Being one of South America's smallest countries, the Republic ofUruguay is largely overshadowed on the tourism map by its morepopular neighbours, Brazil and Argentina. That said, this largelyflat destination of rolling plains and hilly meadows is every bitas enticing to sun chasers. Visitors can expect fine sandy beaches,an atmospheric capital (Montevideo) and some of the world'scheapest and most delectable steaks.
The cobbled old town of Colonia del Sacramento adds anotherdimension to the country's charm. Flowering jasmine is a city-widefeature in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors should alsoventure to Uruguay's cattle ranches, where rugged gauchos (cowboys)labour on the open plains. By contrast, travellers seeking actionshould head to the upscale international beach resort of Punta delEste.
Otherwise, Uruguay is politically stable and has one of thelowest crime rates in South America. Its welcoming people andsultry summer sunshine make it a definite bucket-listcandidate.
Travellers visit Uruguay to rough it with cowboys, exploreculturally rich cities, and unwind on the continent's mostexclusive beaches. They're rarely disappointed with the attractionson offer.
Visitors can sample the (cowboy) lifestyle at the country's (ranch-houses), and ride green plains intime-honoured fashion. On the cultural side, Montevideo's old town,Ciudad Vieja, offers a taste of Uruguay's historical architecture.Travellers who relish this sort of experience and want more shouldventure to Colonia del Sacramento, where they'll enjoy a generoushelping of old-world charm. Located just outside Montevideo, thecity is an excellent day-trip option.
Visitors should also try the country's beef, which is among theworld's best. The coastal resort town of Punta del Este is a mustfor anyone seeking luxury, sun-filled action. By contrast, Puntadel Diablo is home to Uruguay's backpacker beach scene.
Set under a vast, wrought-iron structure reminiscent of oldEuropean railway stations, Montevideo's port market is a livelyaffair. Historically, it has been a hive of trading activity since1868. Today, it houses some of the city's finest steakhouses andseafood eateries.
It's a great place for people-watching, exploring thelabyrinthine alleys crammed with stalls, watching buskers andentertainers, and generally taking in the city's atmosphere.
For those interested in Montevideo's past, the Museo HistoricoNacional is a good place to begin. Located in the Old City, it'smade up of old houses where national heroes once dwelt.
The museum's collection traces the history of Uruguay frombefore its colonisation by Europeans up to the mid-20th century.History buffs will find it interesting.
Montevideo's showpiece plaza contains some of the city's mostimpressive architecture, including its best-known landmark, thePalacio Salvo. Designed by Italian architect, Mario Palanti, andcompleted in 1927 or 1928, it was originally intended as a hotel.It has never fulfilled that purpose. Instead, it is home to anelaborate collection of offices and residential apartments.
Once the tallest building in South America, it was built on thesite where Gerardo Matos Rodriguez wrote La Cumparsita: one of themost famous and recognisable tangos of all time. The Plaza alsocontains a statue of Uruguay's national hero, General Artigas.
Uruguay's vibrant waterfront capital is a collage of modernskyscrapers, art deco and colonial buildings. Visitors can expect arich cultural experience in one of Latin America's safest, mostlaidback cities.
The Old Town is a useful starting point for tourists. Importanthistorical attractions include Plaza Independencia (IndependenceSquare), Teatro Solis (Solis Theatre) and Palacio Salvo (SalvoPalace). Visitors could also walk along La Rambla. It stretches 10miles (16km) and separates the city from the sea. Along with beinga wonderful way to enjoy sunrise or sunset, it's a great place tospark up conversations with locals. Montevideo's many beaches are amust for hot days.
On the entertainment side, Montevideo can accommodate a varietyof tastes. Indeed, beachfront clubbers will receive the same lovingreception as dancers who fancy warm nights in cosy tango bars.Theatre lovers should visit the city's elegant olderestablishments.
From a culinary perspective, Montevideo has been described asslow-paced and old-fashioned. Its food scene is developing, though,thanks to a wave of trend-savvy millennials who are opening uprestaurants. That said, the city's beef is timeless, given itsquality. Travellers should visit the Mercado del Puerto (PortMarket) for restaurants that specialise in grilled meat, sausageand seafood.
Montevideo's ancient city is a vibrant, fascinating district ofold buildings and cobbled streets. Weekends see dancers andmusicians gather for impromptu performances, while artists haveturned many of the decaying, ground-floor apartments into studiosand galleries. The old iron gates and street lamps are veryphotogenic.
All told, visitors will find a wonderful juxtaposition of oldand new, making Ciudad Vieja the purest embodiment of Montevideo'sevolution.
Built between 1929 and 1930, the Estadio Centenario commemoratesthe centenary of Uruguay's first constitution. It also hosted thefirst-ever FIFA World Cup final, in which Uruguay beat Argentina byfour goals to two.
Listed by FIFA as one of the world's Classic Stadiums, theEstadio Centenario has become a bucket-list item for many footballfans. Indeed, thousands of tourists visit every year, either toattend a match, or to enjoy the fascinating Museo del Fútbol(Football Museum) housed within the stadium itself.
Visitors should do everything they can to attend an AtléticoPeñarol home fixture. Football, as the saying goes, is a way oflife in Uruguay, and watching a game with 90,000 passionate localsis an amazing cultural experience.
Montevideo's climate is mild, with an average annual temperatureof around 55°F (13°C). During the height of summer (January),Montevideo's average temperatures range from 64°F (18°C) to 82°F(28°C), while winters (June to August) are much cooler and tend tobe wet. Average temperatures range between 45°F (7°C) and 53°F(12°C). Autumn is the wettest season.
Given its temperate climate, Montevideo is a pleasantdestination at any time of year, though summer and early spring areprobably the best times to go.
Uruguay enjoys a subtropical climate. Temperatures can soarduring the summer months (December to February), particularly alongthe Rio de la Plata, which separates the country from Argentina.The interior and Atlantic coast are slightly cooler. Strong windsand rainstorms can occur between late April and November.
The official currency of Uruguay is the Uruguayan Peso (UYU),but some tourist businesses, retailers and taxi drivers also acceptUS Dollars. The peso is divided into 100 centésimos. Currency canbe exchanged at banks and Money Exchange Shops, which offer similarexchange rates. It is important to always keep some change.Exchange rates tend to fluctuate frequently. There are plenty ofATMs available in shopping centres and attached to banks incommercial areas, but not all cards are accepted. Credit cards,including Visa and MasterCard, are widely accepted by shops andrestaurants.
The official language is Spanish.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. There arevarious types of plugs in use, including ‘Schuko’ plugs andreceptacles with side grounding contacts, and the plugs commonlyused in Australia.
US citizens require a valid passport, but a visa is not requiredfor a stay of up to three months.
All British nationals require a valid passport for travel toUruguay. A visa is not required for a stay of up to three monthsfor all British passport holders.
Canadians require a valid passport, but no visa is required fora stay of up to three months.
Australians require a valid passport, but a visa is not requiredfor a stay of up to three months.
South Africans require a valid passport, but a visa is notrequired for a stay of up to three months.
Irish nationals require a valid passport, but a visa is notrequired for a stay of up to three months.
US citizens require a valid passport, but a visa is not requiredfor a stay of up to three months.
New Zealand nationals require a valid passport, but no visa isrequired for a stay of up to three months.
All visitors to Uruguay must hold an onward or return ticket anddocuments for their next destination. It is highly recommended thatpassports have at least six months' validity remaining after theintended date of departure. Immigration officials often applydifferent rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.
A hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for visitors toUruguay, and a yellow fever vaccination is required for thosearriving from infected areas. Travellers are advised to takeprecautions against mosquito bites due to a high risk of denguefever.
Medical facilities in Uruguay are adequate for general problems,with 24-hour emergency care available at the British Hospital inMontevideo. Most doctors and hospitals expect payment in cash.Serious medical problems require air evacuation to a country withbetter medical facilities, therefore comprehensive travel healthinsurance is strongly recommended. Pharmacies supply most drugs andmedications imported from the USA or Europe, many of which areavailable without a prescription. Visitors are advised to takesensible precautions regarding the consumption of food and water;bottled or purified water should be used, and food should be eatenwashed, peeled and well cooked.
Tipping is discretionary in Uruguay, but a gratuity of betweenfive percent and 10 percent of the bill is usually offered inrestaurants. Rounding up the bill is sufficient for taxi drivers,and hotel porters receive about US$1 per bag.
Visits to Uruguay are generally trouble free, with a low risk ofterrorism and no political instability to speak of. There areoccurrences of street crime in Montevideo, but police patrols areactive and act as a good deterrent. Uruguay, in fact, is renownedfor having very little crime by South American standards. Visitorsshould, however, take sensible precautions with their valuables andwhen using ATMs, and be attentive particularly while driving atnight.
Uruguay is a secular and progressive state, and is welcoming togay and lesbian visitors. In conversation, Uruguayans are directand stand close together, and it is considered rude to back away.Close acquaintances may greet with a kiss on the cheek, but ahandshake will suffice for introductions.
While gender equality is progressive in Uruguay, women mayexperience a fair amount of attention. Though largely ignored, thestaring and comments can, at times, border on harassment. Visitorsshould avoid making critical comments about the country, orcomparing it to Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay.
Uruguayans enjoy discussing politics and answering questionsabout their country. Meetings tend to be highly formal but seldomstart on time. Most businessmen speak English, but it is good tosuggest the hiring of an interpreter as a sign ofconsideration.
The international direct dialling code for Uruguay is +598. Thegovernment-operated telephone service is efficient. Area codes arein use for cities, e.g. (0)2 for Montevideo. ANTEL is the majormobile phone operator and free wifi is widespread.
Visitors to Uruguay do not need to pay customs duty on fourcartons of cigarettes, six litres of distilled alcoholic beverages,5kg of foodstuffs and goods up to US$500 if bought at the entryduty free shops. Certain foodstuffs, plants, narcotics,pornographic material and explosives are strictly prohibited. Liveanimals, endangered species, medication and large sums of money arerestricted. Visitors should check with official government sourcesbefore bringing such items in to the country.
Ministry of Tourism, Montevideo: www.turismo.gub.uy
Embassy of Uruguay, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 3311313.
Embassy of Uruguay, London, United Kingdom (also responsible forIreland): +44 20 7584 4200.
Embassy of Uruguay, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 234 2727.
Embassy of Uruguay, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 362 6522.
Embassy of Uruguay, ACT, Australia (also responsible for NewZealand): +61 2 6273 9100.
United States Embassy, Montevideo: (+598) (2) 1770 2000.
British Embassy, Montevideo: +598 2 622 3630/3650.
Canadian Embassy, Montevideo: +598 2 902 2030.
South African Embassy, Montevideo: +598 2 601 7591.
Honorary Consul of Australia, Montevideo: +598 2 901 0743.
New Zealand Consulate, Montevideo: +598 2 916 0900.
Buses run all over the city until around 11pm daily, and arecheap and easy to use. Visitors can buy tickets directly from thedriver or conductor, who can also offer advice on routes anddestinations. Taxis are metered and plentiful.
Otherwise, locals are generally friendly and willing to pointtravellers to various sights and attractions. A Spanish phrase bookis useful for this reason.
Given its bargain shopping, beautiful beaches, atmospheric oldtown and excellent restaurants, Montevideo is well worth adding tothe bucket list. All things considered, it's every bit ascaptivating as Latin America's more famous capitals.
Its gorgeous beach front will draw sun chasers, while theNational History Museum will offer insight into Uruguay's linkswith Spain and Portugal. Visitors must also venture to CiudadVieja: the city's oldest area. More specifically, they'll find manyof Montevideo's most striking landmarks in Plaza Independencia.
Football fans should take in a match at the frenetic EstadioCentenario. Foodies must enjoy Uruguay's world-class beef at one ofthe capital's restaurants. Otherwise, the charming old city ofColonia del Sacramento is only two hours' drive away, making it aperfect day trip.
Punta del Este holiday resort is a favourite destination amongupper-class South Americans. Located on Uruguay's southern tip, itspristine, sandy beaches, yacht marinas, luxury hotels and holidaycondominiums scream money.
Thousands of wealthy visitors arrive during the summer holidayseason, when sophisticated shops, clubs and restaurants do most oftheir business. The off-season sees many of Punta del Este'sestablishments close, transforming the area into something like asleepy coastal town.
The historic town of Colonia del Sacramento is a must-see.Situated on the River Plate, it is the country's oldest settlementand a celebrated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many visitors ferryacross from Buenos Aires, which sits almost opposite the city.
Founded in 1680, the quaint town is home to cobbled streets,brightly coloured houses, vibrant bars and excellent restaurants.Gift shoppers will enjoy its art and craft shops.
Regarding access, Colonia is about two hours from Montevideo byroad. Local operators offer day trips.
Visitors can sample the gaucho (cowboy) lifestyle at Uruguay'sestancias (ranch-houses). Fishing, star-gazing, occasionalbonfires, horse-riding excursions across the country's pampas(grasslands), and visits to tanneries are all part of theexperience. Options range from basic ranch-houses, where visitorsbreakfast on galleta de campana (a type of biscuit that lasts for aweek), to establishments with pools, saunas and libraries.
All in all, Estancias are an integral aspect of the country'sidentity. Along with a taste for Asado (barbeque) and life in thesaddle, visitors will come away with an intimate connection toUruguay's culture.