Where is Uruguay?
Uruguay is located in South America on the South Atlantic Coast. The country borders Argentina on the West and Brazil to the North. The major cities are all along the South Atlantic coastline including the capital Montevideo.
The name “Uruguay” means river of colourful birds, which is illustrative of the many colourful birds that inhabit the forests along the Rio Negro river.
History of Uruguay
The original inhabitants were Charrua Indians from Paraguay, their Rock Art can still be found at sites throughout Uruguay today. The Spanish first settled the interior lowlands around the Rio Negro river for cattle farming and only expanded their colonisation after Portugal built a fort at Colonia del Sacramento. Montevideo was founded as a commercial port by the Spanish and it has developed into the main trade point between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Uruguay became independent of Portugal and Spain in 1825 but their influence is still evident in the culture and architecture. Economic and social development of Uruguay transpired as immigrants from Italy and Spain began building infrastructure and improved farming techniques.
As it is becoming more well known, tourism to Uruguay is increasing. The main tourists areas are along the coastline with the most popular areas being the capital Montevideo for its pristine beaches; Punte Del Este for its beaches, night life and shopping; and Colonial Del Sacramento for its world heritage listed historic buildings and sites. Other areas are less touristy and many of the small towns in the interior experience few visitors. For those wanting to get away from the tourist resorts and beaches, the Eastern Wetlands is a UNESCO declared biosphere reserve with swamps, lagoons, marshes, and streams all inhabited with hundreds of bird species.
The first Football World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930, football is still an important part of the culture today.
Uruguay Visa Requirements
Uruguay is quite easy to get in and out off. Residents from a large number of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, the UK and Ireland, and South Africa, can enter the country for stays of up to 3 months without a visa. A passport valid for at least three months past the date you intend to leave Uruguay is also required. You may be required to show immigration officials that you have return or onward tickets and adequate means of support and accommodation upon entering Uruguay
A departure tax of US$31 for International flights and US$17 for flights to Buenos Aires is payable at the Carrasco International Airport.
As entry requirements may change from time to time it is strongly advised that you check with the department of foreign affairs or your local consulate or embassy for the current requirements.
You can contact the following embassies for current entry requirements:
Australia (and New Zealand) – ACT: +61 (0)2 6273 9100.
Canada – Ottawa: +1 613 234 2727.
United States – Washington DC: +1 202 331 1313.
United Kingdom (and Ireland) – London: +44 (0)20 7589 8835.
South Africa – Pretoria: +27 (0)12 362 6521/22.
Uruguay Travel Health
Medical facilities are available in most of Uruguay’s major towns and cities but are not common in regional areas. Payment will be required in cash before treatment and travel insurance is highly recommended.
Due to its climatic location, vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Diptheria and Rabies are recommended for all areas and depending on the season and what areas you are visiting you may also need Tuberculosis and Hepatitis B injections. Dengue Fever exists so visitors should take care to avoid mosquito bites by using repellent or covering up with long sleeves at dusk.
Good medical services are available with 24 hour emergency care at the British hospital in Montevideo. Any services will require payment in cash and more serious problems will require evacuation so it is highly recommended that travellers have adequate insurance coverage.
Street crime can be high in the cities, mainly in the form of pickpockets so travellers should take care around ATMs and refrain from carrying valuables or large amounts of cash.
Mains tap water in Uruguay is considered safe to drink but outside of the main cities and towns the water may be contaminated and it is recommended to drink bottled or purified water. Local foods are generally considered safe to eat just ensure they are washed, peeled and/or well cooked.
Uruguay can experience rapid changes in weather so care should be taken when heading out that appropriate clothing and protection from rain and storms is taken.
In case of an emergency call 911 or 999.
As in most tropical regions of the world, there are a number of endemic diseases common to Uruguay and travelers should be aware of the risks. Dengue fever and Malaria, both mosquito-borne viruses, are not unknown in the tropical regions of the country and appropriate precautions should be taken when visiting these areas.
With the exception of travellers arriving from regions with Yellow Fever, vaccinations are not required for visitors, however, up-to-date Tetanus and Hepatitus shots are recommended.
Uruguay has a relatively low crime-rate but travelers are advised to avoid the regions bordering Columbia.
Theft is not uncommon in the cities so common-sense precautions should be taken to avoid loss of property, particularly at night.
Uruguay’s volcanoes are poorly monitored and travelers are advised to avoid the Tungurahua volcano near Baños, which erupted as recently as February 2008.
For emergency services in Uruguay, dial +911; for police, +101; and for fire, +102.
What is Uruguay Local Currency?
The local currency is the Peso (Ur$). The currency is very weak with Ur$1.0 0 equivalent to approximately US$0.05 and prices are generally lower than in US or Western Europe. The Peso experiences frequent fluctuations due to inflation. Banknotes have values of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 peso. Coins have values of 50 centavos, and 1, 2, 5 and 10 pesos.
US dollars are accepted at some tourist businesses, shops and taxis but in general you will need to use Peso. Along the coast currency can be exchanged at banks and hotels as well as exchange offices (Casas de Cambio), but you will tend to get lower exchange rates at the banks and hotels. In the interior you will need to use the banks for all exchanges. Banks and exchanges offices will also exchange travellers cheques but a commission of 2 to 3% will be applied.
Alternatively ATMs are available in most cities and smaller towns. Major credit cards are accepted at most places in the major cities but may not be accepted in some of the smaller towns.
A VAT (Value added tax) is applied to all goods with most goods at 23% and some basic items at 14%. Luxury items such as alcohol, cigarettes, cars, and gasoline also incur and additional consumption tax and rates range from 0% to 100% with most products incurring 20%.
Visitors and non residents can get a refund of the VAT for merchandise produced in Uruguay, a refund form must be validated with a customs stamp upon departure.
What is Uruguay’s Weather?
Uruguay has a subtropical climate with hot summers and milder winters. The lack of mountains makes the area vulnerable to rapid changes in weather fonts so it is advisable to be prepared for changes in temperature and rain when going out.
The winter months from June to August experience strong winds, rain and cool temperatures with the July average being 11 degrees. Most visitors tend to visit over the summer months of December to February when it is hotter and drier with the January average temperature of 21 to 26 degrees. The interior hill country is slightly cooler than the coastal areas.
Culture of Uruguay
The locals in Uruguay are very friendly and welcome visitors. It is customary for Uruguayans to greet people with a kiss on the right cheek and a hug.
Their culture is an integration of the diverse range of immigrants that inhabited the area. The Spanish and Portuguese influences can be seen in the architecture throughout the main cities and towns and the ancient ruins from the early settlers. The Indigenous Indian rock art can be found at sites through the country. Agriculture is still an important part of the culture and visitors can stay at working ranches and drive live stock with the Gauchos (cowboys).
Uruguay is known for its beautiful handcrafted leathergoods and handmade woollen items, these can be found at art fairs and markets throughout the country. Music and dance is an integral part of the culture in the form of plays, concerts, exhibitions and festivals. Visitors can experience local music or dance at one of the theatres in the major cities. The Tango dance is very popular with the locals.
It is customary to tip 10% at restaurants. Taxis expect a tip by rounding up the bill. Hotel porters expect a tip of $US 1 per bag.
Bartering is not common but you may be able to strike a deal at markets.
The predominant religion is Roman Catholic.
Uruguayans do not enjoy discussing politics and can be sensitive about their relationship with Argentina.
Uruguay is not particularly open to its gay and lesbian communities in comparison to other South American Countries.
What Languages Are Spoken In Uruguay?
Spanish is spoken throughout Uruguay with some limited English in the tourist spots around Montevideo and Puna Del Este. On the Brazilian border locals speak Portuñol (or Brasilero) which is a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish.
The international code for dialling into Uruguay is +598.
Mobile coverage is good in the urban areas but patchy elsewhere so you should not rely on mobile coverage outside of the cities. The network is GSM and roaming agreements exist with some international phone companies so check with your operator prior to arriving to see if you can use your existing service, otherwise a SIM can be purchased within the major cities or the airport.
Internet cafes are available in Montevideo and the main towns. Some hotels in the major cities also offer broadband access.
A good local and international postal service is available with branches in the main cities and towns.
Uruguay Transport Options
The international airport is in the suburb of Carrasco, which is 18km east of central Montevideo. Direct flights are available from Miami, Europe, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Porto Alegre, Rio, and Florianolpolis. Flights from other locations will require a connection through Chile, Buenos Aires, Santiago , Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. International flights will incur a departure tax of US$17 for flights to Buenos Aires and US$31 to all other destinations.
Buses and taxis provide transport into the city from the airport. Taxis are safe and affordable and all cars have meters and fixed rates. A surcharge will be applied per item of baggage and for trips between 12pm & 6am. Taxi drivers expect a tip.
There is no official domestic service available due to the size of the country but charter flights are available out of Carrasco airport.
Within Montevideo there is a limited commuter train service and a special tourist train service. The tourist train is a good way to get to the sights in Montevideo but there is no set timetable for the service and you will have to listen to announcements at station to know when to board. There is no long distance or inter city rail service.
International bus services are available between Montevideo and Brazil, Argentina and Buenos Aires. The services from Argentina and Brazil offer a very high service level with on board catering. The bus to Buenos Aires is very slow and alternative forms of transport such as ferry are advisable. The domestic bus service is very good with extensive and frequent services between the cities. Bus travel in Uruguay is very safe.
Ferry services are available from Buenos Aires and Argentina to Montevideo and Colonia Del Sacramento.
Hire cars are available from the Carrasco airport and branches in the major cities. Cars drive on the right in Uruguay and drivers will require either an international licence or licence from their home country. The highways are in good condition but some are only 2 lanes wide so care should be taken when overtaking. A lot of the interior is agricultural with vast distances between towns so it is advisable to carry a mobile phone and to take note of emergency numbers on road signs in case of breakdown.
Uruguay Travel Tips
Smoking is not allowed in cinemas, theatres or on public transport.
Uruguay has strained relations with Argentina so be sensitive of this when around locals.
Uruguay Local Food
Uruguayan cuisine tends to be mild with little spice added to dishes. Barbecued meats are a central part of the diet but vegetarian dishes are available at most restaurants. A local speciality is “Gramajo”, a dish made from fried potatoes, eggs & ham. A “Chivito”, steak sandwich with tomato, lettuce, onion, eggs, ham, bacon, mozzarella cheese and mayonnaise is also popular.
The quality of meat through Uruguay is excellent due to the locally sourced produce and fish and seafood along the coast is very good.
The most popular desert is “Dulce de Leche” which is a kind of caramel milk desert.
Uruguayan wines are gaining a reputation for being of fine quality and are well worth a try. other local drinks are spirits such as “Cana” and “Grappa”, and “Yerba Mate” which is a bitter tea drunk by the locals (not available in restaurants).
There are no set licensing hours in Uruguay. Legal drinking age is 18 years.
Uruguay Local Timezones
Uruguay is East of the International Date Line, and 3 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT-3). In the summer months, Uruguay uses ‘daylight saving’, with clocks put forward one hour to GMT-2. Daylight saving begins on the second Sunday in October and ends on the second Sunday in March.
Uruguay uses a 220V/50Hz plug. Both the continental flat three-pin and round two-pin plugs can be used
Uruguay Dutyfree Limits
Duty free is available at the international airport.
If you’re 18 years of age or older, you’re allowed the following duty-free purchases:
400 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 500g of tobacco; two litres of alcohol; two items of electrical or optical equipment (including cameras); and up to 5kg of foodstuffs.
Goods up to a total of US$300 if arriving by sea or air and US$150 if arriving by land, are free of duty and tax, but goods in excess of this may attract both duty and tax.
Travellers under 18 years of age are allowed 50% of the above allowances.
All plants and plant derivatives being brought in must be accompanied by a sanitary certificate.