Uruguay is an excellent country to explore independently. The long-distance buses run frequently and are clean and comfortable, and there are lots of hotels and hostels to choose from throughout the country. That said, we recently travelled through on an Intrepid Travel tour and learnt a lot from that experience too.
When we were there last year, four of us travelled from Puerto Iguazu in Argentina, crossed into Uruguay at Concordia, then went to Montevideo and Colonia before catching the ferry to Buenos Aires. Now, we’re doing almost the same thing in reverse, but this time on an Intrepid tour from Buenos Aires to Rio. A couple of exceptions: when we travelled independently we spent several days at a friend’s lake house, and also spent a day at Punto del Este. On the tour, we spent three days on an estancia, and had half a day in Salto to enjoy the hot springs.
The crossing from Buenos Aires to Colonia (or vice-versa) is straightforward: an hour on a fast ferry or three hours on a slow one. Both times, we travelled by slow boat.
Colonia is a small town that makes a great stopover when travelling between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, or as a day trip from Buenos Aires. The tour allowed one night there, which was the perfect amount of time, especially when the weather was as brilliant as it was for us. Last time, we had two nights, we spent a lot of our time looking for the right hotel and organising ferry tickets: it was nice not to have to do that this time!
Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay, a nice but rather sleepy city. The one night we had there on the tour gave us enough time to see the old town but not much else. Last time, we had more time: we hung out
with locals, watched a football game in a local pub and visited an art gallery, as well as eating the best asado ever.
One of the highlights of the tour so far were the three nights on the Panagea estancia, something we probably wouldn’t have organised while travelling independently. Owner Juan collects visitors from the Tacuarembo bus station an hour away from the estancia, and he also drove us the four hours to Salto at the end of our stay. We spent our two full days there mostly on horseback, accompanying Juan on his daily rounds of the estancia. All meals were included though we were expected to serve ourselves and help a little with the preparation.
The Termas del Dayman hotsprings at Salto are a tourist attraction for locals and were the perfect way to relax the muscles after a couple of days of horseriding.
The trip from Puerto Iguazu to Montevideo was one of the horror stories of our South America trip last year — a hive of misinformation turned a straightforward journey into a 25-hour marathon. This time, we caught taxis across the border to Concordia then an overnight coach to Puerto Iguazu, followed by a minivan across
the Brazilian border to Foz do Iguacu. The overnight bus experience was exactly the same as it was a year ago — not very pleasant, and our taxi driver thought she’d got lost at one point, so it certainly wasn’t super-smooth sailing. The whole trip from the estancia to Foz worked out to about 24 hours — so quite comparable, really.