Tucked between Argentina and Brazil, on the Uruguay River, Uruguay is often overlooked by many travellers to South America. The second-smallest South American country is progressive and stable, and offers something for everyone, from cosmopolitan Montevideo to historic Colonia, the party vibes of Punta del Este to meeting gauchos in Tacuarembó. Explore hot springs along the Rio Uruguay or go wildlife-watching along the Atlantic Coast.
Small Group Tours
Uruguay Facts & Tips
Did you know?
- The name Uruguay, when translated from the indigenous language of Guarani, means “river of painted birds.”
- Uruguay has the longest national anthem in the world, it is almost 5 minutes long!
- 100% of Uruguay's electricity comes from renewable sources
- Uruguay has a literacy rate of 98.1% for adults, one of the highest in the world
- In 2009, Uruguay became the first country in the world to provide every schoolchild with a free laptop and Wi-Fi access
- Uruguay’s industrial economy is mainly dependent on petroleum products, transportation equipment, electrical machinery, and food processing.
- Uruguayans are very fond of naming their houses, which is why every single house in the country has its own name. Their houses are not marked with numbers as in other countries.
Visas & Passports
Australian passport holders travelling to Uruguay do not need a visa at this time.
We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.
Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia. You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.
The Australian Embassy in Argentina is responsible for Uruguay:
Buenos Aires C1426BMJ
Ph. +54 11 4779 3500
Fax. +54 11 4779 3581
Australian Honorary Consulate in Uruguay:
25 de Mayo 455 Piso 2
Ph. +59 8 984 51451
The official currency of Uruguay is the Uruguayan Peso (UYU). Notes come in denominations of $2,000, $1,000, $500, $200, $100, $50, $20.
The recommended currency to take to Uruguay is the US Dollar, as their local currencies are not available outside of the region. Ensure you request smaller clean notes as many places will not exchange large denominations or notes that are torn and dirty. Once there, you can exchange your US Dollar for the UYU. Ensure you change a small amount into small denominations.
Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it, otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.
Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card.
If you don’t have Uruguayan Peso with you on arrival, we advise you to exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on the best places to exchange money.
Small change is also useful for paying for toilets while on tour which is customary in many places outside of Australia.
- The price of a cappuccino in Montevideo is approximately USD2.80
- The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately USD9.50
- The price of dinner in a moderate restaurant is approximately USD43
- The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately USD3
Traditional food in Uruguay is a fusion from the many nations that immigrated here, and those that colonised it, including Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, and France, plus influences from their neighbours, Brazil and Argentina. A diet heavy in meat and animal products, thanks to the traditional gaucho way of life that forms the basis of present-day Uruguayan cuisine.
Asado refers to both the traditional barbeque feast and the meat served at such an event. A variety of meats, sausages, vegetables, and cheese are cooked over a grill by an asador (meat chef), and the feast starts with a picada (the main entrée of an asado consisting of a grazing board/platter including cheese, olives, salami, bread, chips, nuts, and longaniza which is similar to chorizo, generally served with a local aperitif). The main course meat includes beef, rack of lamb, pork, chicken, and/or achuras (organs including sweetbreads, liver, kidney, or intestines), which are served with salads, roasted potatoes, cheese or egg stuffed capsicums, and grilled zucchini and eggplant. The two main sauces on offer are chimichurri (finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, oregano, paprika, olive oil, vinegar, and salt) and salsa criolla (finely sliced onion, chopped tomatoes, capsicums, chili, parsley, garlic, oil, and salt).
Chivito is the national dish of Uruguay, and the nation's favourite snack! It's an epic sandwich consisting of a thin slice of steak, mozzarella, tomatoes, mayonnaise, capsicum, olives, bacon, fried eggs, and ham, served in a bun with French fries on the side. Another popular sandwich is choripán, a barbequed chorizo sausage in a roll, often served with chimichurri.
Milanesas are the Uruguayan version of schnitzel, made primarily with a thin tenderised piece of beef, but can also be pork, fish, or chicken, that has been coated in egg and breadcrumbs then fried. Milanesa a la napolitana is served with tomato sauce, ham, and cheese (and has nothing to do with Naples!); milanesa en dos panes would come in a sandwich of felipe bread with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato; and milanesa a caballo is served with fried eggs on the side.
Dulce de leche is a thick caramel spread/sauce made from caramelised milk that is used in many desserts, including churros (often stuffed with dulce de leche, cream, or chocolate), flan con dulce de leche (similar to crème caramel), alfajores (two large shortbread cookies filled with dulce de leche or chocolate), sweet empanadas (baked pastry similar to a pasty that contain either sweet or savory fillings), and pasteles (similar to empanadas but triangular and dusted with sugar). Other popular sweet treats include tortas fritas (leavened fried bread dusted with sugar, commonly served on rainy days), pasta frola (a traditional tart filled with quince jam and decorated with long pastry strips), arroz con leche (rice pudding), and bizcochos (small buttery and flaky pastries that are similar to danishes with a variety of fillings and shapes).
Maté is the national drink, an infused tea made from the dried leaves and twigs from the yerba mate plant that is drunk from a small cup through a metal straw, and usually shared with a group. Wine is also popular, as is caña or rum, grappa, and grappamiel, grappa with honey and water.
Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later! If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.
If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.
The climate of Uruguay is rather mild, with defined seasons. Coastal temperatures in Summer (December to February) average in the mid-20’s, and Winter (June to August) temperatures average around 11°. Rainfall is fairly consistent year-round, averaging 8-10cm per month with the highest rainfalls in late Summer and late Spring. Inland regions are warmer with Summer temperatures averaging in the high 20’s, but also wetter and more humid.
Want to get out and explore on your own?
Catching taxis in Montevideo is easy, safe, and reasonably priced, and Ubers are also available in Montevideo. Metered taxis are readily available in most cities, just be aware that there is often a surcharge on nights, weekends, and holidays. Bicycles are available to rent in Montevideo, and they are a common method of transport for many locals. Travel between cities is comfortably done by bus, as there are no trains.
When catching taxis, have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. Also, ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies.
So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from Uruguay…
Street markets are widespread throughout Uruguay and are one of the best places to shop for souvenirs while also experiencing day-to-day life as pretty much anything is available to buy, including food, clothes, plants, animals, antiques, jewellery, and games. One of the best markets is the Feria de Tristán Narvaja, held every Sunday morning, which covers several blocks in Montevideo’s city centre.
Amethyst is the national stone of Uruguay, and the beautiful semi-precious purple stone is readily available as jewellery or decorations. Other locally mined stones include agate and jasper, which are also available in many forms including jewellery, rough and polished stones, décor, and homewares.
Uruguay is well-known for the quality of Merino wool produced here and is the third largest exporter behind Australia and New Zealand. As such, clothing, ponchos, scarves/shawls, hats, throws/blankets, and cushion covers are among some of the woollen products available. Leather goods are also widely available, and of excellent quality, given that cattle outnumber humans 4-to-1! Bags, clothing, homewares, wallets, belts, trinkets, and shoes are all easily found at the many markets.
Maté gourds, the vessel in which maté is served, and the unique metal straws (bombilla), are a wonderful way to bring home a small piece of Uruguay. The gourd symbolises community and sharing, and was traditionally made of leather, but can also be made with wood, ceramics, or silicon. The accompanying bombilla are often delicately engraved. If you are interested in bringing home some of the yerba maté herb, please make sure that it complies with your local Customs requirements. For those with a sweet tooth, jars of dulce de leche or boxes of alfajores are available, that is if you don’t eat them all before you make it home!
- Tipping isn’t compulsory in Uruguay, but it’s generally expected in hotels and restaurants for good service, usually around 10% and only when a service charge hasn’t been added to the bill already
- People do not greet strangers when passing on the street. Greeting or smiling at a stranger may be misunderstood.
- The ‘ok’ sign used in the West is very rude in Uruguay.
- The ‘ch-ch’ sound is used to gain someone’s attention – for example serving staff.
- Uruguayans stand very close when conversing, both socially and in business.
- It is best not to wear expensive jewellery or items that mark you as an affluent tourist, while
- Uruguay is fairly safe compared to other parts of South America, there is still a risk of pickpockets in the touristy areas
- English is not widely spoken, however some restaurants and places in the tourist areas of
- Montevideo and Punta del Este may have some English-speaking staff
- While Uruguay and Argentina do share many similarities, Uruguayans are very proud of their country and won’t take kindly to being considered as part of Argentina
Celebrations & Public Holidays
For a small country, there is a wide variety of cultures and festivals that help give Uruguay is colour, many are based on the different religions that co-exist here, others are to celebrate family, food, music, cowboys, or independence.
In early February, followers of both Umbanda and Candomblé (similar African-based religions that came to Latin America with the African Diaspora/slaves) celebrate Yemanjá, the Goddess of the Ocean and protector of children, by dressing in white and standing at the ocean’s edge to send offerings of flowers and gifts out to her at sunset. Afterwards, the party runs all night with music and dancing.
Carnaval in Uruguay is something else, for 6 weeks in the lead up to Lent each year, Montevideo hosts the world’s longest Carnaval with parades, street parties that last for days, dancing and the Candombé. Candombé is a lively and colourful drum-driven dance and music style that was created by the local African slave culture, and during Carnaval at least 90 different troupes parade and compete to find a winner at the El Día de Las Llamadas. In the small coastal town of La Pedrera, they celebrate the week-long Carnaval with street parties every night, one of which is a costume party where water, drinks and foam are thrown around!
Fiesta de La Patria Gaucha is Uruguay’s largest and most important gaucho (cowboy) festival, held in March each year in the cowboy capital of Tacuarembó. Locals, as well as gauchos from Brazil and Argentina, flock in their thousands to the festival to honour their heritage and culture for five days. The celebrations include rodeos, skill contests, horse parades, bonfires, contests, exhibitions, traditional dances and music, and re-enactments of historic events.
In June, they celebrate and commemorate the life of Jose Gervasio Artigas, the father of Uruguayan Independence with Natalicio de Artigas Day. National pride is everywhere, with parades, street parties, and dancing all over the country. Independence Day (Dia de la Independencia) celebrates the anniversary of their independence from Spanish and Portuguese colonial power on 25 August 1825.
The National Milk Festival is held in October, in Cardal where the majority of milk in Uruguay is produced. The festivities start with a massive asado, followed by the highlight of the festival, a gigantic arroz con leche made with 1,000 litres of milk, 150 kg of rice, 200 kg of sugar and 4 litres of vanilla – enough to feed 6,000 people! Continuing with the massive food festivals, the Fiesta de la Paella Gigante in Piriápolis in December celebrates Uruguay’s Spanish heritage with a paella that also can feed thousands. Using a single paella pan that is about six meters in diameter, at least 15 chefs use rakes to cook 500 litres of broth sprinkled over the pan via an irrigation system, with 300kg of rice, 300kg of veggies, 600kg of shellfish, and 400 kg of chicken (all delivered to the pan via backhoe).
Other national public holidays to be aware of include:
- New Year's Day
- Good Friday
- Easter Sunday
- Labour Day / May Day (May 1st)
- Constitution Day (July 18th)
- Independence Day (August 25th)
- Christmas Day
The vibrant capital of Uruguay, Montevideo is a gorgeous city with an eclectic mix of art deco, colonial and Neoclassical architecture, seamlessly intertwined with African influence and European flair. Known for hosting the world’s longest Carnaval, this six-week-long street party puts all other South American countries to shame! In Montevideo, you’ll also find plenty of art galleries, markets, theatres, music venues, exquisite tango bars and beach-side discos. Wander along La Rambla, the world’s longest continuous sidewalk, or perhaps explore the Feria de Tristan Narvaja open-air flea market or experience the local delicacies at the Mercado del Pueblo.
Also known simply as Colonia, it’s one of the oldest cities in Uruguay and can be found just an hour’s ferry trip from Buenos Aires. Home to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site of Barrio Historico, this pretty Old Town Centre features quaint cobblestone streets to explore and colonial architecture to admire. It’s here where you can also find a 17th century convent, a wooden drawbridge and the Basilica del Sanctísimo Sacramento. The views from the top of the lighthouse overlooking the river are well worth the climb!
South & Central America Destinations
From the sub-tropical jungles and steamy falls of Iguazu to the frozen Antarctic water of Tierra del Fuego, it is incredible to believe that one country can contain so much.
Landlocked and sharing borders with Peru, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Paraguay, Bolivia is an intriguing country to visit with a diverse natural environment.
Containing some of the most diverse flora and fauna, Brazil is home to the largest rainforest, one of the world’s longest rivers, and the biggest and most exuberant festivals on the planet.
A land of extremes from the arid Atacama Desert in the north to the southern icebergs of Patagonia, there are few countries on earth that could claim such diversity and so many varied attractions than Chile.
Colombia is , a country of spectacular natural beauty, filled with warm, friendly locals, a fascinating history and an abundance of culture and nightlife.
Costa Rica is a pleasure to explore with the country’s lush and rugged natural beauty, stunning coastlines and fascinating history.
Enjoy incredible scenery at Cienfuegos, discover the rich history at Habana Vieja and immerse yourself in the culture of Trinidad.
Ecuador, the smallest Andean country in South America, offers a wealth of vibrant indigenous cultures, colonial architecture, volcanic landscapes and dense rainforests.
As the birthplace of the ancient Maya civilisation, Guatemala is an intriguing mix of history and culture with an incredible array of natural scenery thrown into the equation.
Mexico is a country of many different identities and jungles, mountains, deserts and beaches all make up Mexico’s rich flora and fauna.