19 Unbelievable Facts About Uruguay

Uruguay facts

Uruguay is a country few of us know much about. Sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, it is often overlooked by travellers in search of big adventures elsewhere. But despite its small size, Uruguay packs a punch!

These facts about Uruguay will explore the lifestyle, traditions and history of the country, giving curious adventurers a peak into what life is like there. We’ve no doubt that after you’ve read these fascinating facts about Uruguay, you’ll be booking your plane ticket!  

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19 Interesting Facts About Uruguay

1. The first country to legalise marijuana was Uruguay

In 2013, Uruguay became the world’s first country to legalise cannabis for recreational use. The cultivation, distribution and consumption of the drug has been completely legalised in the country and Uruguayans are allowed to grow up to six plants in their homes for personal use every year. 

Did you know… Uruguay was the first country to legalise cannabis?

If you’re travelling to Uruguay and are hoping to see what all the fuss is about, you’ll be disappointed. At present, only Uruguayan nationals or residents in possession of a licence are able to buy cannabis from pharmacies. There has been talk in recent years about extending this to tourists but no changes have been made yet. 

2. Uruguay has the world’s longest national anthem

The National Anthem of Uruguay, Orientales, la Patria o la Tumba, is the longest in the world! Lasting up to six minutes and spanning 105 bars of music, the song is the world’s longest official anthem.

YouTube video

Regularly sung before sporting events, the Uruguayans have had to trim the anthem to stay in keeping with rival teams. As such, it is usually only the first verse and chorus that are sung to save time. 

3. The first-ever FIFA World Cup was hosted by Uruguay

Similar to many countries in South America, the Uruguayans are soccer mad. They actually hosted the first-ever FIFA World Cup tournament in 1930 and won! In total, they have won two world cup tournaments but none since the year 1950. 

Uruguay 3-0 Russia 2018 World cup
Uruguay is soccer mad!

Unfortunately, the Uruguayan women’s football team are yet to make it past the semi-finals. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for them at the next tournament!

4. Uruguayan Houses don’t have numbers, they have names instead 

Unlike many other countries around the world, Uruguay does not mark their houses with numbers. Instead, they have opted to use names. While this definitely adds an element of personalisation to your property, it does get confusing when several houses in one city go by the same name. Just imagine the nightmare for the postperson!

punta del este-2
The buildings in Uruguay do not have numbers.

5. Yerba maté is the national drink of Uruguay

Maté is a popular infusion drink consumed in many different countries in South America. It is the national drink in Argentina. Paraguay and Uruguay, where it is consumed from a hollow calabash cup through a metal straw known as a bombilla. 

Yerba Mate: South America’s Most Social Drink
Yerba maté is popular in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay.

Yerba maté leaves are dried out before being soaked in hot water.  This caffeine-infused drink has a bitter taste but this hasn’t put the citizens of Uruguay off. They have named it their national drink, along with Paraguay and Argentina. 

6. Two million people live in Montevideo

Roughly 3.6 million people live in Uruguay and the vast majority of them live in the urban areas. In fact, 2 million people live in the capital Montevideo alone, that’s over two-thirds of the entire population!

2 million people live in Montevideo!

7. Uruguay is routinely voted the safest country in South America

The Global Peace Index releases its report of the world’s safest countries every year. When it comes to the rankings for the safest countries in South America, Uruguay practically always comes out top, particularly for its low levels of violent crime and low disaster threat.

A nighttime view of Monetvideo across the water
Uruguay is the safest country in South America!

8. Uruguay is the most expensive country in South America

It might be very safe but this comes at a price. Although there are a couple of contenders for the accolade of the most expensive country in South America, Uruguay storms into first place. 

Uruguay city scape
Uruguay is a very expensive country to live in.

Renting property in Uruguay is very expensive and there is overall a high cost of living, especially in the capital of Montevideo. This makes it a less appealing destination for digital nomads and other expats. Despite this, if you can afford to set up home in Uruguay, it’s a country that offers residents a fantastic quality of life.

9. Nearly 99% of the Uruguayan population is literate

Education is very important in Uruguay and this is shown in its literacy rate which is the highest anywhere in South America.

10. Uruguay gives all school children a free laptop

Further cementing its commitment to educating its population, Uruguay was the first country in the world to pioneer giving laptops to children under the One Laptop Per Child Project. Not only do all public schools have access to the internet but each student has their very own laptop computer too. The purpose of the scheme was to lessen the digital divide between poor and wealthy families across the country. 

Laptops in school
The One Laptop Per Child Project means that all of Uruguay’s school children have their own laptop!

11. It is the smallest Spanish-speaking country in South America

South America is home to nine countries that speak Spanish; Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Of these, Uruguay is the smallest, spanning just 176,215 sq km. This makes Uruguay approximately 1.79% the size of the United States!

Canelones in Uruguay
The majority of Uruguayans are Spanish speakers.

12. The people of Uruguay are generally satisfied

According to the Numbeo’s Quality of Life Index, Uruguay is the most satisfying country to live in South America. Based on a range of factors including healthcare, cost of living, climate and safety levels, Uruguay has been ranked 44th in the world for its positive quality of life. 

13. Candombe is the national dance of Uruguay

This style of music and dance has long been important to the culture of Uruguay. Dating back to the end of the 18th century, it is believed that it was first introduced by the descendants of African slaves.

YouTube video

In 2009, UNESCO officially recognised Candombe and entered it into its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage and Humanity. It is commonly performed at cultural events such as Uruguayan Carnival. 

14. There are three official flags of Uruguay

Many people don’t know that there are actually three official flags of Uruguay. They are called the flag of Artigas (the flag for the Artigas department), the flag of the Treinta y Tres (pays tribute to the  Treinta y Tres Orientales military expedition) and the National Flag of Uruguay. 

Flag of Uruguay
The National Flag of Uruguay.

The latter is the best known, featuring nine horizontal stripes which alternate in white and blue. The Sun of May features on the top lefthand corner of the flag. The stripes represent the original departments of Uruguay and the Sun of May represents the May Revolution and the Incan Sun God Inti. 

15. Uruguay is the only country outside the tropics in Latin America

Uruguay is the only country in the whole of Latin America and one of four countries in the entire world to lie completely south of the Tropic of Capricorn. 

16. Nearly all of Uruguay’s energy is renewable

Uruguay is a world leader when it comes to renewable energy. The transition from fossil fuels to green energy has been pretty quick too. Back in 2007, fossil fuels still contributed a third of the country’s energy generation. However, nowadays 98% of the electricity generated in Uruguay originates from renewable sources such as wind, biomass and solar. An example to us all! 

Green energy
Uruguay is a green energy powerhouse!

17. Cows outnumber people in Uruguay 

It is no secret that in countries like Argentina and Uruguay, asado (that’s barbecue to you and me) is a cornerstone of the local cuisine. In fact, Uruguay ranks second worldwide in the world beef consumption stakes, with each person averaging an intake of 53kg of the stuff every year! 

In a country of beef lovers, you need a lot of cows!

When your population loves beef that much, you’ll need a whole lot of cows! So much so, that in Uruguay, cows outnumber people four to one! The gaucho lifestyle is still alive and well here. 

18. Uruguay has renamed traditional religious holidays

Unlike many of the other Latin American countries, Uruguay does not identify as Catholic. In 1919, it officially became a secular country and renamed all of its religious festivals and celebrations to remove the spiritual connotations.

Uruguay church
Despite its churches, Uruguay is officially a secular country.

For example, Christmas Day is known as ‘Family Day’, Epiphany as ‘Children’s Day’ and Holy Week during Easter as‘Tourism Week’.

19. The world’s poorest politician calls Uruguay home

How many times have you dreamed about going back to a time when politicians were noble? Well, in Uruguay, it appears that they still are! Jose Mujica, a politician who served as the country’s president for five years from 2010 to 2015, lives a very modest life and donates 90% of his monthly salary to charity! What a guy! 

Got any more fun facts about Uruguay for our list? Let us know in the comments or our Facebook community!

Sheree Hooker Bio Pic
Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South America Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind wingingtheworld.com, a travel blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks.

Find her on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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