Uruguay travel guide
A peaceful, laidback destination with a long history of liberalism (Uruguay was the first country to fully legalize marijuana) this pint-sized nation finds itself squeezed between Brazil and Argentina, and is often overshadowed by its heavyweight neighbours. However, as Uruguay has come to appreciate its subtle charms and small-scale attractions, so too have travellers.
Veer off the Gringo Trail and into Uruguay, and you will be pleasantly surprised. Considering its size, the country boasts an astonishing variety of diversions. Its windswept Atlantic coastline features dunes, lagoons and perfect surf; visitors can hop between hip beach resorts, clustered around the chic Punta del Este, abscond to sleepy fishing villages or take wildlife excursions to see penguins, sea lions and whales. The interior is equally rewarding. Journey up the Rio de la Plata and discover charming colonial towns, thermal springs and working haciendas, which offer an authentic taste of traditional gaucho life.
The jewel in Uruguay’s crown, though, is the capital, Montevideo. Punching well above its weight culturally and economically, this buzzing metropolis is classified as a Beta World City and is considered the most gay-friendly city in Latin America. Montevideo is a handsome place of stunning architecture, breezy promenades and sandy beaches. It’s also home to the world’s longest carnival, a heady six-week street party that puts other South American cities to shame.
Sleepy Colonia del Sacramento is another gem. Situated on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, opposite Buenos Aires, this amorous city offers enchanting cobbled streets, leafy plazas and 18th-century Portuguese architecture. It’s unflappably laidback, but for something even cooler head to Cabo Polonio, an off-grid eco-resort founded by hippies and fishermen, where the stresses of modern life ebb away and there’s time to appreciate nature and likeminded people.
All things considered, Uruguay should be treated like one of its famous beefsteaks; take your time over it, savour it and when you’re done, come back for more. You’ll never get your fill.
176,215 sq km (68,037 sq miles).
3,444,071 (UN estimate 2016).
19 per sq km.
President Tabaré Vázquez since 2015.
President Tabaré Vázquez since 2015.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs (two round pins) and Australian-style plugs (three flat, angled pins) are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Street crime like bag snatching and pick-pocketing, occurs in Montevideo. Muggings and robberies (occasionally armed) also take place. Keep valuables, spare cash and spare credit cards in a safe. Take care when withdrawing money from ATMs and where possible use machines that are not on the street(eg, shopping centres or banks). Avoid carrying large amounts of cash or wearing expensive jewellery. Consider carrying cash and bank cards in separate pockets and only take with you the money you need at the time.
Cars left on the streets at night in Montevideo are regularly broken into. Try to park in a paid car park or a well-lit and busy area. Always remember to lock your car and avoid leaving valuables, luggage, personal documents and cash in the vehicle. Don’t drive with bags or other valuables visible inside your vehicle, especially not on the front seat. There have been instances of windows being smashed and valuables grabbed when waiting at traffic lights and junctions.
Try to keep away from isolated or poorly lit areas at night and avoid walking downtown or in the port area alone.
While crime rates are generally lower in other parts of Uruguay, you should remain alert and take sensible precautions.
If you need to report a crime you must go to the nearest police station. You can also start to file a police report online. You must then sign it off at a police station within 48 hours of submitting it online.
If you’re planning to drive, you’ll need a valid UK licence or an International Driving Permit to hire a car. You should take out full insurance. You must wear a seatbelt by law in the front and back seats and have a first aid kit in your car. There’s a zero tolerance limit for driving under the influence of alcohol. Transport Police often breathalyse drivers.
Driving standards are poor and traffic is disorganised. Drivers often change lane and make unexpected turns without indicating. Motorbikes often go the wrong way down one way streets so always look both ways when crossing junctions. Stop signs, traffic lights and speed limits are often ignored. You must use dipped headlights during the day. Take extra care when driving at night.
The main toll roads from Colonia del Sacramento to Montevideo and Punta del Este are in good condition and well marked. However serious road traffic accidents are common. Poor road layout and excess speed are frequent causes.
The standard of roads in the rest of Uruguay varies. Some roads may suddenly deteriorate, with potholes and uneven road surfaces requiring extra care, especially in bad weather.
More information about transport regulations (in Spanish only) can be found on the Montevideo municipality website.
The main bus terminal for long distance journeys is Tres Cruces. The bus station has visible security patrols but you should keep a close eye on your belongings and be aware of your surroundings.
The main international airport is Carrasco International Airport on the outskirts of Montevideo.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety Network..
Some beaches in Uruguay have lifeguards during the summer season. Take care when swimming in the rivers and the Atlantic Ocean taking into account currents, rocks and sand banks that have sudden descents. Beaches with lifeguards display red, amber and green flags depending on the weather conditions and a red flag with green cross when they detect conditions that present potential health risks to the population. You shouldn’t go into the water when either red flag is flying.