Ranch Romance -- Gaucho life is alive and well in Uruguay, and to experience some bucolic days on horseback in the vast rolling fields of the interior is something you are not likely to forget. The finer estancias now offer top-notch accommodation as well as day trips with lunch and activates included. The most famous and luxurious is San Pedro de Timote, Cerro Colorado, 160km (99 miles) northeast of Montevideo (tel. 0310/8086; www.sanpedrodetimote.com.uy), a lovely property with a long history and the architecture to prove it, including a lovely white chapel. Another well-appointed farm offering cowboy chic is Estancia La Paz, Paysandu, 370km (230 miles) northwest of Montevideo (tel. 072/02272; www.estancialapaz.com.uy). Just down river, close to the town of Mercedes, is La Sirena (tel. 02/606-2924; www.lasirena.com.uy), a pastoral paradise with a gorgeous old ranch house and English-speaking owners. Access is a problem at most estancias, so it is often more convenient to arrange transfers directly with the lodges. For day tours contact tour operators that specialize in agrotourism, such as Cecilia Regules Viajes, Bacacay 1334, Local C, Montevideo (tel. 02/916-3011; www.ceciliaregulesviajes.com), or Lares, WF Aldunate, Local 15, Montevideo (tel. 02/901-9120; www.lares.com.uy).

Carnaval Time in Montevideo -- Catch the lively street party that takes the city by storm in late January and throughout February. Colorful half-naked dancers and noisy candombe percussion bands celebrate Uruguay's African slave heritage. On February 2, the crowds head for Playa Ramirez for a big beach party celebrating the sea goddess Yemanga. If your timing is wrong, you can still see an exhibition on the festival at the Museo de Carnaval, Rambla 25 de Agosto de 1825 no. 218, at Maciel (tel. 02/916-5493), in the port area.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.