Official language: Spanish
Currency: The peso, although high value items are often quoted in US dollars.
Welcome to Uruguay! This is the second smallest country in South America. However, despite its small size it is a country that offers a huge amount of attractions and chances for tourists to enjoy a range of life’s finest pleasures. The capital city of Montevideo is sometimes called the little cousin of Buenos Aires but that description does it a disservice. There is perhaps a feeling of faded glory to some parts of the capital but it is most notable for its friendly people and laid back atmosphere. It is one of the rare breed of capital cities where a tourist feels at home walking around the main streets right from the very start. The city’s beach adds a touch of extra glamour and this is where to go for the best chance to sample a range of fine Uruguayan cuisine. Away from the capital, the countryside is dominated by the famously numerous and well treated cattle that gives Uruguay such a powerful meat and hide industry. However, the biggest delights for humans lie on the coast. The gentle and evocative settlement of Colonia Del Sacramento has a long and interesting history that visitors can just about reach out and touch. Further along the coast the long beaches and good times under the sun become the main reasons for heading out here. The lavish resort of Punta Del Este is where the wealthy Uruguayan and Argentine tourists head to, spending lavish sums in the amazing restaurants, hotels and casinos. This is the best destination for anyone looking for some glamour and to rubs shoulders on the beach with some stars. However, less luxurious pleasures can be found on the Uruguayan coast as well. For a start, Piriapolis and La Paloma are lovely resorts where the action is rather less frenetic and expensive than in Punta del Este. For a really laid back time down on the beach there are also a number of delightfully relaxed places such as Cabo Polonio to enjoy. Inland, the quiet towns and authentic culture on offer let tourists relax and see fascinating destinations such as Durazno and Salto. You will feel far from the stresses of the world if you manage to spend some time in the thermal springs and intriguing regional museums dotted around this wonderful area.
Must see places in Uruguay
The capital of Uruguay is a smaller and more homely feeling place than many of the continent’s other major cities. It has some lovely sights in the historic old town section and is considered a safe town to walk around in. The flea market on Tristán Narvaja Street is a good place to investigate on a Sunday morning and heading down to the city beach is a smart move at just about any time. Capital cities don’t get much more laid back than this.
If you want some time on a nice beach but don’t want the high prices and exclusive feel of Punta del Este then Piriapolis is a good choice of destination. This small beach town is located close to Punta del Este but it a lot more low key and relaxed. December to March is when it gets busiest here, with the number of tourists usually falling dramatically at other times of year. A cable car trip to the top of San Antonio hill gives you the best views of the area.
Colonia del Sacramento
The bloody history of the UNESCO World Heritage site at Colonia seems a long way away from the sleepy town that now sits on the River Plate. This area changed hands between the Spanish and Portuguese in hard fought battles in the past but the only evidence of that these days comes with the small section of fortifications and cannons that have been preserved. It gets busy at weekends and on holidays with residents of Buenos Aires making the short ferry trip over but the rest of the time it is relaxed and quiet.
Sitting snugly on the River Uruguay, Salto represents an official border crossing to Argentina. Boats cross the river to Concordia on the Argentine side. Among the top attractions here are the hot springs across at Daymán and the thermal spa at Fuente Salto. There is also a decent zoo here and a water park with a thermal spa.
Punta del Diablo
This small town on the Atlantic coast of Uruguay gets transformed into a thriving resort during the summer months. It has traditionally been a holiday spot for Uruguayans but more and more international tourists have been arriving here in recent years. Punta del Diablo is famous for its bohemian atmosphere and traditional fishing industry. The beaches are fantastic and during the summer months the nightlife is exciting without being over the top.
Punta del Este
The upmarket beach resort at Punta del Este attracts mainly well off Uruguayan and Argentine tourists to its sunny beaches and nice waters. The town has a number of casinos and the yachts anchored off the beach show the wealth of many of the visitors. It has been called the Monaco of South America and depending upon when you go it could be packed full of fun loving tourists or almost completely deserted. One point to bear in mind is that the prices are a lot higher here than in other parts of the country.
The small city of Durazno sits on the Yi River, with a pleasant sandy beach stretching out along the edge of the river. There are a couple of regional museums as well as a zoo and a museum here. The atmosphere is laid back here, as it is in most of Uruguay. It is a small and peaceful enough city for visitors to be able to stroll around it and see everything of interest without any hassle.
Getting off the beaten track is possible even in a country as small as Uruguay, as Cabo Polonio proves. This is a tiny community by the sea where you will find little more than a few holiday cottages, a colony of sea lions and some hippies. There are some nice beaches, meaning that heading out and strolling along the sand is just about the best thing to do at Cabo Polonio.
The pretty beach resort of La Paloma is popular with Uruguayans and other South American tourists. It has an area that it suitable for surfing, with another option being to rent a bike to explore the area. Probably the highlight of any time spent here is when the spectacular sunset lights up the horizon.
The small inland town of Tacuarembo has 2 claims to fame. First of all, it is seen as being an important centre of the Gaucho culture and has a museum dedicated to these local cowboys. There is also a Fiesta del la Patria Gauchos that happens every year in March. It is also one of the places that lays claim to being the birthplace of tango legend Carlos Gardel. There is a Carlos Gardel museum here.
Things to do in Uruguay
It may be the second smallest country in South America but Uruguay still has a lot to recommend it to travellers looking for a safe and interesting destination.
Head to the Beach
The country’s long coastline is filled with some lovely beaches. Punta del Este is the one with the biggest reputation but it is also the most expensive and most crowded. When it comes to laid back beach towns there is plenty of choice in Uruguay, from Piriapolis to La Paloma and a few others that are worth considering. While the biggest resorts offer classy restaurants and night clubs, the lower key ones are refreshingly basic and down to earth.
Visit the Cities
Montevideo is by far the biggest city in Uruguay, with a high percentage of the country’s overall population living here. Despite its size, it is a safe and friendly city that has been described as being like the little cousin of Buenos Aires. The other cities in the country are small and generally have a quaint, small town feel to them.
Eat Some Local Food
As is the case in neighbouring Argentina, the beef is excellent in Uruguay. In fact, the strong cattle ranching tradition here means that people are typically outnumbered by cattle. The classic Uruguayan dish is called chivito. While this translates as little goat, it is actually a beef dish that can be served in a sandwich or as a main meal. The country’s history of immigration from Italy can be seen in the Italian influences present in many meals.
Mate is a natural infusion drink that is popular in several South American countries but that appears to be almost a religion in Uruguay. It is made by pouring hot water over some dried, crushed leaves and drinking it through a metal straw. If a local offers to share their mate with you then you can take this as a sign that they are offering you a token of their friendship. Refusing a mate would be bad manners but it may take you some time to get used to the bitter taste.
Enjoy the Nature
Despite the compact nature of the country, Uruguay offers many fantastic opportunities to get away from the city and enjoy some pristine countryside. There are great areas for bird watching and peaceful estancias where the visitor can feel at one with nature. While the Uruguayan coast has some lively areas, it also offers a good deal of gentle pleasures and the chance to get away from the rest of the world for a while.
Pick the time right
Tourists visit Uruguay from December until February
Uruguay has an excellent climate that avoids the extremes of many other South American countries. Summer months are warm without normally getting uncomfortably hot, mainly thanks to the cooling sea breezes. Winter is colder but the temperatures don’t usually drop too much, with freezing point not often reached. For a sunny trip to the beach, summer is best, although the most popular coastal areas can get very busy at this time of year. Winter can be a good time for enjoying some sunshine and some wonderfully quiet beaches. The weather in Uruguay doesn’t vary too much throughout the country. It is classed as a humid subtropical climate and while the seasons are clearly marked, extremes in temperatures aren’t particularly common here. It can get windy, though, and the openness of the country means that the weather can change quite quickly.
Did you know?
The highest point in the country is Cerro Catedral, which is only 514m (702 ft.) above sea level.
Uruguay is famous for its cattle rearing and the country’s geography makes it ideal for this industry. In fact, it is the only country to track all of its cattle and it is said that the cattle outnumber humans by close to 4 to 1.
The national dish is chivito, which is beef even though the name translates as little goat in English.
Buenos Aires is only a short and pleasant ferry trip away from Montevideo or Colonia del Sacramento.
Uruguay is viewed as a safe country and Montevideo is about as peaceful a capital city as you will find. However, as with anywhere in the world, you shouldn’t let your guard down while travelling.
Tap water is classed as safe in most of the country but many visitors are happier sticking to bottled water.
If you are going to the beach then Punta del Este will give you glamour and luxury but things cost a lot more than in other resorts on the Uruguayan coast.