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).
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
Beaches on the Atlantic Ocean (Punta del diablo, Fortaleza de Santa Teresa, Cabo Polonio), birdwatching in Rocha, touristic "estancias" and horseriding.
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 oponents. 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, Hungary, Ireland, Iceand, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Noruega, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal , Dominican Republic, Czech Republic, Romania, South Africa, Seychelles, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad 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. In 2004, American Airlines launched a non-stop flight from Miami to Montevideo. The flight is not daily and only operates during the North American winter season. Most long haul flights from Montevideo stop in Buenos Aires, Santiago, or Sao Paulo before going on out of South America.
You can see a list of airlines at the international airport's web site.
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 mean 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 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 we drive on the right.
There are many buses runing 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. [ http://www.trescruces.com.uy 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.
The Buquebus ferry service operates between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and both Colonia and Montevideo, Uruguay. Some services continue from there to Punta del Este. The travel time is approximately three hours.
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.
Unlike other South American Countries, taxis in Uruguay are safe and fairly affordable. Costing about $2 USD per km.
In rural areas hitch hiking is fairly common and as safe as hitching is anywhere. Uruguay has the lowest level of violent crime in Latin America outside Cuba. Even though I would not recommend this!
Spanish is spoken everywhere. The pronunciation and the use of the vos pronoun instead of tu is practically identical to the Spanish variety spoken in Argentina.
Portuñol (or Brasilero) is a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish used on the Brazilian border.
Amerindian traits can be found everywhere in Uruguayan culture, from cuisine to vocabulary.
Most Uruguayans living in the cities have studied some English at school but do not actually speak it. Outside Montevideo and Punta del Este there are few English speakers. You will found english spoken services in most of the turistical spots (Shopping centers and in Punta del Este), some restaurants will probably have English speaking staff.
The Uruguayan currency is the peso. Prices are often quoted using the U$ symbol, which may be easily confused with the US$ (US dollar) symbol. As of October 2006,
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 England 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.
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.
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.
There are plenty of hotels in Uruguay, although fewer serve the backpacker/traveler crowd than many places in Latin America.
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 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.
Unlike its South American neighbours, crime is not a serious problem in Uruguay. Like anywhere, however, sensible precautions should be taken. That being said, Montevideo provides the highest opportunity for a run-in with pickpockets.
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. 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.