Uruguay may be small, but it is jam-packed with attractions for beach bums, art and architecture lovers, hikers, and soccer fans alike. With easy access between its cosmopolitan cities as well as an ample coastline, and plenty of restaurants to sample, your time here will fly by. So grab your yerba maté and get ready for a great trip!
In this guide, we’ll set you up with everything you should know before you go to Uruguay, from yisa information to recommended vaccines, seasonal guidance, safety tips, and even a few slang words so you can fit in with the locals!
Also See Our Uruguay Travel Guides (Listed A-Z) – Each guide will open in a new window
Cabo Polonio | Colonia | Montevideo | Punta del Este
INTRODUCTION | Backpacking Uruguay
- Currency: Peso Uruguayo
- Capital city: Montevideo
- Population: 3.5 million
- Main religion: 50% Catholic, 15% Protestant, 1% Jewish
- Main language: Spanish
- Telephone code: +598
- Time: Uruguay Standard Time
- Emergency numbers: 911 for police, 105 for medical attention
You’ll love Uruguay if…
- You love the beach. From ultra-chic Punta del Este to foodie paradise Jose Ignacio and even Montevideo, Uruguay has ample, diverse, and beautiful coastline perfect for sunbathing, surfing, waterfront eating, and more. If you’re looking for something a bit more unspoiled, Costa de Oro has 45 kilometers of largely-undeveloped shoreline.
- You love colonial architecture. While colonized a bit later than its neighbors (in the 17th century), Uruguay has loads of architecture dating back to the Spanish colonial period, including large portions of capital Montevideo. For Portuguese colonial architecture, check out UNESCO World Heritage Site Colonia de Sacramento.
- You love food and wine. While often overshadowed by neighboring Argentina and Chile, Uruguay punches above its weight gastronomically. From world-class meat to delicious Tannat wine, pairing a glass of wine with a parrilla-style asado is a must. Uruguayans don’t go anywhere without their maté tea and bombilla (silver straw), which is also something to try while you’re here.
- You love tango. Fun fact, the tango is just as Uruguayan as it is Argentine! In both countries, the South American dance began underground, mainly among the lower class as a form of entertainment. Ultra-popular tango anthem La Cumparsita was written in Uruguay and is informally known as the country’s national anthem.
- You love futbol (AKA soccer). Uruguay has won the World Cup twice, as well as holding a mind-boggling 15 Copa América titles. This has led to their well-deserved reputation as one of the continent’s strongest national teams. Uruguay’s first division football league, or Liga Profesional de Primera División, currently comprises 16 teams, with Peñarol and Nacional being among the most popular.
WHEN TO GO | The Best Time to Visit Uruguay
Due to its fairly small size and quite temperate weather, there isn’t really a bad time to visit Uruguay. However, given its location in the Southern Hemisphere, remember to swap your seasons!
Austral summer runs from December to March and is typically the peak tourist season, especially popular among those seeking a beach vacation or wanting to surf, boogie-board, or partake in other water-related activities.
As summer is overwhelmingly the most popular time to visit, be aware that just about everywhere gets very crowded. This is not just the case for the most popular places like Punta del Este, but also the off-the-beaten-path destinations like Cabo Polonio or the national parks.
If you’re visiting during this time, expect amazing weather, but much higher costs and a necessity to book everything in advance. Summer is also very popular for regional visitors from Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, especially during holiday times. The temperatures range from the 80s during the day to the 60s (°F) at night, which is absolutely lovely for an evening stroll.
Shoulder season (fall and spring) is, as in many places, a great time to visit Uruguay. The weather is still really lovely, with temperatures ranging between the 60s and 70s (°F). You can partake in most of the same activities at much lower costs. You also don’t need to compete with gaggles of other tourists for that spot on the beach or at the bar. In some places, you can even do same-day lodging reservations.
The good thing about Uruguay is that even in winter the weather is quite mild – in some places, you can even surf year-round (though it may be quite chilly)! Winter can be a bit damp, with higher rainfall than other times of the year, but not particularly cold, especially in comparison to its neighbors. Snowfall is quite unlikely, as the temperatures usually stay between 50 and 60 degrees (°F), rarely dropping even into the 40s (°F).
January and February are great months for festivals, from the White Night music festival in Floresta to Las Llamadas in Montevideo and Jazz in the Street in Mercedes. If you’re interested in wine, February and March are typically the harvest season, with vendimia festivals happening throughout the wine region.
Religious festivals around the holidays, like Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Week, and Easter are also very popular, as are Día de Los Muertos and Día de la Candelaria, which celebrates “Candlemas”, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ. Asado fans should prioritize a visit to Cardal, Uruguay’s biggest milk producer, for the Milk Festival: celebrated each October with massive parrillas and arroz con leche for dessert.
Read more about the best time to visit South America.
VISAS | Do I Need a Visa for Uruguay?
Passport holders from about 90 countries do not need a visa to travel to Uruguay. This includes most of North and South America (including the USA and Canada), as well as the EU, Russia, the UK, and Australia. This allows you to stay in Uruguay for 90 days provided your passport remains valid for your full stay.
Most visa-free nationalities are eligible for one 90-day extension.
Border runs to restart a visa are popular, usually to nearby Argentina or Brazil. Note that you must have your passport stamped to prove your both exit from Uruguay and your entrance to Argentina or Brazil. One particularly easy option is to take the ferry from Colonia de Sacramento and spend a few days in Buenos Aires.
Note that some border officials frown on this practice, so while not technically illegal, you may be questioned at the border if you attempt this multiple times.
Penalty for Overstaying Your Visa in Uruguay
The penalties for overstaying a visa are less severe in Uruguay than in other countries, usually just a fine at the airport prior to departure. However, overstaying a visa is still breaking the law and is not recommended!
Read more about Uruguay visa requirements and other visa requirements for South America here.
HEALTH | Vaccines and Malaria Tablets for Uruguay
Do I Need Vaccines to Travel to Uruguay?
While you should certainly be up-to-date on all routine vaccinations, including hepatitis A and B, you likely won’t need any other vaccinations to visit Uruguay.
If you’ll be working directly with wildlife, you may want to consider a rabies vaccine. Rabies isn’t present in dogs in Uruguay but may be present in bats. Relatedly, if you’ll be visiting small towns at risk for transmission, a typhoid vaccine may also be recommended, but you should check with your doctor.
If you come from an area at risk for yellow fever transmission, you are required to bring proof of vaccination with you in order to enter Uruguay.
Do I Need Malaria Tablets for Uruguay?
Malaria is not normally present in Uruguay.
SAFETY | Is Uruguay Safe?
Uruguay is often considered the safest country in South America. While crimes of convenience like pickpocketing can occur, Uruguay is safe for tourists and solo travelers (both male and female). Uruguay is much further ahead than other countries in terms of LGBTQ+ rights and is considered the safest country in South America for this community as well.
Uruguay’s roads are largely safe, and traffic fatalities have decreased considerably in the past decade due to road improvements. The tap water in Uruguay is universally drinkable – the only country in South America to achieve this milestone. Grab a refillable travel bottle to make the most of it! Local food and produce are delicious and safe to consume as well.
Uruguay has a comparatively higher standard of living than other countries in the region, with universal healthcare and strong worker’s rights (paid holidays, pensions, etc). This has led to less economic disparity, and in turn, less social unrest. The country overall is peaceful and laid-back.
This is also true in terms of natural disasters, as Uruguay’s topography puts it at much lower risk for the earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions that are present in neighboring countries. Lastly, a lack of high peaks means that altitude sickness isn’t a concern, either!
TRAVEL INSURANCE | What Is the Best Travel Insurance for Uruguay?
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Despite Uruguay’s relative safety, it’s always a good idea to have travel insurance whenever you leave home. This will give you peace of mind and protect you if you fall ill, get into a car accident, or miss a flight or connection.
- Available worldwide
- Rolling monthly subscription
- No return date required
- Cover diving and motorcycle use
- Check policy wording for full details
- World Nomads travel insurance policies offer coverage for more than 150 activities.
- Get a quote, make a claim, or buy or extend your policy while on the road.
- Check policy wording for full details
- Only insures travellers from Europe
- Cover for diving and motorcycle use
- Additional activity packs available
- Check policy wording for full details
WHAT TO PACK | What Should I Pack for a Trip to Uruguay?
The weather in Uruguay is fairly mild year-round but can cool down significantly at night, so it’s a good idea to bring layers, including at least one light rainproof layer. Uruguayans in bigger cities dress quite chic, so it’s best to save the hiking boots and cargo pants for outdoor activities and bring some nicer clothes with you for nights on the town in Montevideo or Punta del Este. A swimsuit or two is also a must if you want to partake in some swimming on Uruguay’s gorgeous coastline.
While you can find most toiletries at pharmacies and grocery stores, if you’re partial to particular brands you may want to bring travel-sized ones of your own, as well as the bug-repellant of your choice if visiting in January/February.
FLIGHTS | Airports and Airlines in Uruguay
Flying to Uruguay
Most people will likely fly into Montevideo, Uruguay’s biggest city, but there is also an airport in Punta del Este. Most international flights land in Montevideo’s Carrasco Airport, and it’s easy to get regional flights on carriers like LATAM if you’d like to extend your trip to include Brazil, Argentina, or Chile. While there are a few smaller airports in places like Artigas and Carmelo, these places are likely more reachable by car or public transport.
Flying Within Uruguay
Uruguay is a small enough country that you likely won’t be traveling by air within its borders, but rather by car or public transport. Renting a car is easy and inexpensive, and public transport is similarly seamless and quite safe (just keep an eye on those bags!)
The primary language spoken in Uruguay is Spanish. You may notice that Uruguayans have a different accent to other Spanish you’ve heard, and you’d be correct! Uruguayan Spanish is thought to sound a little more like Italian and is grouped with Argentina under the ‘Rioplatense Spanish’ variety.
While obviously still Spanish, there are a few words and phrases you can learn to fit in a bit better:
- Bondi – Uruguayan word for bus
- Barbaro – Great
- Chau – Goodbye
- Ta – Okay, yes
- Gaucho – close friend/confidante
COMMUNICATION | Phone and Internet in Uruguay
It’s easy to buy a SIM card when you land in Uruguay, or from a variety of providers like Antel, Movistar, or Claro at storefronts or kiosks. SIM card plans are inexpensive, often with top-up or pay-as-you-go options.
Uruguay also has really strong connectivity and is considered one of the ‘most penetrated’ countries in the hemisphere. Most households and schools have high-speed internet, and strong WiFi is available in many public places as well as some public transit options.
BUDGET | How Much Does It Cost to Backpack Uruguay?
Currency conversion: $1USD = 41 Uruguayan pesos approx.
Estimated budget per day:
- Shoestring: $25-50USD
- Middle-of-the-road: $45-75USD
- Flashpacker: $80-200USD
Cost of Accommodation in Uruguay
There are a variety of accommodation options available for people staying in Uruguay. Hostels are by far the cheapest option and once you start looking at hotels, the price really increases.
- Hostel (dorm): $9-19USD
- Hostel (private room): $25-60USD
- Hotel (budget): $27-90USD
- Hotel (3 or 4-star): $70-170USD
Cost of Food in Uruguay
As is usually the case, street food tends to offer the best value for money for travelers in Uruguay. Food in restaurants will inevitably cost more but is still not expensive when compared to prices in the US and the UK.
- Street food or fast food meal: $4-7USD
- Street food or fast food snack: $1-3USD
- Lunch: $8-10USD
- Dinner (drink and entrée): $15-20USD
- Bottled water or soda: $1-2USD
- Coffee: $2-2.50USD
Cost of Beer in Uruguay
You can typically get a beer for $3-4USD per pint in Uruguay, with craft or imported beers being on the higher end and local beers a bit cheaper.
Cost of Activities in Uruguay
Uruguay is sadly not one of the cheapest countries in South America. In fact, many say that is the most expensive! Despite this, you can still see many sights and enjoy the attractions without breaking the bank.
- Casapueblo entrance fee: $10USD
- Beach day: Free
- Half-day surfing class: $100USD
- Montevideo tip tour: Tip as you choose
- Bike rental: $10USD per 4 hours
- Winery tour: $30-90USD
TRANSPORT | Getting Around Uruguay
Uruguay has great public transportation infrastructure, with local bus fares costing as little as $1USD per trip and longer-distance buses (e.g. from Montevideo to Punta del Diablo) costing about $20USD.
Renting a car is also fairly economical, costing about $25USD to $40USD per day with discounts available for multi-day rentals. The country is small enough that internal flights won’t save you much time, but between public transport and car rentals, it’s quite easy to get around.
WHERE TO GO | Places to Visit in Uruguay
For Soccer Fanatics…
Check out a match at Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario or the Gran Parque Central Stadium. The Estadio Centenario was actually built for the inaugural World Cup, hosted by Uruguay in 1930, and is worth a visit even if you don’t see a match there.
For Beach Bums…
Uruguay is a playground! From surfing at Punta del Diablo, “seeing and being seen” along Punta del Este, or going for a relaxing swim after seeing the sights in town in Montevideo, Uruguay is a sea lover’s paradise. There is no shortage of beaches to choose from, whether you prefer private and secluded or people-watching central.
For Nature Lovers…
Check out the national parks in Santa Teresa National Park, Cabo Polonio National Park, or Valle del Lunarejo. Boasting surprisingly diverse flora and fauna for such a small country, there are ample things to see as well as swimming, hiking, and other activities at lower altitudes than in neighboring countries.
For History Buffs…
Uruguay has several sites of interest to explore. Despite its relatively late colonization, there are several neat architectural finds around the country worth a visit. While Colonia del Sacramento is currently Uruguay’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, a few more have that status pending, including the area around Colonia del Sacramento, the rock paintings at Chamangá, and the historic port area of Fray Bentos. Of course, Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja and Mercado del Puerto are worth a visit, as is the (also UNESCO-pending) Rambla de Montevideo.
For City Slickers…
Montevideo has much to offer. From great cuisine to an eclectic mix of architectural styles, chic museums, and a gorgeous seafront promenade at the Rambla, definitely stay here for a few days to explore Uruguay’s cosmopolitan and fun capital.
THINGS TO DO | Top 10 Things to Do in Uruguay
- Explore Colonia Del Sacramento
Right along the Río de la Plata is the quaint Colonia del Sacramento, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to Portuguese colonial times. Perfect for a day trip from Montevideo or en route to Buenos Aires, you can get there by bus or by ferry. While there, be sure to climb to the top of its lighthouse, explore its convent and basilica, and just amble along its adorable cobblestoned streets.
Note: If you’re heading to Buenos Aires, it’s easy to take the ferry from Colonia. Make sure to bring your passport and book your tickets in advance, since it’s an international crossing.
- Surf Punta Del Diablo or La Paloma
While still somewhat off the beaten path compared to other surf towns, Punta del Diablo boasts some of the best waves in South America along Santa Teresa National Park and its gorgeous dunes. La Paloma is another great surf destination, known for pretty warm temperatures most of the year.
- Sunbathe Along Uruguay’s Iconic Coastline
Uruguay is known for its beaches. Ranging from shabby-chic to super-opulent, there are lots of options to check out. While Punta del Este is arguably the most popular, don’t miss Jose Ignacio (particularly for its foodie scene) or Playa Chihuahua, a nudist option. The beaches near Piriápolis are a prime spot for whale-watching.
- Visit Casapueblo
The brainchild of artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, Casapueblo is absolutely marvelous. Located right next to Punta del Este in tiny Punta Ballena, it began as Vilaró’s summer home and is today a museum and hotel. It’s absolutely worth touring the outside and taking in the gorgeous views of the sea.
- Go Off-Grid in Rocha
Near the Brazilian border lies Rocha, a wonderful place to find some peace and quiet. Electricity-free Cabo Polonio, nestled in a national park and delightfully off-grid, is one of the more popular options and a lovely place to unwind. You can enjoy gorgeous sunsets and star-lit skies, go hiking and swimming, and even check out a sea lion colony!
- Sink Your Teeth Into a World-Class Steak
While perhaps vegetarian readers won’t enjoy this as much, Uruguay is world-renowned for its meat. While neighboring Argentina gets most of the credit, Uruguay’s beef is just as succulent and tasty, and definitely worth sampling while you’re there. One of the best places to try asado is parrilla-style at a local market.
- Shop Til You Drop at a Local Market
Montevideo in particular has great markets, from Mercado del Puerto’s vast parrilla options to the artisan works at Mercado de Los Artesanos and the Sunday Feria de Tristán Narvaja. One great souvenir to pick up is your very own maté and bombilla for your yerba maté tea – you’ll look like a local in no time.
- Go Wine Tasting in Carmelo
While Argentina and Chile corner a large portion of the market, Uruguay is also a large wine producer, particularly known for Tannat wine. The quaint colonial town of Carmelo serves as a hub for what is called ‘Uruguay’s Tuscany’ and there are several family-owned vineyards to explore there, including Narbona, Campo Tinto, and El Legado.
- Hike Up Cerro Arequita
While Uruguay isn’t quite as hiking-heavy as its neighbors, if you’re seeking some elevation, the Minas area is home to Cerro Arequita and the Ombú forest. You can hike to the top or go underground, checking out the Gruta Colón, which dates back to the Cretaceous Period and is home to millions of… bats! Perhaps not for the faint of heart.
- Learn About Gaucho Culture at a Hacienda
Gauchos take up as much space in cultural imagination in Uruguay as in neighboring countries – adventurous farmers that tamed the wilderness and succeeded at thriving in harsh and inhospitable climates. Today, few traditional gauchos remain, but you can still visit haciendas, often offering round-trip transportation, food, and lodging.
Uruguay is a great destination for sand, sun, and steak, and while it may be small, there is plenty to explore. Be sure to let us know your Uruguay highlights in the comments!