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).
The name Uruguay means river of the colorful birds. It is related to the name Guyana: Arawak Guayana, land of many waters.
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. Although economic activity by 2008 had returned to pre-crisis levels, crime remains relatively high compared to historical levels, but is still low by South American standards. Long a desired country for immigration, Uruguay has been suffering from high levels of emigration for almost four decades, mainly of highly trained workers and people with high-level studies ("brain drain") seeking better opportunities abroad.
Uruguay has a rich agricultural and civic history among 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. 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.
Uruguay was discovered by Spanish Adelantados in the ends of the XVI century, and was part of the United Provinces of the River Plate until 1811. (Although plata literally means "silver" in Spanish, "plate" is the traditional and correct translation as it was used as a synonym for precious metals up until the 19th century.) When Buenos Aires expelled the last Viceroy, Baltasar Cisneros, the capital moved to Montevideo. The rebel navy sailed from Buenos Aires in an attempt to overcome the Spanish troops in that city, aided by the local rebel troops.
When finally Montevideo was freed from Spain, Uruguay intended to secede from Buenos Aires, only to be invaded by the Brazilian Empire, which started the Argentine-Brazilian war in 1813. After a variety of confusing twists, the war eventually ended in a stalemate. With the assistance of mediation by the British government, both warring countries agreed to end their territorial claims on the country in 1833, giving birth to the new Republic. This led to a long history of British influence in Uruguay (including the habit of driving on the left) which ended only with World War II and the collapse of the British Empire.
Because the entire first two centuries of the country's history were dominated by the struggle to establish a national identity for the Banda Oriental (eastern coast of the River Plate) independent of Buenos Aires, Uruguayans to this day are very sensitive about their country's relationship with Argentina.
The Argentinian Civil War which ravaged that country during the 19th century was not a stranger to Uruguay, which soon gave birth to two opposing parties, the Whites (liberals) and the Reds (traditionalists) that eventually also led to a Uruguayan Civil War that went on in various hot and cold phases until the beginnings of the twentieth century. The story goes that the parties' colors originally came from armbands allegedly torn from the Uruguayan flag, but the conservatives switched to red armbands when they realized that red faded less quickly in the sun than blue.
In the early 20th century, President Jose Batlle y Ordenez oversaw Uruguay's modernization and industrialization, and was also able to squash the remnants of caudillismo political culture from the Spanish colonial era which to the present continue to cause trouble in countries like Argentina. This is why Uruguay since Batlle's presidency has enjoyed much lower levels of corruption than the rest of South America.
However, the simmering tension between the left and right wings of Uruguayan politics persisted. From 1954 to 1967, Uruguay tried an unusual solution borrowed from Switzerland: a collegiate Executive Office in which a different member was designated President every year. In this way, Uruguay became the "Latin American Switzerland" for a while, acting as model of democracy and banking liberties until a military coup ended all this.
A Marxist urban guerrilla movement, the Tupamaros, launched in the late 1960s, led Uruguay's president Jose Marie Sanguinetti to "agree" to military control of his administration in 1973. (They returned the favor by firing him from his job in 1976 and appointing the first of several puppet presidents.) By the end of 1974 the rebels had been brutally crushed (and Tupamaro leader and future president Jose Mujica was imprisoned at the bottom of a well), but the military continued to expand its hold over the government, by engaging in widespread torture and disappearances of alleged insurgents and anyone unfortunate enough to be perceived as opponents of the regime. Civilian and democratic rule was not restored until 1985.
Today, Uruguay's political and labor conditions are among the most free on the continent. In 2004, a leftist coalition (the Frente Amplio or Broad Front) which included the Tupamaros won elections which left them in control of both houses of congress, the presidency, and most city and regional governments. In 2009, former guerrilla leader Mujica was elected president, although he continued to lead a modest lifestyle of growing flowers on his farm outside Montevideo, driving an old Volkswagen Beetle, and donating 90% of his salary to charity.
About half of the country's population is crammed into the Montevideo metro area and a strip of sprawl reaching east to Punta del Este. The rest are distributed among the small towns, farms, and ranches in the interior.
Beaches on the Atlantic Ocean:
Birdwatching in Rocha touristic "estancias".
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, Russia, South Africa, Seychelles, Serbia, 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 borders open to tourists and visitors from all countries and it is quite easy to get in or out. Citizens of India have to apply for tourist visas but this visa is issued gratis. The same applies to Uruguayans visiting India. This is because of the reciprocity that India shares with a lot of countries. The same applies to India-Argentina as well.
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 São 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.
Since 2011, Copa Airlines has offered daily flights between its hub in Panama City, Panama and Montevideo.
Uruguay never had much of a railway network, and in 1985, the National Transport Plan recommended discontinuing the remaining passenger lines and focusing on freight trains only. Today, there are very limited commuter train services linking Montevideo to some of the northern suburbs. 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).
Uruguay is linked to Argentina via bridges over the Rio Uruguay at Fray Bentos, Paysandu, Salto, and Bella Union. Uruguay is also linked to Brazil at Bella Union, Artigas, Rivera, Cerrillada, Acegua, Rio Branco, and Chuy.
There are many buses running from the Brazilian cities of Porto Alegre, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The country features extensive bus networks 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 bus service is 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 or North American service.
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 to Montevideo for the three-hour ferry is about 147 A$ (03/2010) and 190 A$ (03/2010) for the fast one.
Colonia Express  operates between Buenos Aires and Colonia by one hour ferry and then by bus to Montevideo. Ticket prices to Montevideo from 149 A$ (03/2010) or even cheaper in special web offers.
Seacat Colonia  operates as well between Buenos Aires and Colonia by one hour ferry and then by bus to Montevideo and Punta del Este. Ticket prices to Montevideo from 142 A$ (03/2010).
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, safe, comfortable and many companies serve the same routes.
To rent a car in Uruguay, residents of many countries (including the United States) need only their driver's license, passport, and credit card; only residents of certain countries must obtain an International Driver's Permit. As in most developing countries, vehicle imports and gasoline are both heavily taxed. Therefore, most Uruguayans prefer to buy cars with fuel-efficient manual transmissions, which in turn means that vehicles with automatic transmissions are rarer and much more expensive. If you can drive a manual transmission, you are looking at about USD $50/day and up, while those who can only drive automatic transmissions (primarily residents of Canada and the United States) are looking at USD $90/day and up for a car rental.
It will cost USD $60 and up to fill up the gas tank just on a regular small sedan like a Chevy Aveo. Traditionally, the sole gasoline retailer in Uruguay was the state-owned monopoly, ANCAP (which also sells alcohol and Portland cement). Today, ANCAP competes with Petrobras and Esso. All gas stations are full service, so you will need to know enough rudimentary Spanish to tell the attendant to fill it up.
Driving in Uruguay is very similar to European driving, with less traffic lights and lots of roundabouts. North Americans accustomed to wild big-city driving (New York or Los Angeles) will not find it too difficult to adapt to. As in many developing countries and parts of Europe, Uruguayans have a tendency to split lanes or make their own lane. Since manual transmissions take longer to spin up, Uruguayans like to jump the green about a second in advance, which means you should never run yellow lights if you can brake safely. Many intersections are marked only with yield signs. If you don't see a sign, treat it as a yield. If you see a stop sign ("Pare"), it means stop, please stop, probably because it's a blind intersection and someone was killed there.
Uruguay has not yet implemented sensor loops, so all traffic lights are on timers and you will have to sit there regardless of whether the cross-street has traffic. (Some local drivers will just run the red after sitting for a few minutes if cross-traffic is nonexistent.) Right turns on red after stop are not allowed. Headlights must be turned on at all times while moving.
Like much of Latin America, Uruguay has a fondness for giant speed bumps, even in the middle of major roads. These are signed well in advance (especially the ones on major highways) and require drivers to brake to 20 kp/h or less; failure to brake in time will send one's car flying.
Uruguayan law requires drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel while moving, which means you cannot use a handheld cell phone while driving.
The speed limit ranges between 75 km/h to 110 km/h on most intercity highways, with 90 km/h standard on most stretches. Uruguay does not have any long-distance freeways, expressways, or motorways. Some short stretches of Routes 1 and 5 to the west of Montevideo have been upgraded to freeways.
Look out for pedestrians and slow-moving traffic in the roadway, especially in rural areas and poorer suburbs. Because automobiles are so expensive, many Uruguayans get around solely by foot, taxi, scooter, motorcycle, or bus. Like many developing countries, Uruguay lacks the resources to properly maintain sidewalks in poor neighborhoods, so sidewalks often have cracks, potholes, or worse. Therefore, you will see pedestrians frequently walking in the street even when there appears to be a sidewalk or footpath next to the road.
Uruguayan national highways are well-maintained, easy to drive, and in excellent condition; they are maintained by the private Highway Corporation of Uruguay (CVU) under the supervision of the National Highway Directorate (DNV). CVU charges a regular toll (currently 55 pesos for a regular auto) at toll plazas strategically placed on highways throughout the country. Transitions between CVU/DNV and local department highway maintenance are always marked with large signs (if the jarring change in the quality of the pavement doesn't already make it obvious).
The most important long-distance highway in Uruguay is the Ruta Interbalneria linking Montevideo to Punta Del Este, which is a four-lane road with a broad median. However, it has been built as what people from western North America call an expressway; that is, cross-traffic still crosses at-grade at intersections rather than at interchanges with overpasses and underpasses. Most other highways are two-lane highways.
It is nearly impossible to obtain paper road maps of Uruguay outside of the country. However, ANCAP sells an excellent map package at all its gas stations which includes three maps. Two are large foldable sheet maps. One is an overview-level highway map, which has the entire Mercosur bloc on one side and all of Uruguay on the other. The other is a detailed street map of Montevideo. The third map is a booklet with detailed street maps of all departmental capital cities and several other major cities, including Punta del Este.
Google Maps, Bing Maps from Microsoft, and OpenStreetMap all have good coverage of Montevideo. Although there are now mobile apps available with which one can download OpenStreetMap data in advance to one's phone, OpenStreetMap's coverage of areas outside of Montevideo and Punta del Este is still incomplete. Another important quirk to keep in mind is that only online map services accurately depict the one-way streets common in Montevideo and other Uruguayan cities and towns. Virtually all Uruguayan paper road maps (including the ANCAP maps and the official maps from the Ministry of Tourism and Sport) lack arrows to show the direction of one-way streets.
Take notice of the emergency phone numbers prominently posted on the highways and keep them in mind. Uruguay is not a dangerous country, but since it is mostly agricultural and very sparsely populated between the towns, if your car breaks down it can take you a long time to walk to the nearest pay phone. It is recommended to carry a cell phone with you. Ancel is the state company and the main provider.
Taxis in Uruguay are safe and fairly affordable, costing about $2 USD per km. All taxis in Uruguay use meters and have fixed costs.
Remise is a private sedan service, it´s most conforable and professional than the taxi, drivers can speak English and wear suits. You can rent by hour or point to point with advance booking cost by hour around U$S 16; see http://www.bybremises.com . Also you can use it to make ariport transfer, which costs around U$S 37.
In rural areas hitch hiking is fairly common and as safe as hitching is anywhere. Uruguay has the lowest level of violent crime in Latin America outside Cuba. If you are female don't hitch hike alone. Play it safe but it's more likely that the car is going to crash (1 in 100 chance) than something bad is going to happen.
Spanish is spoken everywhere. The pronunciation and the use of the vos pronoun instead of tú is practically identical to the Spanish variety spoken in Argentina.
Portuñol (or Brasilero) is a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish used on the Brazilian border.
Amerindian traits can be found everywhere in Uruguayan culture, from cuisine to vocabulary.(But there is no amerindian population left)
Althought most Uruguayans have studied English at school, they do not actually speak or use it. However, some Uruguayans have studied English at private institutes, so they can speak it well. Outside Montevideo and Punta del Este there are few English speakers. You will find English spoken in most tourist spots (shopping centers and in Punta del Este) and some restaurants will probably have English-speaking staff.
If you want to study Spanish in a language academy, you may want to check out the Grupo de Turismo Idiomático, a private sector initiative supported by the Ministry of Tourism.
One of the best experiences to have while your stay at Uruguay is to watch a game between Nacional and Peñarol, the two most followed football teams in the nation.
The Uruguayan currency is the Peso. Prices are often quoted using the U$ symbol, which may be easily confused with the US$ (US dollar) symbol. * US$1 = U$21.59 (Uruguayan Pesos)
Uruguay is like many developing countries in that the retail industry is still dominated by small specialized shops, small supermarkets, and small, crowded shopping malls. There are no true department stores in the country remotely comparable to the giant stores found in New York or Paris. In the entire country, there is only one true hypermarket, Geant (operated a joint venture between local chain Disco and the French chain Geant), that constitutes a reasonably decent facsimile of hypermarkets elsewhere (down to the huge parking lot, high ceiling and wide aisles). Uruguay does not have the big box "category killer" stores for which the U.S. is famous (and which have been copied to a lesser extent in Australia and Europe).
Uruguay does not manufacture most consumer goods locally. Most items in the stores have either been imported from China, or from Argentina or Brazil. Even worse, Uruguay charges high import tariffs and high value-added tax (IVA) of about 23% on virtually everything. Accordingly, most goods cost as much as in Australia, Canada, or Europe (or higher) and are much more expensive than in the U.S.
Some parts of Uruguayan stores feature numerous high-quality brands familiar to any North American, like Dove soap, Colgate toothpaste, Listerine mouthwash, Del Monte canned fruit, and so on. There are other brands with familiar logos but strange names; for example, Coca-Cola's South American juice brand is del Valle, which has a logo similar to Coca-Cola's North American juice brand, Minute Maid.
However, Uruguay is not a major priority for most other brands found in the developed world, which means their products are rare or nonexistent here. Locally available brands (as noted, imported mostly from China) tend to be of poor quality. Because the Uruguayan market is so small and most Uruguayans are still relatively poor compared to consumers elsewhere, Uruguayan retailers lack the bargaining power of their North American or European counterparts. In turn, Chinese factories often sell their highest-quality product lines to the dominant First World markets and send their mediocre-quality product lines to Uruguay and other small developing countries. For example, while American and European consumers are accustomed to advertisements for luxury bedding made of 700+ thread count textiles woven from Egyptian or pima cotton, luxury bedding in Uruguay consists of 250+ thread count textiles woven from cotton/polyester blends.
Popular items to buy include yerba mate gourds, antiques, wool textiles, and leather goods: jackets, purses, wallets, belts, etc.
Prices: Uruguayan cuisine is typical for temperate countries, high on butter, fat, and grains, low on spice. It has an important italian influence due to the strong Italian immigration. If you are from the Mediterranean, you will find it bland, but if you come from the Northern Europe, Russia or the 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, almost all the uruguayans know how to make it (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), or Ricardito, a famous uruguayan dessert (avaiable in all supermarkets).
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.
Historically, Uruguay has enjoyed a very low rate of violent crime compared to its neighbors, with the stress on the word violent. Thus, Argentines and Brazilians traditionally go on vacation in Uruguay (even though Rio de Janeiro has far more beautiful natural scenery) because they love not having to worry about being carjacked, kidnapped, or murdered while on vacation. Even today, Uruguay is still relatively free of those types of crimes.
However, this does not mean that Uruguay is crime free. The major differences are that most Uruguayan crimes are either nonconfrontational or do not involve the gratuitous use of firearms. Montevideo in particular has seen its crime rate gradually rise since the severe 2001-2002 financial crisis, and now has moderately high levels of theft, burglary, and robbery similar to those found in major U.S. cities. Fortunately, Punta del Este and most rural areas continue to enjoy relatively low crime levels. As long as you take basic precautions in Montevideo (i.e., use a money belt and/or hotel safe for valuables), you will have a very safe trip.
In an emergency, call 911 or 999. For firefighters, call, 104.
Tap water is safe to drink in all major cities. The Hospital Britanico (British Hospital), SUMMUM and BlueCross & BlueShield Uruguay have an European-quality service and they are clean and efficient. Asociación Española, Medica Uruguaya and CASMU are the largest healthcare companies in Uruguay and they have a European-quality level. 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.
The national landline telephone monopoly is Antel, which provides all public pay phones and is also the sole provider of landline Internet service.
Although Antel pay phones only take Antel's proprietary magnetic cards, it is possible to use international calling cards to call home by taking the phone off the hook, waiting for a dial tone, and dialing the correct access code. However, note that many public pay phones are not properly maintained. If you do not hear a touch tone emitted for each key, that means the phone is defective and you must try another one.
Uruguay's country code is 509. Montevideo and suburbs have phone numbers beginning in two, while the rest of the country has phone numbers beginning with 3 or 4.
The national cellphone company is Ancel, which competes with two private companies, Movistar and Claro. All three have numerous kiosks and stores throughout the country.
The national postal service is Correos Uruguay. Most of their post offices are very hard to find (the government is trying to save money by moving them to cheaper locations) and are open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday; some are open from 9 am to 12 pm on Saturdays.
Letterboxes for depositing outbound mail are made out of blue translucent plastic and are extremely difficult to find outside of post offices. However, Correos licenses many retailers, such as pharmacies, as postal agents, and letterboxes can sometimes be found around those agents' premises as well.
Antel is the only provider of landline Internet service, while Dedicado is the main provider of fixed wireless Internet service. WiFi is ubiquitous and can be found in virtually all decent hotels as well as many restaurants, cybercafes, and shopping malls.
Antel WiFi hotspots are normally available only to Antel landline Internet subscribers, unless you are in a place with complimentary free service like Carrasco International Airport, in which case a public username and password for free access are prominently posted. Dedicado WiFi hotspots are free for everyone.