(CNN) Sandwiched between two Latin American travel powerhouses, laid-back Uruguay is one of the continent’s most inviting secrets.
Often overlooked by visitors making a beeline for neighboring Brazil or Argentina, that’s likely to change since Lonely Planet named it a top destination for 2016.
And while some might struggle to locate Uruguay (population 3.4 million) on a map or name its river-facing capital, Montevideo, its dynamic coastline, extended carnival season and UNESCO cultural heritage status make it a prime Latin American vacation spot.
Here are 10 reasons to visit Uruguay.
The pounding heart of Uruguay’s summer scene, Punta del Este and satellite towns La Barra, Manantiales and Jose Ignacio are go-to beach destinations along the country’s Atlantic coast.
With the ocean lapping at one side of the Punta del Este peninsula and the Rio de la Plata on the other, high-rise hotels attract a glitzy Miami-style crowd.
Hipper beach bums in search of a relaxed experience head east to boho bolthole Jose Ignacio, a fishing village where Latin America’s extremely wealthy pitch up in private mansions every January.
Norwegian hotelier Alex Vik has constructed three lodgings here, including the lovely Estancia Vik.
Accessing beaches such as Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo further north recently became a lot easier, with the opening of the circular Garzon Lake Bridge in December.
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