The smallest country in South America, squeezed between its giant neighbors Argentina and Brazil, is fast becoming one of the hottest travel destinations in the region. Uruguay is attracting visitors because of its sophisticated and centennial culture, an exquisite and lesser-known local wine production, and a diversity of outdoor activities right by the Atlantic Ocean.
Unlike in other nearby destinations, experiences in Uruguay aren’t overly tailored to tourists. It’s still possible to experience a slice of life like a local while strolling the streets of cosmopolitan Montevideo or historical Colonia. And if you want the VIP treatment, include Punta del Este on your tour itinerary and find out why they call it “the Monaco of South America.”
Food & Wine Tours
If there is one thing Uruguayans take seriously, it's their asado or barbequed beef. But other meats taste as great grilled and locals often cook chicken, fish, and pork over open fire pits. In restaurants, this dish is prepared in a more controlled environment. The secret to a delicious asado is in roasting it slowly, so cooks will use nothing other than rock salt for seasoning.
With a wine-producing tradition of over 250 years, a legacy brought by European settlers from Italy, Spain, and France, Uruguay produces some of the best South American wines. A foodie trip to the country is not complete without a wine tour (hint: try the Tannat variety, Uruguay's most popular!).
Historical & Cultural Experiences
Most of Uruguay’s historical sites are firmly rooted in the country’s past as a European overseas colony. The most popular tourist attraction is picturesque Colonia del Sacramento, a small town founded by Portuguese colonists in the 17th century that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most tours will include stops here.
The capital Montevideo, together with neighboring Buenos Aires, is known as the birthplace of tango and most city tours will include a tango show. Alongside their 40-day-long Carnaval, soccer is the other activity that’s dear to locals. Regardless of who’s playing and who you root for, attending a match is guaranteed to be loud and vibrant.
Nature & Outdoor Activities
Outdoor activities in Uruguay are as diverse as the country’s natural assets. You can choose between actively seeking wildlife in the Atlantic, winding down in a hot spring, or going on an awe-inspiring trip through the country’s interior.
Punta del Diablo, a small village five hours from Montevideo by bus, is quickly becoming one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. Despite the recent fame, tour-goers can still cross paths with local fishermen going about their business.
Planning Your Trip
Tourism in Uruguay is on the rise, welcoming mostly Argentineans traveling to Montevideo and Punta del Este -- but the rest of the world is beginning to discover this emerging South American destination. Here are a few things to keep in mind before booking your tour.
Best Time to Visit Uruguay
Uruguay is a perfect country to visit all year round, with a temperate climate where temperatures hardly go higher than 86 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer (December-February). Consequently, this is also the high season, so expect bigger crowds and higher prices.
Carnaval happens every year in February or March, which is a must-see, but if you want to experience a quieter environment, there are plenty of other cultural events to choose from all year long at the capital Montevideo.
What to Look for in a Tour to Uruguay
If you don’t have full command of Spanish, choose an English-speaking tour, so you don’t miss a bit of Uruguay’s vibrant culture. Enhance your contribution to the emerging local tourism industry by picking a tour that employs local guides, supports local businesses, and upholds the core values of responsible travel.
Make sure you take a look at the pace of sightseeing on the proposed schedule so you won't be overwhelmed by a tour that keeps you running at a North American pace while you're supposed to be absorbing this more relaxed South American culture!
Typical Tour Cost
Organized tours to Uruguay often include other nearby South American countries like Brazil and Argentina. A tour operated by a renowned company can cost over $2000 per person in the high season, while the same package is reduced to almost half price in low season. Cheaper options are usually tour extensions that don’t include flights to and from the destination, so pay attention to what is and is not included.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
What to pack widely depends on what activities you’re planning on doing on your tour in Uruguay. To play it safe and to avoid overpacking, don’t forget to pack a pair of good shoes for hiking as well as clothes that you can layer up in case of weather changes or if you plan to move between the coast and more interior areas. In the summer, days are warm but nights still tend to be chilly. Take precaution by packing a pair of jeans and a sweater.
Free WiFi covers most of the local businesses, the airport, and even buses, so keeping yourself connected shouldn’t be a problem. However, should you find yourself in need of 3G, you can buy a pre-paid local SIM card. Make sure your phone is unlocked first.
Other Tips for Travel in Uruguay
Uruguay only requires a visa if you plan to stay for more than 90 days, so you can travel to Uruguay visa-free with just your valid passport in hand.
Although it’s possible to get around by bus and train, public transportation schedules aren’t always reliable. It’s more relaxed and comfortable to get around by car, so check to see what form of transportation is included in your tour.
The national language is Spanish, and although locals might understand English, they don’t speak it fluently. Keep a list of the most common phrases with you or download a translator app that you can use offline. Making sure your tour includes English translation if you need it.
Health & Safety
Officially, no special vaccinations are needed to travel to Uruguay. However, as a precaution, consult your physician to update your tetanus and diphtheria shots. Due to its temperate climate, there are no signs of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, or Zika virus affecting the country.
Compared to other countries in South America, Uruguay is considered to be one of the safest. But, as in any other unfamiliar destination, avoid traveling with a lot of cash and showing off expensive personal belongings. In the unlikely event of a robbery, look for a police officer to file a claim.