Uruguay is a gem of a country that’s under the radar for the typical American. My attention was drawn to it years ago when I relocated to Buenos Aires, as Uruguay and Argentina share a border and river delta.

My History with Uruguay

I spent a few summers along it’s coast between 2012 and 2015, in an area half an hour driving past Punta del Este.

Punta del Este is the most internationally famous destination in Uruguay, a city and resort attracting the super beautiful and super rich during its high season (the holidays and January). The super beautiful and super rich, while interesting to observe and sometimes fun to be around, aren’t typically my people. Hence renting a house outside the hubbub. Another 20 minutes driving past our house was the town of Jose Ignacio, another resort area with unbelievably beautiful homes, beaches, and one of my favorite restaurants in the world, La Huella.

Myself (far right) and amigos at La Huella Parador, in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay

The stretch of coast between Punta del Este and Jose Ignacio is truly stunning, and to add to the charm, driving 15 to 20 minutes inland delivers you to pastoral countryside with more cows than people.

While my partner and I loved the house and location where we rented those summers, tucked in a more local, humble neighborhood named Balneario Buenos Aires, it was still an inexpensive place to vacation for South American standards. At some point we realized it was time to explore Brazil instead, with its breathtaking beaches and landscape, not to mention much cheaper price tags. In Uruguay, especially near Punta del Este, you are paying to be apart of scene whether you partake or not. We knew our money could take us further in Brazil. So that’s what we did, without giving the beaches of Uruguay a second thought.

Reacquaintance with an Old Flame

A few weeks ago I got a major itch to return to Uruguay, in particular to learn how to surf. I found a surf school with good reviews based in La Pedrera, Uruguay, which appealed to me as I’d heard it was more low key than Punta del Este, situated further up the coast.

I hopped on Airbnb and searched for accommodation that wouldn’t break my bank as a solo traveler. That’s no simple feat, particularly in January when everything on the Uruguayan coast is nearly twice as expensive as the rest of the year. With the exception of the capital city of Montevideo, Uruguay is a highly seasonal destination.

I was lucky enough to stumble upon a little bed & breakfast, far removed from crowds (bingo!), tucked in the forrest, and only a ten minute walk from the beach. A review on Airbnb mentioned a high quality restaurant on the property as well. All of this for the reasonable price of $60 a night, which is a total steal in Uruguay in January. And that was the price for the larger room with a double bed, which is suitable for a couple. There is a smaller room with a single bed for only $30 a night if you’re looking for a budget option. I booked a room, crossed my fingers, and hoped it wasn’t too good to be true.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.

A Quick Aside About Safety for Solo Female Travelers

A reader pointed out to me that as a solo female traveler, I have a valuable perspective as far as the security of destinations for women that wish to travel alone.

I have always felt safe in Uruguay; never have I experienced anything sketchy or felt uncomfortable. That statement applies to traveling with my boyfriend, as well as when I was alone on this most recent trip. I think the coast of Uruguay is an ideal place for a solo female traveler. (And I encourage all women who haven’t ever traveled solo to give it a shot, it’s liberating and more relaxing than you might expect.)

B&B Santa Isabel

Here is B&B Santa Isabel’s Airbnb listing for the room I stayed. Honestly, the photos don’t do it justice…nor do the photos on their other rooms’ listings for the same house. The other room in the house with a double bed has a private bathroom. I shared a bathroom with two other rooms.

Before I go any further, to curb expectations, this was not a luxurious bed & breakfast. It was basic/rustic but cared for, well maintained, and impeccably clean. The service was really what made the place. The staff was downright lovely: kind, attentive, and helpful. And they cooked damn good food!

The House and Outdoor Restaurant

The room I stayed in has a double bed, shelving…

…bedside tables, and hooks for clothing. There’s no AC, but that was never an issue during my stay (and I was there in January, which is one of the hottest months of the year). The staff provided me with a fan, but it was so chilly at night I often added on an extra blanket. The coast of Uruguay is quite windy.

The living room is shared with whoever else is staying at the B&B. There are four rooms total. You can see the entire house is made of wood: floors, walls, and ceiling. The wood lends the home a cozy vibe that fits it seamlessly into surrounding nature.

Above is the kitchen shared by the rooms of the B&B. Not really enough amenities to cook yourself a full meal, but a fridge, sink, and hot water heater which sufficed for snacks.

Below is a photo walking around the side of the house to the backyard…

…where the outdoor kitchen/restaurant is located.

That’s Martin, the Airbnb host. I loved their hand made “horno de barro”, a wood-fired clay oven you can see in the back right corner. Great for making pizza.

This is why the half kitchen in the house doesn’t matter. The restaurant served breakfast (which was included in that $60/night price) as well as lunch, dinner, and wine/beer for an additional price. I kept a tab and settled up at the end of my stay. Martin, his brother, and their ladies–the staff of the B&B–were fantastic chefs. I ate all my meals, with the exception of one, on the property.

Seating was arranged throughout the backyard and patio.

The table on the far right was long and family-style.

There were other tables set up in the trees that I didn’t take photos of. I hope you’re not hungry. Food photos incoming.

The Food

Breakfast every morning meant Colombian coffee, fresh fruit, fresh bread, and fresh fruit juice, as well as spreads for the bread and some other special rotating item like eggs or pancakes.

The lunch and dinner menu featured lots of local, fresh seafood, like this ceviche…

…and a fried fish with salad plate.

There was plenty of vegetable forward dishes as well like this stir fry sourced from an organic garden on the side of the house…

…and this salad.

Those croutons were fried with leftover bread they had made that morning for breakfast. I adore that level of attention to detail in food.

Their clay, wood-fired oven made great crispy thin crust pizzas well. I ate mine too quickly, after a long day surfing, to have bothered capturing a photo.

Location

The closest development to B&B Santa Isabel is La Pedrera, Uruguay, which is only about 15 minutes by car. Santa Isabel, the name of the beach/neighborhood where the B&B is located, is circled on the map below.

The larger beach town south of La Pedrera, on the southern point in the above map, is La Paloma. About an hour driving northeast of Santa Isabel is Cabo Polonio, a destination that’s locally famous for being totally off-grid (no power) despite having a small development of houses and shops. Lots of horses, hippies, and wind.

From the B&B, it takes about 10 minutes walking to arrive at the beach. The staff will lend youa bike to get around. I biked one day to La Pedrera, which took me about 25 minutes.

The beach near the B&B was deserted, or almost deserted, every day. And this was during the most popular travel month for Uruguayan beaches.

The beach in Santa Isabel
The walk between the B&B and the beach.
Beach in Santa Isabel
Always happy sitting on a beach 🙂

The Santa Isabel neighborhood outside La Pedrera is ideal if you’re looking for tranquility and isolation.

Getting To Uruguay

The biggest airport in Uruguay is in Montevideo: Carrasco International Airport (MVD). To say it’s the biggest isn’t saying much though. These are all the flights serving MVD:

American Airlines has the only direct flight to Uruguay from the United States, so scoring Saver Level (the cheapest level) Business Class is difficult.

If you do find it, it will cost 57,500 American Airlines miles to fly anywhere in the US to Montevideo. If you have Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, or Capital One Miles, from a card like the American Express Green Card, Citi ThankYou Premier, or Capital One Venture Rewards Card, then you’d only need to spend 50,000 points by transferring to the Etihad Guest program to fly American Airlines Business Class to Montevideo from the US.

Divert to Buenos Aires Instead

Buenos Aires’ international airport, Ezeiza (EZE) is much bigger with more options. And why not visit both Argentina and Uruguay in one trip? There are two ferry options, the Buquebus and the Colonia Express, with ferries that take you across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay to either Colonia or Montevideo, and buses (which are sold in conjunction with ferry tickets) to further destinations up the coast like Punta del Este and La Paloma.

The Buquebus ferry accepts pets! That’s my boston terrier, Omar.

There’s also direct flights between the domestic airport in Buenos Aires, Aeroparque (AEP), as well as the international airport (EZE) and Punta del Este (PDP), if you’d rather skip the ferry part. But from Punte del Este you’ll need to either rent a car or take a bus to go further up the coast.

Award Chart Sweetspots to Buenos Aires:

  • 45,000 Virgin Atlantic miles between Atlanta and Buenos Aires in Delta One
    • (Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner of all the major transferrable points, so their quite easy to earn through Chase, Amex, Citi, or Capital One cards)
  • 45,000 Alaska miles between Miami and Buenos Aires in LATAM Business Class
  • 50,000 Etihad miles to fly American Airline Business Class (Etihad is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and Capital One Miles)
  • 88,000 ANA miles to fly Star Alliance Business Class roundtrip (ANA partner awards must be roundtrip) between North America and South America. ANA is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards.
Delta One, which I booked with 45k Virgin Atlantic miles transferred from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Ultimate Rewards account

When to Go

To avoid peak pricing and the seriously large masses of rich Argentines that migrate to the Punta del Este area over the summer (and party until sunrise), don’t travel there between the last week of December nor the first half of January. Or maybe that’s exactly what you want 😉

Surfing

Like I said before, the impetus for this trip, aside from unplugging and having some peaceful solitude in nature, was a strong desire to learn how to surf. I’d tried lots of times with my friends in California, but never before had I stood up.

I took lessons three of the days I was there with La Pedrera Surfing School, who took me to beginner-friendly waves in La Paloma. They picked me up everyday in a VW van, boards stacked on top, and we drove through the countryside blasting funky Uruguayan music.

The guys at La Pedrera Surfing School were tons of fun and good teachers; I highly recommend them for whoever’s brave enough to throw on a wet suit and paddle out!

On my second day of lessons, I stood up and rode a wave. It wasn’t small, and the feeling was glorious, like flying. The sun was low on the horizon and it felt magical. My teacher Fran, AKA Pancho, took the shot below right after we got out of the water that day, which captures my post-surf, post-goal accomplished state of bliss.

In this age of instant gratification, the delayed kind is oh so sweet!

Thoughts About the Value of my Stay

I was overjoyed to discover B&B Santa Isabel, which to me represented a fantastic value. Accommodation at beaches in Uruguay, especially in December and January, can be outrageous. B&B Santa Isabel’s prices are very fair. I can’t imagine they are making a ton of money on top of paying their costs and a bit to live off of (one of the staff confirmed this to me when he drove me to the bus station at the the end of my stay). Uruguay isn’t just expensive for tourists, it’s expensive for locals as well.

And for the very fair price of $60, I got a lovely bedroom with a double bed, plenty of space for my things, a view of the forrest, a delicious and fresh breakfast each morning, and a location that met my needs exactly: solitude, beauty, and walking distance from the beach. Having a restaurant on the property was key to the relaxing nature of the experience as well. No car was needed as I could remain well and healthily fed staying put. Meals ranged in price from $8 to $20, averaging around $15. Again, super fair for Uruguay high season where you can expect to pay at least twice that in restaurants of comparable quality.

Bottom Line

Whether you decide to visit B&B Santa Isabel or not, Uruguay, while one of the more expensive destinations in South America, is 100% worth visiting. The beaches and landscapes are idyllic. The lifestyle and aesthetic is an appealing mix of traits and words that I’m having a hard time stringing into a sentence, but will leave some here for you to soak up the vibe: laidback, boho chic, elegant, authentic, white linen, seafood, cattle, gaucho, and farmer life. If money’s not an object, look at staying in Jose Ignacio. And do not miss out on eating at La Huella.

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