What was once South America’s best-kept secret has since become one of the more popular destinations for tourists around the continent and around the world—but that doesn’t mean its appeal is gone. Uruguay is bursting at the seams with picturesque beaches, incredible rolling countrysides and old towns full of colonial architecture and atmosphere. The welcome charm that rolls over you when visiting Uruguay is infectious and soon you’ll find yourself acting and behaving as they are—fiercely confident, proud and chock full of personality.
Uruguayans are, by and large, a relaxed and friendly people who enjoy a high standard of living and are welcoming to anyone in their country. Plus, because the country is smaller than most in South America (about 17,600 sq km), visitors to Uruguay can see a lot of the country in less time. Although that isn’t to say you shouldn’t spend more time in Uruguay if you have the opportunity! After all, there is a reason that the best kept South American secret spread like wildfire to become the tourism powerhouse it is today: it’s almost too easy to fall in love with the affordable, chic and relaxing atmosphere of Uruguay.
Due to its strategic position near the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, Uruguay's territory was hotly contested from the arrival of the first Europeans. The Spanish established Montevideo in 1726 but continued to battle with the Portuguese for control of the eastern shore of the river, which would eventually become Uruguay. In 1828, a scrappy band of patriots led by General Juan Lavalleja and inspired by nationalist hero Jose Artigas finally won independence for Uruguay, establishing it as a buffer between the newly formed nations of Brazil and Argentina.
Montevideo is the perfect place to start your adventures in Uruguay as it is home to over half of the country’s population and acts as the country’s capital. Inhabitants of Montevideo enjoy an eclectic, electrifying and rich cultural life full of arts, theatre, music and more. A mish-mash of tourist favourites and local necessity, Montevideo has a powerful industrial neighbourhood that tussles with the historic downtown business district for space and influence. Beach communities to the south of the city lend an international air to things as you can hop from an older theatre to a cosy pub to a jumping tango bar all on the same street.
Before people knew what was what, Punta del Este was just a regular desert region where fishermen and sailors set up shop. Now, Punta del Este has become the St. Tropez of South America and pulls an incredible 300,000 tourists a year through its streets. Elegance, luxury, glitz, fashion and celebrity are all at home in Punta del Este where you’ll likely waste the day away on one of the magnificent beaches, then dine at a five-star restaurant and follow it up with some late-night clubbing at any of the glamourous resorts and pricey bars.
Visiting Colonia Del Sacramento is like taking a trip back through time to the 17th century. The city was founded back in 1680 by Portuguese settlers and is known for its winding, cobbled streets and architecture that lends itself to old Lisbon styles. On these oft-uneven cobbled streets lies a city full of tiny bars, delicious restaurants, arts and crafts stores, museums and in the centre of town, a large yacht harbour. Because of the city’s close proximity to Buenos Aires, many times Colonia is overrun with Argentine visitors getting away for a long summer weekend.
La Paloma in Uruguay isn’t on this list for its incredibly vibrant city centres or its rich historical value—the city isn’t often recognized for either. It is, however, very well known for its beaches and surfing hot spots. La Paloma is the perfect beach city alternative to the oft-crowded Punta del Este. Surfers, sun-lovers and beach bunnies all head to La Paloma for the ideal beach weekend getaway.
The best time to visit Uruguay is from October through March when the sun is shining and the temperatures are perfectly mild. Punta del Este is overflowing with tourists in the summer months and if you want some more low-key and relaxed time at the beach, try heading there more between October and November. The average temperatures are 17 degrees in spring, 23 degrees in summer, 18 degrees in autumn and 12 degrees in winter.
According to Smarttraveller, Australian tourists may be eligible to enter Uruguay without a visa for tourist visits up to 90 days. Get in touch with the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Uruguay to get more information about visa needs—their conditions and rules change frequently. The official currency is the Uruguayan peso and currently the exchange rate is about $1 AUD to 22 Uruguayan pesos.
Uruguay is a long trip away from Australia and while you are in transit and travelling around the small, but amazing South American country, you'll want to have support and help if you ever need it. With a travel insurance policy for international holidays from Cover-More, you'll have access to lost luggage cover, travel health cover and much more.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Adric1010