Earth : South America : Uruguay
Uruguay  is a country in South America. It has a south Atlantic Ocean coastline and lies between Argentina to the west and Brazil to the north. It is the second-smallest country in South America (after Suriname). Often called the Switzerland of South America not for geographical features but for a stable democracy and social benefits such as free education. In 2002 Uruguay faced one of its biggest economic crises which had very negative effects on crime, and although the activity levels in 2008 were at pre crisis levels, crime is sill relatively high, but still low for the region. Long a desired country for immigration, Uruguay has been suffering from high levels emigration for almost four decades, mainly of highly trained workers and people with high level studies (brain drain) seeking for better opportunities abroad.
Uruguay has a rich agricultural and civic history within its indigenous people. The dominant pre-20th century live stock driving techniques are still utilized in some areas, and are less visited tourist attractions than the pleasant beaches and city centers.
Uruguay is divided in 19 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento); Artigas, Canelones, Cerro Largo, Colonia, Durazno, Flores, Florida, Lavalleja, Maldonado, Montevideo, Paysandu, Rio Negro, Rivera, Rocha, Salto, San Jose, Soriano, Tacuarembo, Treinta y Tres
The name Uruguay means river of the colorful birds. It is related to the name Guyana: Arawak Guayana, land of many waters.
The country has a mostly low-lying landscape. Cerro Catedral, the country's highest point, is 514 m high.
Subtropical. Due to the absence of nearby mountains, which act as weather barriers, all locations are particularly vulnerable to rapid changes from weather fronts.
A Marxist urban guerrilla movement, the Tupamaros, launched in the late 1960s, led Uruguay's president to agree to military control of his administration in 1973. By the end of the year the rebels had been crushed, but the military continued to expand its hold throughout the government, with widespread torture of political opponents. Civilian rule was not restored until 1985. Uruguay's political and labor conditions are among the most free on the continent. In 2004, a leftist coalition which included the Tupamaros won elections which left them in control of both houses of congress, the presidency, and most city and regional governments.
Holders of passports (or MERCOSUR ID cards) from the following countries can enter without a visa: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, South Korea, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal , Dominican Republic, Czech Republic, Romania, South Africa, Seychelles, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela. Travellers from other countries should contact the local consular section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs . But usually Uruguay has its frontiers open to tourists and visitors from all countries and it is quite easy to get in or out.
There are other companies that also have flights to Montevideo. American Airlines has a non-stop flight from Miami to Montevideo. The flight is 4 times a week and runs all year round, the other three days it connects via Buenos Aires (EZE). Most long haul flights from Montevideo stop in Buenos Aires, Santiago, or Sao Paulo before going on.
Iberia, the Spanish airline also provides very regular flights between Europe and Uruguay, and LAN connects to Australia and New Zealand via Chile.
There are limited commuter train services around Montevideo. There are some tourist trains which do not have a fixed schedule. You need to find announcements for them at the Montevideo train station. There is no regular long distance train service. The most usual means of public transport is the bus (inside Montevideo inner buses and from Montevideo to other main cities of the country).
The highways are in good shape. Speed limit is 90 km/hour to 110 km/hour on most of them but it's not enforced. Most people go about 120 km/h and slow down a little when they see a highway patrol car! The main highway is the one that goes from Montevideo to Punta Del Este (main tourist city of Uruguay), it is double lane from both sides. However this is strange since most of the highways are single lane and therefore you should take precautions when driving long distances (a "long distance" in Uruguay is 500 km max), trying to pass another car. Always keep your distance from the car in front of you. Signaling is good enough. Take notice of the emergency phone numbers on the highways and keep them noted. Uruguay is not a dangerous country, but since it is mostly agricultural if your car breaks down it can take you a while for you to walk to a phone. It is recommended to carry a cell phone with you, cell phone coverage by Ancel (the state company and main provider) is pretty decent. In Uruguay drive on the right. You should have the "carta verde" licence to drive in Uruguay, you can find it in the embassy.
There are many buses running from the Brazilian cities of Porto Alegre, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Bus service is very extended and there are many services that run from Montevideo to different cities across the country. Terminal Tres Cruces , Agencia Central and Terminal Ciudad Vieja are the three main hubs. Travel by bus is very safe. International Services are available to Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, (Brazil), most of the Argentinian Provinces (Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Mendoza, Entre Rios), Asuncion (Paraguay) and Santiago de Chile (Chile). The service is catered and buses have an outstanding level of service, much better than the average European service.
Bus service to Buenos Aires has been made much longer due to the ongoing conflict between Uruguay and Argentina over a cellulose plant built on the uruguayan side of the boarder at Frey Bentos. Because of the conflict the bridge has been blocked, and will remain blocked until the conflict is resolved. For this reason it's much better to take the ferry from colonia rather than do the whole trip via bus.
The Buquebus  ferry service operates between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and both Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo, Uruguay. Some services continue from there to Punta del Este. For the Buquebus-Ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento there are two options. One takes three hours and the other one hour to get there. A ticket for the one-hour ferry is about 124A$ (07/2008, 26EUR, 40US$).
Uruguay has an extensive internal bus system. Non-local / departmental buses leave from the Tres Cruces station which also serves the international buses. The buses are frequent and many companies serve the same routes.
Taxis in Uruguay are safe and fairly affordable, costing about $2 USD per km. All taxis in Uruguay use meters and have fixed costs.
In rural areas hitch hiking is fairly common and as safe as hitching is anywhere. Uruguay has the lowest level of violent crime in Latin America outside Cuba. If you are female don't hitch hike alone. Play it safe but it's more likely that the car is going to crash (1 in 100 chance) then something bad is going to happen.
Spanish is spoken everywhere. The pronunciation and the use of the vos pronoun instead of tu is practically identical to the Spanish variety spoken in Argentina. Examples of "vos" and the different verbs forms can be found at Voseo Spanish .
Portuñol (or Brasilero) is a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish used on the Brazilian border.
Amerindian traits can be found everywhere in Uruguayan culture, from cuisine to vocabulary.(But there is no amerindian population left)
Most Uruguayans living in the cities have studied some English at school but do not actually speak it. Outside Montevideo and Punta del Este there are few English speakers. You will find English spoken in most tourist spots (shopping centers and in Punta del Este) and some restaurants will probably have English-speaking staff.
One of the best experiences to have while your stay at Uruguay is to watch a game between Penarol and Nacional, two of the most followed football teams in the nation.
The Uruguayan currency is the peso. Prices are often quoted using the U$ symbol, which may be easily confused with the US$ (US dollar) symbol. As of January 2010,
Prices in Uruguay are considerably lower than in the US or Western Europe and comparable (if a little higher) to other Latin American countries.
Popular items to buy include yerba mate gourds and antiques.
Prices: Uruguayan cuisine is typical for temperate countries, high on butter, fat, and grains, low on spice. If you are from the Mediterranean, you will find it bland, but if you come from the UK or Russia or the Midwestern US, you won't have trouble getting used to it.
There are many public markets where you can get a hundred varieties of meat. Vegetarians can order ravioli just about anywhere.
Empanadas (hand-sized meat or cheese pies) make an excellent portable, inexpensive, and delicious snack or lunch. You can find them easily at many corner bakeries.
At bars the local specialty is gramajo, a dish made of fried potatoes, eggs, and ham. If you ask they can make it without the ham. One dish that should not be missed is chivito, a heart-attack-on-a-platter sandwich that combines a combination of excellent Uruguayan meat, tomato, lettuce, onion, eggs, ham, bacon, mozzarella cheese and mayonnaise and fries. The meat is excellent, "asado" is typical from Uruguay (try it at the "del Puerto" market, in Montevideo); the fish and other sea food is good.
For desserts, dulce de leche, a kind of caramel, is found in all manner of confections, from ice cream to alfajores (dulce de leche-filled cookie sandwiches).
Yerba Mate is widely drunk on the streets, but can hardly be ordered in restaurants. You may have to buy a package at a super mercado and make your own. The drinking gourds are widely available and range from economical to super-luxe silver and horn. Yerba Mate is a social drink. If you are with a group of Uruguayans they will probably not offer you any because they assume that foreigners do not like the bitter taste. If you try some it will make everybody happy.
Uruguay is also acquiring a reputation for its fine wines, especially those made from the Tannat grape.
For nature lovers, birdwatchers, and those seeking a respite from the fast-paced world, there are many "estancias" in serene and peaceful environments, surrounded by many species of native and migrating birds, which offer an unique opportunity to reconnect with nature.
There are many more beach houses to rent along the coast than actual hotel rooms. They are plentiful, and outside the high season affordable. During the first two weeks of January it's impossible to find anything, every cottage and hotel room is booked months in advance.
There are numerous English language schools which are looking for native speakers as teachers. They can arrange papers or pay teachers under the table. The pay is not good, but enough to live on in Montevideo. Work permits are not particularly difficult to obtain and Uruguay lets you convert a tourist visa to a work visa without leaving the country. Residency visas without permission to work simply require you prove access to $500 USD a month. Work permits are not particularly hard to get.
Crime may be a problem in Uruguay. Precautions should be taken. Montevideo provides the highest opportunity for a run-in with pickpockets. However, Uruguay is one of the most secure countries in the region.
In an emergency, call 911 or 999.
Tap water is safe to drink in all major cities. The Hospital Britanico near the Tres Cruces central bus terminal has European-quality service and is clean and efficient. Just don't make any unwise drinking decisions.
Uruguay is a socially progressive country. Women got the vote in Uruguay 12 years before France. Uruguay is a secular state unlike Argentina, Chile or Paraguay; the Uruguayan state has not supported any religion since 1917. The population is mainly Catholic, but not very practicing.
Uruguay is not particularly open to its gay and lesbian communities in comparison to Brazil. There are a few gay and lesbian bars in Montevideo and in Punta del Este, but outside those two cities there is no public "queer" community. The only public monument to sexual diversity is in Ciudad Vieja (the old city). However, it was the first Latin American country to pass a civil union law and is considered to be safe and welcoming to gay and lesbian visitors. Civil unions are legal in Uruguay, which convey the full rights of marriage, and there is currently a law in the works to legalize full gay and transgendered marriage. Even in rural areas gay travelers and expats experience little overt discrimination.
Uruguayans are somewhat sensitive about their relationships with Argentina; avoid comparing them to Argentines. The similarly sounding country Paraguay has very little in common with Uruguay.