This lovely country is in South America. It has a Spanish vibe. Uruguay is known as the Switzerland of South America, although not because it has mountains. However, it has a stable economy and low crime rates compared to other South American countries.
The capital city, Montevideo, and Colonia make up the region of Rio de la Plata. Montevideo is the largest city in the country in size as well as population. If you want to have a dip in the Atlantic Ocean, you will want to visit the southeast. There are fabulous beaches along the Atlantic coast. Plus, just north of the coast you will find tranquil land, rich in agriculture.
The northern part of Uruguay shares borders with Argentina. This area is popular for farming citrus fruits. You can visit the big city during your stay but do not forget to see the world heritage site Colonia del Sacramento. Colonia was once a Spanish colony. If you love bird watching, you should visit the estancias (ranches).
Places to See in Uruguay
Feel yourself a real gaucho by going on a horse ride and having a barbecue under the stars at one of the country’s tourist estancias. There are dozens of these in the vast Uruguayan pampas. San Pedro de Timote and La Sirena are considered to be the best. And some ranches even offer working stays, if you are up for some real life experience.
Vast marvelous landscapes of Uruguay are a heaven for nature lovers. You can go trekking through the sand dunes, to see the lighthouses and the rich marine life of Cabo Polonio on the Atlantic coast. Or watch the abundance of bird life at one of the lagoons in the East.
Punta del Este
One of South America’s most exclusive resorts, Punta del Este offers its visitors an opportunity to parasail, windsurf, water-ski, go sports fishing or just relax under the warm sun on the long sandy beaches. And after the sunset, the nightlife starts in Punta del Este’s variety of clubs, including Punta Ballena and La Barra.
Feel the breath of history at the fortresses of Santa Teresa and San Miguel, where the historical conflict between the Spanish and the Portuguese took place. Built in the 18th century, the fortresses are fully restored now and open to visitors.
Visit the most famous work of Carlos Paez Vilaro, one of Uruguay’s foremost abstract artists. His extravagant studio, Casapueblo, is the nine-story whitewashed “livable sculpture”, which cascades down off the cliffs of Punta Ballena, nearby Punta del Este. The popular complex also includes a gallery, a museum, a café and a hotel.
Colonia del Sacramento
The historical treasure of the country, Colonia del Sacramento offers cobblestoned streets for wandering and sycamore-shaded plazas for resting. Or spend a day strolling through art galleries and exploring the historical treasures, which you can enter via the ancient city gate, the Porton de Campo. And don’t miss watching a sunset over the Rio de la Plata.
One of the world’s most important underground aquifers is situated in the northwest of Uruguay and produce warm medical springs. You will find some fabulous spas near the town of Salto, where you can wash off the pampas dust, as well as your troubles. These include the tranquil, remote Termas de Arapey, the family-friendly Termas de Dayman, and the popular Termas de San Nicanor.
The eclectic mixture of colonial, European and modern architecture is what Mondevio offer travelers, who come to the capital of Uruguay. You should stroll around the Ciudad Vieja (Old Town) in the shadow of palms, visit the fascinating Gaucho Museum, the Carnival Museum and go cool off and watch the sunset in the evening in one of attractive beach suburbs, such as Playa Carrasco.
The riverfront promenade, Rambla gives you a good look at the vivid life of Montevideo. Here, you will find joggers, locals having mate (herbal tea), windsurfers, and just people walking and chatting in the beach. Visitors also come here to watch a stunning sunset over the Rio del Plata.
Mercado del Puerto is a popular lunch spot in the capital of Uruguay, filled with smells of roasted meat and vegetables. Go there or get lost in a variety of street vendors at Tristan Narvaja market, just east of downtown. And every Sunday, districts of the city transform into vivid markets selling everything, from antique jewelry to live birds.
Teatro Solis, the renovated 19th-century opera house in Montevideo offers its visitors concerts, plays, and unforgettable tango performances. However, if it’s too fancy for you, you can enjoy live music and tango performances in various street spots, which come alive in the evening. They are mostly concentrated along Ciudad Vieja’s pedestrian areas, in Punta Carretas and Pocitos.
As everywhere in South America, football is kind of a big deal in Uruguay. You should definitely attend a football match, to get involved in unique Uruguayan passion about his game. And if you are a fan, visit the Museo del Futbol in the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo.
In February, the streets of Montevideo become full of music and joyous dance during the annual Afro-Uruguayan Carnival. Its roots come from the Candomble beliefs, which were brought here by the African slaves. It is, in fact, celebrated throughout the country. However, the capital hosts the best events and festivities. The main events usually take place two weeks before Mardi Gras, so plan your trip properly, not to miss it!
Uruguay is not called “Switzerland of South America” for its cheese. However, thousands of tourists come here every year, in search of the fine dairy products, produced by the 19th-century Swiss settlement of Nueva Helvecia, situated to the west of the capital. The town also offers Swiss-style hotels and restaurants, popular with both locals and homesick Europeans.
Punta del Diablo
Go to Punta del Diablo to ride the fabulous waves of the Atlantic Ocean and enjoy the endless sandy beaches of its coast. Throughout the year, it is a quiet fishing village. However, in summer, it transforms into surfers’ and other adventure-minds’ hub and keeps them busy with dune surfing, horseback riding, and jeep forest safaris. La Paloma and La Pedrera, situated to the south of Punta del Diablo, also have some perfect surfing spots.
When to Go
Climate is extremely fine in Uruguay, with mild winters and summers. Summer here is from December to March. It is the best time to visit, particularly for a vacation on the seaside. However, beach resorts are crowded from Christmas to February, so come some other time if you want to have a good calm rest. The largest amounts of tourists come in January. Winter and spring, on the other hand, can get chilly and have occasional rains. But temperatures generally stay above freezing.
What to Wear
You will need light clothes during the summer months. Winter, autumn, and spring all require medium weight clothing. Also, a raincoat or an umbrella is advisable throughout the year.
The official language is Spanish. In the north, on the border with Brazil, many residents speak a hybrid of Spanish and Portuguese. English is understood and widely spoken in tourist areas.
1 Uruguayan peso is equal to 0.036 USD. It is best to exchange currency at banks and exchange shops, as hotels tend to give unfavorable rates. All major international credit cards are commonly acceptable, and ATMs are available widely.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
Roaming agreements exist with some international mobile companies. This means you should check if your mobile company provides service in Uruguay. However, if you plan to stay for a long time, it would be wise to buy a local pay-as-you-go SIM card. The three main mobile operators are Antel, Movistar, and Claro. They have stores throughout the country.And recharge cards can be purchased at service stations, shopping malls, and streetside kiosks. The coverage is excellent in main urban areas, although not so good elsewhere. To use a local SIM card, you need to bring an unlocked phone or buy a cheap one here.
And recharge cards can be purchased at service stations, shopping malls, and streetside kiosks. The coverage is excellent in main urban areas, although not so good elsewhere. To use a local SIM card, you need to bring an unlocked phone or buy a cheap one here.
There is also the local telephone service Antel, operated by the government and available in all major towns. Public phone boxes work on prepaid cards, which are available in denominations from U$25 to U$400 and can be purchased in Antel call centers, as well as newspaper kiosks.
As for the Internet, most hotels provide free Internet connection for their guests. There is also free Wi-Fi connection in restaurants, cafes and Wi-Fi hotspots in major cities. Also, Internet cafes are available in main urban areas. Connections are good, and prices are reasonable. Or use a SIM card with reasonably priced data package.
The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism. Main religious minorities include Protestantism and Judaism. About 40% of the population claims no religious affiliation at all.
Social conventions are similar to European. The common form of greeting is shaking hands. The Uruguayans are hospitable and fun people. Normal human courtesies are required. Smoking in public places is forbidden. These include restaurants, cinemas, theaters and public transportation.
The Uruguayans love meat. Parrilladas (grill houses) are the most typical restaurants. The cuisine has a Spanish influence, but pasta and pizza are also popular. Italian is a favorite amongst people there. Local specialties include bife de chorizo, asado de tira, chivito, morcilla, dulce de leche, and chajá. The common tip is 10% unless already added to the bill.
As for drinks, Uruguayan wine is considered to be rather good. However, the favorite national drink is whiskey, and they even produce a very good brand of their own, Dunbar. Other popular alcohol drinks are caña (liquor made from sugarcane) and grappa (a grape-based Italian brandy). The minimum drinking age is 18. The most common non-alcohol drink is mate (herbal tea).
Airlines, which operate to and from Montevideo are Iberia and LATAM.
A few local trains run between Montevideo and surrounding suburbs. However, getting around by train can be exhausting and unreliable, so tourists rarely use them.
The bus system is efficient. It connects all the important cities. Main operators include COT, Copsa, Agencia, and Turil. There are three major routes:
- West and north, along the Rio de la Plata and Rio Uruguay to Paysandu and Salto.
- East and north, along the Rio de la Plata and the Atlantic Ocean to Punta del Este and Rocha.
- North on national routes 3, 5, 7 and 8 to Tacuarembo and other cities of the interior.
Road conditions vary. The main coastal highways are excellent, other roads might be worse. Although in major cities congestion can be a big problem, outside of Montevideo, it is not much of an issue.
Renting vs. Bus, Train, Taxi
Car hire is available at Carrasco and Punta del Este International Airports, as well as in major cities, which include Montevideo, Punta del Este, and Colonia. Drivers should be between 23 and 75 years old, to rent a car.
Taxis with meters are available in all cities and from the airports at Carrasco and Punta del Este. Service is especially good in Montevideo, where cabs are safe, ubiquitous and have reasonable prices. Drivers usually carry a list of fares. Keep in mind, there is a surcharge for each item of baggage. Rates are 20% higher on nights, weekends and holidays. Also, drivers may expect tips.
Right or Left Driving
Cars drive on the right side of the road here.
Uruguay Trip Cost
A trip to Uruguay can be reasonably priced if you plan your spending properly. The hotels there can be cheap. Also, you can buy food for four people in a supermarket with just three dollars.
Electricity & Plug Type
As for electricity, Uruguay uses types C, F, I and L sockets. You need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information. The standard voltage is 230 V. Many of your devices may need a step-up transformer to match the electrical voltage.
How to Reach
Airlines, which operate flights to Uruguay, are Iberia and LATAM. It takes 13, 5 hours (including stopovers) to fly to Montevideo from New York. From London – 16, 5 hours, with stopovers.
The main border points, when coming from Argentina, are Colon – Paysandu, Concordia – Salto, and Gualeguaychu – Fray Bentos.
From Brazil, the main city of entry is Chuy. However, there are five more points of entry, which include Rio Branco, Acegua, Rivera, Artigas, and Bella Union.
If you don’t want to rent a car, come by bus. The main international bus operators in Uruguay are EGA and Condor Estrella. EGA operates rides between Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Brazil. Condor Estrella rides between Uruguay and Argentina only.
Montevideo is a major international port and is served by both cargo lines and cruise ships from Europe and the USA.
There are also several routes operated within South America. Buquebus operates high-speed ferries between Montevideo and Buenos Aires, which take 2 hours and 15 minutes. Colonia Express and Seacat operate between Colonia, 160 km away from Montevideo, and Buenos Aires.
Also, Cacciola operates river boats twice a day across the Rio de la Plate from Carmelo in Uruguay to Tigre, the suburbs of Buenos Aires.
Where to Stay
There is a variety of hotels in Uruguay, suitable for every taste and wallet size, from luxury first-class resort accommodations to more budget variants throughout the country. Of course, the choice is the most plentiful in the capital. Outside of Montevideo, the cities, which give the biggest number of options, are Colonia del Sacramento and Punta del Este. Keep in mind, that prices tend to get higher during summer. And an advance booking is essential during Easter Week, Carnival week and during the high tourist season.
Bed and Breakfasts
Guest houses and bed and breakfasts are the most common accommodation in Uruguay, after hotels. They divide into residenciales (guest houses) and hospedajes (family houses). Generally, these places offer fewer amenities and cost less, but they are still rather comfortable. Also, these accommodations allow tourists to get a better sight of local life and traditions.
There are several hostels in Uruguay. They are cheaper than hotels and guesthouses, although, offer less facilities. However, for budget travelers, hostels can become real life savers.
There are numerous designated sites in the country, where camping is allowed. In all other places, you will need police permission to put up your tent. All official campsites are listed on the Ministry of Tourism website: www.turismo.gub.uy. The largest camp area is Parque Nacional Santa Teresa, along the Atlantic coast, which offers over 1200 campsites.
Rural Farm Stay Accommodations
These are probably the most atmospheric accommodation in Uruguay, the tourist estancias (ranches), which are plentiful throughout the country. Generally, they offer lodging, full board and fun entertainments, such as horseback riding and other ranches activities.
Called “Posadas” in Spanish, these are simple family-run accommodations in historic mansions. The quality varies, as do the prices. The best ones are available in Colonia del Sacramento and Punta del Este.
How Safe is Uruguay
Uruguay is generally considered safe tourist destination. Street crimes, such as bag snatching and pick-pocketing, occasionally occur in Montevideo. Sometimes, muggings and robberies also take place. However, all you need to do is stick to some ground safety rules. Don’t flash your valuables in public, keep your money in different places, don’t walk alone at night and avoid doubtful neighborhoods.
If you come by car, park in a paid car parking or a reliable busy area. Don’t leave your valuables in a car, as it can be easily broken in. Outside of the capital, crime rates are much lower. However, if you need to report a crime, go to the nearest police station.
Before coming to Uruguay, you should have vaccinations against the following disease: hepatitis A, tetanus, and sometimes diphtheria and rabies. Also, you will need a certificate proving vaccination against yellow fever, if you come from an infected area.
Uruguay has an excellent medical service. However, travel insurance is highly advised. If you need to call an ambulance, dial 105.
Food and Water Safety
Mains water is generally safe to drink. However, outside of main cities, you should boil or filter water before drinking it. Milk and dairy products are safe for consumption. So are meat, poultry, seafood, fruit, and vegetables.
Uruguay has been an escape ground for many. Thus, it has a large immigrant population. Including you, if you fall in love with the country.
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