Bella Unión is more or less at the northwestern tip of Uruguay. Located on the Uruguay River in the northern interior of the country, it is close to the tripoint where Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina meet.
If you come to Bella Unión on the bus from Salto, you'll see lots of gauchos riding horses, and maybe even riding the bus with you. This is a preview of what's to come: Bella Unión is solidly in gaucho territory. It's perfectly normal to see men and even surprisingly young boys riding horses down the street, and if you head to the outskirts of town, you'll see plenty of cows and horses grazing, usually (but not always) with someone keeping an eye on them.
Aside from agriculture, Bella Unión is known for its main tourist draw: the duty-free shops (free shops). They primarily cater to visitors from across the border in Argentina and Brazil, but are open to anyone with a foreign passport.
From elsewhere in Uruguay
Bella Unión is on Uruguay Route 3 just before it reaches the Brazilian border.
Chadre buses run twice a day from Montevideo, stopping in various cities along the way including Colonia and Salto. El Norteño buses also offer service from Montevideo, Paysandú, Salto, and other cities. COTABU serves Bella Unión as well.
Bella Unión doesn't have a bus terminal, so instead, buses stop near the centrally located Plaza 25 de Agosto, and they let passengers off on the way into town too. From Salto, expect to pay U$270–300 each way (as of 2017). El Norteño gives a discount for round-trip tickets.
Bella Unión is across the Uruguay River from Monte Caseros. There is no bridge, but boats are available multiple times a day on weekdays. It's about a 10-minute boat ride across the river.
Bella Unión is close to Barra do Quaraí, just across the border in Brazil. There is a bridge.
The main part of the city, including most of the duty-free shops, is small enough to walk around pretty easily. To get to places on the outskirts of town (such as Macanudo Free Shop), you're better off driving or riding a motorcycle. If you have a horse to ride, you'll be right at home getting around that way as well.
Bella Unión isn't exactly known for its sights. There's one museum, some public art, and a few decent parks, but this is mostly a destination for shopping rather than sightseeing.
- 1 Plaza 25 de Agosto, Artigas and Quintela. The main square, with trees, benches, and the obligatory statue of Artigas as in every other city in Uruguay. The park, which is centrally located in the city, has free, poorly maintained public toilets (underground behind the Artigas statue) and a couple of small restaurants.
- 2 Parque Rivera. Riverside park to the west of the city, dotted with eucalyptus trees, brightly colored benches, and white barbecue grills. Includes a small playground for children with swings and seesaws.
- 3 Plazoleta J. Pedro Varela, Artigas and Ruta 3. A small park conveniently located near one of the duty-free shops, with its own colorful benches and lovely pink blossoms at the end of winter.
- 4 Museo Santa Rosa del Cuareim, Enrique Ferreira 1164, ☎ . A private museum with an archaeological collection from Uruguay's indigenous history. Free.
- 5 Plazoleta de la Memoria (Memorial de los asesinados y detenidos desaparecidos oriundos de Bella Unión), Rivera and Rodó. Piece of public art memorializing bellaunionenses who were disappeared during the dictatorship in the 1970s.
Shopping is Bella Unión's main attraction: it has several duty-free shops (free shops) catering to visitors from across the border. While mostly frequented by Argentinians and Brazilians, they are open to anyone with a foreign passport. They're happy to accept US dollars, Brazilian reales, Argentinian pesos, or Uruguayan pesos.
- 1 Class Duty Free Shop, Lirio Moraes 1415 (esq. Calle Rivera), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Tu–F 09:30–18:30, Sa Su 10:00–18:00.
- 2 Duty Free Americas, General Artigas and Joaquin Suarez, ☎ . M–F 10:00–19:00, Sa Su 09:00–19:00.
- 3 Macanudo Free Shop, Ruta 3 Km 626, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 09:30 - 19:00.
- 4 Neutral Free Shop, Rivera and Lavalleja, ☎ . 09:30–18:45 daily.
- 5 Saville Free Shop, Avenida Artigas 685, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. M–Th 09:00–18:20, F Sa 09:00–18:50, Su 09:30–18:50.
- 6 Xenia Duty Free Shop, Avenida Artigas 757, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. M–Sa 09:00–18:40, Su 09:30–18:40.
- 1 La Exclusiva, Romero Bianchi 1489, ☎ . Typical inexpensive Uruguayan fare: milanesas, chivitos, pizza, pasta, and so on. Casual vibe, pop art paintings, and both indoor and outdoor seating. U$200–350.
- 1 Hotel Aguas Dulces, Wilson Ferreira Aldunate, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com.
- 2 Hotel Bella Unión, Gral Fructuoso Rivera 1291, ☎ .
- 3 Hotel Oriente, Lirio Moraes 1427, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As elsewhere in Uruguay, the Uruguayan government's free Plan Ceibal wifi is available in some parks, and some restaurants have wifi as well.