Uruguay travel guide

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South America’s 2nd smallest country, Uruguay is dwarfed by its massive neighbours, Argentina and Brazil. Yet this proud nation is calm, and quietly self assured.

Uruguay is perhaps the most progressive, economically stable and social orientated of all South American nations.

Travelling in Uruguay is nothing but a joy. Excellent accommodation options, great restaurants, a terrific road network and magnificent beaches ensures Uruguay is perfect for overlanders, backpackers and luxury travellers alike.

Plan a Trip to Uruguay - Uruguay travel tips from someone who drove around the country for almost 4 months. #uruguay #travel #traveltips #southamerica

What to do in Uruguay

Discover 11 of the best things to do in Montevideo Uruguay including a map of the tourist attractions, places to eat and more toptips.
A beach lover's guide to Punta del Diablo Uruguay
The pretty UNESCO town of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay makes for a perfect day trip. Use our guide for things to do & places to stay.
Hugging the banks of the River Uruguay, it’s a town not only called Fray Bentos, but the very place from which the iconic tinned pies hail. Yet more improbable, Fray Bentos is home to the abandoned and decaying meat processing plant. It even holds the coveted UNESCO status of World Heritage Site. So of course, we popped in for a guided tour. #Uruguay #UruguayTravel #TravelInspiration #VisitUruguay #UNESCO
Cabo Polonio isUruguay's iconic off-grid beach town.
Turtle conservation in Uruguay at Karumbe in La Coronilla

Read more: our 6 favourite places to visit in Uruguay

Our overland travel itinerary

Uruguay was our first introduction to South America so will always hold a special place in our hearts.

We arrived in Montevideo, disembarking from a cargo ship with our camper van, Baloo in May 2018.

Heading north for a couple of weeks, we followed the Atlantic coast. Despite the wet autumnal weather, Uruguay’s beaches wowed us.

Approaching the Brazilian border near Chuy, we headed west and in land. Uruguay’s interior doesn’t attract hoards of tourists and we used this to our advantage.

The great outdoors in the heart of gaucho country will suit those who enjoy nature and hiking. Quebrada de los Cuervos won’t disappoint!

We left Uruguay in June 2018, crossing into Argentina at Salto.

We returned to Uruguay in May 2019 after we completed the southern loop of South America. This time we arrived by land, crossing the international bridge between Gualeguaychu and Fray Bentos.

With the weather on our side we headed for the capital and basked on a few of the magnificent Montevideo beaches!

As the winter approached, we spent a few weeks taking care of a couple of pets as part of a house sit in Colonia Valdense. Using this as a cosy base, we planned the first leg of our Brazilian tour.

Our latest visit to Uruguay, finally graced us with some perfect summer weather and we soaked up the temperatures on the Uruguay’s eastern beaches – a less windy experience this time round!

A map of Uruguay showing our overland travel itinerary and route in blue.

This map shows the route we’ve followed on our Uruguay trips. For more detail, click here or on the image above to open it in Google Maps.


Accommodation in Uruguay

Accommodation in Uruguay is varied. From chic city hotels of Montevideo to the most stunning wild camping locations, Uruguay caters to every need.

Camping in Uruguay

For those lucky enough to travel in Uruguay in a camper van, you have great options.

In the time we spent in Uruguay we parked overnight for free almost every night. Even in Montevideo. Use iOverlander for the most up to date options.

Uruguay has lots of campsites, often on beautiful riverside settings. Most of them open between November and April and close during winter.

Even when closed, many campsites keep their gates open, albeit the showers maybe cold and the wifi switched off. We’ve used a few closed campsites in Uruguay and still had electric hook up for the van.

In one, we even fixed the plumbing and collected trash from the grounds.

Please act responsibly whenever using closed campsites or wild camping. This useful guide provides all the information you need for how to camp responsibly in your camper van.

Sprinter camper van free camping on a rocky outcrop in Punta del Diablo Uruguay

Uruguay hotels and hostels

You can find hostels and budget friendly hotels in almost every town and city throughout Uruguay. Unless your visit coincides with the 40 day Carnival when prices soar.

During the summer months, book accommodation in advance in the more popular tourist destinations.

Other accommodation in Uruguay

For a cultural experience, try staying at one of Uruguay’s many estancias. These idyllic, often rustic, ranches offer horse riding and an insight to the gaucho lifestyle – perfect for an authentic cultural experience.

For city breaks, Airbnbs offer central locations. Most have decent wifi and a few even have parking.

To save some money, try to book an Airbnb with a washing machine and dryer. Laundry is expensive in Uruguay.

beach house on the sand in Barra de Valizas

Uruguay facts

Population

As of 2019, the population of Uruguay is estimated to be around 3.48 million. Total!

Countries bordering Uruguay

Argentina & Brazil

Main cities in Uruguay

Montevideo, Salto, Paysandu

Languages spoken

Spanish is Uruguay’s official language. A growing number of people understand English, especially the younger generations.


How to get to Uruguay

Most international flights to Montevideo airport stop at Buenos Aires.

Look for the cheapest flights on Skyscanner here.

Uruguay has land borders with Argentina and Brazil. Visitors can enter and leave at any of them and complete all border formalities for their vehicles too.

Do check this information before you travel though as it’s not unknown for land borders to change their rules from time to time.

Many visitors arrive in Colonia del Sacramento or Montevideo by ferry from Buenos Aires. The fast hydrofoil only takes about an hour to Colonia del Sacramento and about 3 hours to Montevideo.

You can get the latest information on tickets and timetables from the Buquebus website.

The sand bank on the shores of a beach in Uruguay at Barra de Valizas

Visa requirements

Uruguay gives most passport holders a 90 day tourist visa on entry. You can get this extended by visiting a local immigration office. Make sure you check your entry requirements with your own foreign office before you travel.


Vehicle entry requirements for Uruguay

Entering Uruguay with your own vehicle is straight forward. As you arrive at one of the borders by land or sea, immigration officials will stamp you in.

If it’s a land border, check if it’s integrated with the country you’re leaving. If it is, the officials will usually only give you one stamp in your passport. Check before you leave the border area to save any dramas in the future.

Make sure to visit the aduana (customs officials) once you have your passport stamped. Bring your vehicle registration documents, insurance certificate and temporary import permit (TIP), if applicable from the country you left.

You need to get the TIP cancelled before asking Uruguayan aduana to issue a new one for Uruguay. They’ll give you a 12 month TIP, making Uruguay a perfect destination to leave your vehicle should you need to fly home.


If you’re planning on overlanding, make sure you carry these essential documents

A fishing boat on the beach at Cabo Polonia, Uruguay

Getting around Uruguay

Driving around Uruguay is easy. The main routes are good quality highways.

Unless you head off the beaten track, you won’t even leave tarmac.

Expect to pay around 40.50 UYU for a litre of diesel and around 55 UYU for a litre of petrol/gasoline.

Prepare for your road trip with our guide to driving in Uruguay.

Coach and bus services run from Montevideo to all the major cities and popular tourist attractions from Montevideo. Check routes, schedules and prices with the main bus operators: COT , Copsa and Turil.


Buy your Spanish phrase books here

A Latin American Spanish phrasebook is your passport to more enriching travels with the most relevant and useful phrases and vocabulary for everyday travel needs through South America - except maybe Brazil!


Currency, exchange rates and ATMs

The Uruguayan Peso (UYU) is the country’s official currency.

We’ve seen a few tour companies quote their prices in US dollars but there’s no need to carry cash, other than UYU.

At the time of writing (May 2019), the exchange rate is: $1 = 31.34 | £1 = 45.5 UYU | €1 = 35.31 UYU

You can find ATMs with ease in Uruguay but expect to pay about UYU 250 for each withdrawal.

Using a low cost cashpoint card to withdraw the maximum amount helps keep costs down.

Most shops, fuel stations and restaurants accept credit card payments but only cash at toll booths.


What time is it in Uruguay

We’re writing this article from Uruguay so you might expect we’d answer this question by looking at the time.

Not so. We live on Mowgli time and have no idea if we’ve set our clocks correctly. Such is the life of overlanding travellers!

So with all credit to Google search results, Uruguay time is 3 hours behind GMT and they abolished daylight saving hours in 2015.


Food & drink to try in Uruguay

Someone drinking from a mate gourd through a bombadilla

Meat features heavily on Uruguayan menus. Almost every corner in cities and larger towns has an asado (bbq).

Carnicerias (butchers) display fine cuts of steak at budget friendly prices. Carnivores will love Uruguay.

While vegetarians may have slimmer pickings when dining out, greengrocers stock a good variety of fruit, vegetables and salad ingredients.

Uruguayans drink yerba matè, a kind of bitter tea. Almost everyone carries a leather clad gourd, sipping from a silver straw with a flask tucked under their arm for refills.

The obsession with matè extends to Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay but in Uruguay it seems most prevalent.

Uruguay produces plenty of wine too. The signature grape is Tannat, a red variety on which Uruguayan winemakers have gained master expertise.


Can I drink tap water in Uruguay?

Yes. Pack a reusable bottle and help reduce our plastic waste, while saving money too.

You can refill your camper van water tanks at most fuel stations and parrilla areas.

Reusable water bottle

Reusable water bottles will save you money and reduce plastic waste too!


When is the best time to visit Uruguay?

The Uruguayan summer runs from December to February. Expect balmy temperatures upwards of 30°c and busy beaches.

The shoulder seasons of October to November and March to April see cooler temperatures and fewer crowds. Though some places can be a little too quiet away from Montevideo.

Winter temperatures can fall to around 10°c and expect some rain. But it’s a perfect time of year to see whales off the Atlantic coast.

Read our guide the best time to visit Uruguay for all the details!


How long do I need to visit Uruguay?

Unlike many South American countries, Uruguay is quite small in size so travelling between the main attractions doesn’t take much time. We’ve spent a total of 15 weeks in Uruguay over 3 visits. It’s easy to see all Uruguay’s highlights in 3 or 4 weeks – 2 if you want to pick up the pace.


Is it safe to travel in Uruguay?

During our time in Uruguay we’ve never once felt unsafe. Uruguayan people extend their hospitality to visitors unlike anywhere else we’ve travelled to so far in South America.

While crime rates may not worry us on paper, we’re still sensible. You should err on the side of caution in big cities, especially Montevideo. Camp responsibly and take care of your personal belongings.

And of course, don’t leave home without your travel insurance.

Travel insurance tips

Travel insurance is an essential part of any overseas trip but can feel like a quagmire.

Take a look at these 2 posts to help you buy the best travel insurance for your trip.


Packing tips

Travelling in Uruguay gives you the opportunity to get involved in a wide range of activities. City breaks, cultural highlights, hiking, surfing and beach activities are all within easy reach of Montevideo.

Pack so you’re ready to paint the town red and to while away endless hours in the countryside. Layers are key, as are a decent pair of walking boots if you plan on hiking. And don’t forget your swimming suit!


Further reading & film for Uruguay travel

Before travelling to Uruguay, we recommend you watch this film and read a couple of books to help you get the most of you trip.


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Plan a Trip to Uruguay - Uruguay travel tips from someone who drove around the country for almost 4 months. #uruguay #travel #traveltips #southamerica
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