Top events in Uruguay

March
07

Uruguay's largest and most authentic celebration of its deep-rooted gaucho culture involves five days of music, dancing, barbecues, bonfires and...

April
01

Rodeos, barbecues and folk music celebrate the rugged Gaucho lifestyle of Uruguay's rural population who once a year descend upon ...

April
01

Paysandú's weeklong beer festival, Semana de la Cerveza, coinciding with Easter Week, has been running for nearly 50 years. Beer from the the...

Punta del Este beach, Uruguay
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Punta del Este beach, Uruguay

© Brand X Pictures / Thinkstock

Uruguay Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

176,215 sq km (68,037 sq miles).

Population

3.3 million (2013).

Population density

18.9 per sq km.

Capital

Montevideo.

Government

Republic.

Head of state

President Tabaré Vázquez since 2014.

Head of government

President Tabaré Vázquez since 2014.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style round two-pin plugs and Australian-style flat, angled three-pin plugs are used.

Boasting picturesque beaches, rolling countryside, colonial old towns and atmospheric cities, Uruguay comes in a small but highly impressive package. The country’s laid back, welcoming charm and year-round temperate climate is being discovered by more and more tourists from further afield each year, and they find out what many of their South American counterparts have known all along: that Uruguay is a destination with spades of personality, beauty and often striking panorama.

For such a small country, Uruguay has a lot to offer its visitors, and a surprising degree of contrasting scenery. The capital Montevideo is arguably the jewel in its crown: an eloquent, cosmopolitan and thriving metropolis where art deco buildings, a lively business and shopping district, a breezy beachfront promenade and the world's longest carnival celebration collide to create a heady experience.

Colonia del Sacramento is another gem; its beguiling cobbled streets, leafy plazas, 18th-century Portuguese colonial architecture and quaint riverside setting make it a perfect destination for cultured romantics. High rollers looking to top up their tans on a beach or yacht before dancing away the early hours will likely be drawn to the glamorous Punta del Este; its stunning beaches, fancy hotels, classy nightclubs and swanky restaurants ensure it is the most expensive and brazenly showbiz place in Uruguay. Maldonado is a slightly less pricey alternative for beach bums on a budget, but aside from those places, there are scores of small villages and towns dotted across the country each with their own distinctive charms and character to explore, lest we forget a thrilling Atlantic coastline with dunes, lagoons and perfect surf, the fisherman’s paradise of Punto del Diablo, soothing hot springs near the pretty town of Salto and the wide open grandeur of gaucho country.

Uruguayans are, by and large, a liberal, relaxed and friendly people who enjoy a relatively high standard of living, and they will likely delight in showing you their homeland. They are also known worldwide for their garra charrúa, a fighting spirit derived from the original indigenous settlers that has seen a country of just 3.4 million people punch above its weight on the international stage both economically and in sport. The inaugural Olympic soccer champions, improbable double winners of the FIFA World Cup and ahead of their much larger neighbours Brazil and Argentina in South American titles, Uruguayans are an immensely proud people who delight in fighting against the odds, and often succeeding.

The compact nature of Uruguay, at roughly the same size as the USA’s Oklahoma, means it its possible for visitors to discover a good wedge of the country in a relatively short period of time. That’s not to say that repeated visits to Uruguay are unnecessary or excessive; returning travellers will either discover more of the country’s distinctive beauty that they missed out on the first time out, or nostalgically reacquaint themselves with what made them fall in love with it in the first place. In the vein of its famous sizzling beef steaks, Uruguay is best digested and enjoyed at a leisurely pace. And there is little doubt you will want more.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 02 March 2015

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.


Crime

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. 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. 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.

Road travel

Driving standards in Uruguay are poor and traffic is disorganised. Drivers often change lane and make unexpected turns without indicating. 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 but the standard of roads in the rest of Uruguay varies. Some roads may suddenly deteriorate and certain heavy transport routes where grooves have been formed require extra care, especially in bad weather. These routes are often single lane carriageways where overtaking is difficult.

If you are planning to drive in Uruguay you will need a valid UK licence or an International Driving Permit to hire a car. Take out full insurance.

In Montevideo, taxis are fitted with a solid glass screen between the driver and rear passenger seats. The meter next to the driver should be at zero when you start your journey. When you reach your destination the number on the meter tallies with a number on the pricing card you will be shown. Next to the number is the actual cost in Uruguayan Pesos. The pricing card should always be visible or available for you to check.

You must wear a seatbelt by law in the front and back seats and have a first aid kit available in your car. The limit for driving with alcohol in Uruguay is 0.3 grams/litre compared to 0.8 grams/litre in the UK. Transport Police often breathalyse drivers and if you’re over the limit you’ll be fined heavily and your license will be confiscated.

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.

Air travel

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..

Beaches

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 conditions.

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