo.
• Colonia: Guided walking tour with traditional cheese and wine tasting.
• Montevideo: Guided walking tour with market barbecue lunch.
• Countryside ranch: Activities on the estancia.

Summary of nights

13 days, 12 nights: Buenos Aires 2; Colonia 1; Carmelo 2; Montevideo 2; Rocha rural estancia 3; José Ignacio 2.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• Car hire for 9 days.
• All land transfers (except self-drive) within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• International flights to Latin America.
• Tips and gratuities.
• Fuel and Excess insurance for the hire car with standard basic insurance.
• Meals other than specified.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket.
• Optional excursions.

Currency

The unit of currency in Argentina is the Argentine peso; in Uruguay it is the Uruguayan peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$50 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more. Allow around US$100 to cover fuel.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. 

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. $100 dollar bills must be the most up to date style - old design bills may not be accepted. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

This holiday is suitable for all able reasonably fit visitors. If you are travelling alone or have a disability or other special requirement, please do call us. 

There is minimum of around 900km of driving over the holiday, spread over 9 days, more if you make detours. There are several days at leisure dotted throughout so you won't have long days of driving on consecutive days. Roads are paved, well signed, and traffic is generally light though coast roads can be busy in the summer.  Driving standards are generally good. 

Climate

Buenos Aires is hottest January-March (very humid with tropical showers, occasionally over 40°C during the day). They can be cold and cloudy July-August, so weather conditions are best for a visit in spring and autumn. 

Uruguay is an all-year destination, but best enjoyed in late spring, summer and early autumn (mid-November to mid-March). Temperatures range from 10-16°C in the southern hemisphere winter, while in the high summer they can leap into the 30s°. Wet and windy conditions outside high summer are not unheard of, so we suggest avoiding May to October if you want to go to the beach. Rainfall is moderate and varies little over the year, apart from July-August when there are prolonged wet periods.

Clothing and special equipment

The southern hemisphere summer will be hot, therefore bring loose-fitting light clothing for maximum comfort at this time. An umbrella is a good idea in case of a tropical shower. Spring and autumn are milder and less predictable.

South America is in general a relaxed continent and you won’t need clothes for formal dining but you may wish to take some smart casual wear for dining at the estancias or at top of the range restaurants.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements.  

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - If flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online.
This costs $14 per person. This must be applied for by you done by you personally.
Passports must be digital e-passports with an embedded chip.  Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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