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Did You Know … ?

  • Each year, Uruguayans consume more than 200 pounds of meat, more than Argentinians.
  • The country is, officially, the Oriental Republic of Uruguay.
  • Uruguay is a Guarani Indian name that means river of the painted birds.
  • Uruguay’s national anthem is the world’s longest (11 verses lasting about five minutes).
  • Roughly 18% of Uruguayans live abroad.

Of beaches and pampas

Uruguay is an often-overlooked South American destination although it has what it takes to satisfy tourists attracted to Latin American cities and colonial architecture or those interested in beach and resort activities during North America’s winter.

Uruguay, about the size of Washington state and the second-smallest South American country, is a buffer zone tucked in between Argentina and Brazil on the continent’s Atlantic coast.

It has sandy beaches on the ocean, but also on the Rio de la Plata, the broad river that provides part of the country’s border with Argentina. The resort towns offer the de rigueur activities ranging from fishing and sunbathing to diving and surfing. The Riviera region provides some sightseeing opportunities, often to view colonial relics, and access to a low-rise mountain for climbing or skiing, depending on season.

Reminders of the colonial era appear in several places in Uruguay, including the historic heart of Montevideo, but the top destination for that is Colonia, which overlooks the Rio de la Plata and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Beyond the coastal areas, Uruguay is generally flat or has rolling hills. That terrain and a temperate climate combine to foster Uruguayan agriculture and especially cattle ranching. As a result, beef is a central menu item in restaurants and some ranches are on the tourist circuit where visitors can see something of the pampas (the Uruguayan version) and the fabled gaucho way of life while overnighting in accommodations that vary from rustic to deluxe.

As for city life, in Uruguay, that means Montevideo, the capital, where about half the population lives. This city, also overlooking the Rio de la Plata, is a bureaucratic center but offers the country’s richest choices for museums, theater, dining experiences and nightlife.

Uruguay is a stable nation, where political and labor conditions are among the freest on the continent. However, it does have problems with crime, particularly in Montevideo and, seasonally, in resort areas when tourists are there in large numbers. Keep security in mind when planning a trip to Uruguay.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Try ways with meat that you won’t find at home. Uruguayan specialties include carbonade (a mixture of meat, rice, peaches and raisins) and morcilla dulce (a blood sausage made with walnuts and raisins).
  • Fish on the Uruguay River for the golden dorado, considered one of the most ferocious freshwater game fish in South America.
  • Dance in the parade at Montevideo’s Carnival. The festival welcomes all comers.
  • Choose your watery fun — diving, surfing or windsurfing — at Maldonado on the Uruguayan Riviera.
  • Uruguay is not a mountainous place, but for eager climbers, there is the country’s tallest mountain, Mount Catedral (1,683 feet) near Rocha in southeastern Uruguay, not far inland from the Uruguayan Riviera.
  • Visit one or more of the small candombe clubs in Montevideo’s largely black Barrio Sur neighborhoods to hear the African-based music.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Sip Clerico, a national favorite made with white wine and fruit juice. Sample Uruguayan wines, too. A specialty is the deep red Tannat of Basque origin.
  • Comb the beach at Punta del Diablo in Rocha. You might stumble across a fur seal here.
  • Soak in the Dayman Hot Springs, mineral-rich and clear thermal springs near Salto in northwestern Uruguay. It is one of several thermal springs in Uruguay’s northwestern states of Artigas, Salto and Payandu.
  • Learn to tango. Uruguay makes claims, in competition with Argentina, for the origins of the dance.
  • Sip mate, a slightly bitter herbal tea generally served in a carved gourd and sipped through a silver straw. It’s an acquired taste. Buy mate paraphernalia as souvenirs.
  • Visit a ranch and watch the gauchos at work. Stay for several days if you can.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Go to the beach at Punta de Este while the snow is blowing up north.
  • Shop for leather goods. Uruguay’s prices are hard to beat.
  • Order a chivito, which is Uruguay’s steak sandwich.
  • Walk the streets and imagine 17th century Uruguay in Colonia, a historic fortress and contraband port founded by the Portuguese in 1680 that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • See the historic fortresses of Santa Teresa and San Miguel during a tour of the inland areas around Uruguay’s Riviera. Also, devote some time to the colonial relics in the beach town of Maldonado, which was founded in 1755.
  • From Punta del Este, arrange a visit to the nature reserve on Isla de Lobos, six miles offshore, to see southern sea lions.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Uruguay Ministry of Tourism at and choose your language if necessary.