Sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay could have been swallowed by the two cultural giants, but has instead carved out its place as their eccentric, hippie neighbor. Perhaps best representing this role is the nation’s coast, full of resort towns and beaches that a few years ago remained hideaways for surfers and fisherman but now play host to a variety of visitors. The best time to visit all is during South America’s summer months — particularly November through March.

Uruguay's Best Beach Vacation Destinations

1. Punta del Este

The star of Uruguay’s beach scene, Punta del Este is packed each summer with tourists who make the journey for the glamor of the resort town. With plenty of shopping, luxury hotels, and nightlife, this party destination, known as the “Monaco of South America,” won’t leave any visitors bored. While you’re there, get a dose of culture by visiting the surrealist Casa Pueblo landmark and museum. Just be warned, if you’d like to go during the sunny holidays and January, make sure to book ahead.

Visit Punta del Este!

2. Jose Ignacio

Punta del Este’s northern cousin, Jose Ignacio might be the worst kept secret of the country’s who’s who. The small village, previously a sleepy fisherman’s haven, has become a hideaway destination for the rich and famous, including the likes of Shakira and Naomi Watts. But, despite the money that has poured in, the village maintains many of its rustic charms and is quieter than Punta del Este. Go between November and February to catch the height of the social season.

Visit Jose Ignacio!

3. Punta del Diablo

Located in the Rocha region, farther north than Punta del Este and Jose Ignacio, Punta del Diablo is an eclectic, laidback beach town. You won’t find any high rises in the modest town (or many people in the off-season) but you will find natural beauty in spades. Horseback ride, dune board and surf to your hearts content, and don’t forget to check out the Fortress of Santa Teresa, the site of multiple battles between the Spanish and Portuguese empires.

4. La Pedrera

A former surfer hangout, La Pedrera has maintained its cool factor but now swells with visiting couples and families during the summer months. Known for being a haven for the hip and young, prices here are more reflective of Uruguay as a whole than the ritzy Punta del Este and Jose Ignacio. And though in previous years the settlement has become increasingly busy, it maintains its charm through the many ramshackle houses, restaurants and bakeries.

5. Jose Ignacio

Located just south of Punta del Diablo, also in Rocha, Jose Ignacio is more commune than town. There’s no cell service and the town’s population clocks in at about 100 people. Instead, you’ll get free-spirited residents, who live in Cabo Polonia alongside horses, penguins and a colony of sea lions. Though still small, the rising number of tourists flocking to Uruguay — and the rising expense of some of the premier beach towns — means more restaurants and accommodations, making Jose Ignacio comfortable for even less adventurous travelers. Just make sure to bring a flashlight so you’re able to navigate the pitch black that descends at night.

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This article was written by Isabella Sayyah.