When was the last time you heard someone talk about their incredible trip to Uruguay?

Probably never, because the tiny South American country has long been overlooked by travellers in favour of its bigger and flashier neighbours like Argentina and Brazil.

But while it's true that Uruguay doesn't have big-ticket tourist attractions like Iguazu Falls and Christ the Redeemer, it definitely deserves to be a tourist destination in its own right.

Some of Uruguay's stunning countryside. But don't let this fool you - the beaches are amazing too. Photo / iStock
Some of Uruguay's stunning countryside. But don't let this fool you - the beaches are amazing too. Photo / iStock

Here are just some of the reasons why you should start planning a visit - immediately.

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1. THE SAFETY

Nicknamed the Switzerland of South America, Uruguay is considered to be the safest country in the region by far. Tourists can easily go to a football match alone, for example - something that is almost unthinkable in Argentina and Brazil.

Of course, pickpockets exist everywhere, but serious crime in Uruguay is rare, especially against tourists.

2. THE CITIES

The capital, Montevideo, is clean, safe and beautiful, with enough impressive architecture, museums, top-rate restaurants and bars to keep visitors entertained. It's been declared South America's most liveable city too, and with a population of just 1.3 million, it has none of the chaos of cities like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.

The cobbled streets of Colonia. Photo / iStock
The cobbled streets of Colonia. Photo / iStock

The historic city of Colonia del Sacramento is also worth the trip. With cobblestone streets, pretty colonial buildings and vintage cars sprinkled throughout the old town, almost every corner is an Instagram post in the making.

3. THE BEACHES

Punta del Diablo, Punta del Este, La Paloma and Maldonado are some of the bigger beach towns but the entire eastern coast of Uruguay offers endless beach destinations, attracting hordes of South American tourists each year.

Punta del Este beach in Uruguay. Photo / iStock
Punta del Este beach in Uruguay. Photo / iStock

During the summer high season, you can even buy tickets for a jump-on jump-off bus and beach-crawl your way along the coast to get your fill of sun, surf and sand.

4. THE COUNTRYSIDE

Cows outnumber people three to one in Uruguay. Photo / iStock
Cows outnumber people three to one in Uruguay. Photo / iStock

Cows outnumber people three to one, so it's no surprise that gaucho (cowboy) culture is huge in Uruguay. If you're feeling adventurous, you can book a stay at a working ranch (I recently stayed at Panagea Ranch, for example) where you can learn how to ride like a local and help out with drenching and mustering cattle.

A gaucho, or cowboy, family in Uruguay. Photo / iStock
A gaucho, or cowboy, family in Uruguay. Photo / iStock

If it's relaxation you're after, check out the famous Termas de Dayman hot springs - bliss.

5. THE FOOD

Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo is a great place to eat local meat cuts. Photo / iStock
Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo is a great place to eat local meat cuts. Photo / iStock

Head to Montevideo's Mercado del Puerto for a meal that will put Buenos Aires' famous steak restaurants to shame. There you'll find dozens of casual restaurants serving mouth-watering asado (barbecued meat), grilled chorizo sausage and provolone cheese, all washed down with a bottle of Medio y Medio (a half wine, half champagne combo).

Streetside stalls serve up meat that would put some of our top restaurants to shame. Photo / iStock
Streetside stalls serve up meat that would put some of our top restaurants to shame. Photo / iStock

Uruguay also nails Italian cuisine - it's famous for its version of gnocchi, which is traditionally served on the 29th of each month.

6. THE PROGRESSIVE LIFESTYLE

Marijuana is legal. Abortion is legal. Same-sex marriage is legal. Most of the country's electricity comes from renewable energy, and Uruguay is one of the least-religious nations in Latin America.

City life in the capital of Uruguay - Montevideo. Photo / iStock
City life in the capital of Uruguay - Montevideo. Photo / iStock

Compared to its uber-conservative neighbours, Uruguay is a progressive oasis in the continent.

7. THE PEOPLE

Uruguayans are famously friendly and laid-back, and they love explaining just how different they are to their neighbours.

Read more: Uruguay: Riding with the gaucho

Best of all, almost every resident loves their football, their beer and wine and their barbecue - something we can appreciate.

Tempted to pay Uruguay a visit? You should be.