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Tourist Profile: Uruguay

Uruguay is one of the smallest of the South American republics. It is bounded to the north by Brazil, to the southeast by the Atlantic, and is separated from Argentina in the west and south by the River Uruguay. The landscape is made up of hilly meadows broken by streams and rivers. There is a string of beaches along the coast. The country enjoys 500km (300 miles) of fine sandy beaches on the Atlantic and the Rio de la Plata, woods, mountains, hot springs, hotels, casinos, art festivals and numerous opportunities for sport and entertainment. Montevideo, the capital, is the country's natural trading centre. There are nine major bathing beaches, the best of which are Playas and Miramar. The Atlantic coast resorts are popular from December to April, and have fine beaches. Theatre, ballet and symphonic concerts are staged in Montevideo from March to January.

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  • Where to go
  • When to go
  • Money & Costs
  • History
  • Culture

The capital Montevideo and only large city sprawls along the banks of the Río de la Plata, almost directly opposite Buenos Aires. Montevideo a picturesque place of colonial Spanish, Italian and Art Deco styles. Most attention is focused on the Ciudad Vieja, the old city built on a peninsula close to the port and harbor, and the commercial center, located around Plaza Independencia to the east. Take a walk from Plaza Independencia, the grandest of Montevideo's squares, through the Ciudad Vieja to the port. On the plaza is the black-marbled Mauseleo de Artigas, topped by an enormous statue of the national hero, and the 26-story Palacio Salvo, the tallest building in South America when built in 1927 and still the tallest in the city today. The Plaza Constitución, neoclassical Cabildo and the Iglesia Matriz, the oldest public building (1799) in the city, are further west. Other important sights in the area include the Museo Histórico Nacional, which consists of four different homes filled with historical effects, and the Museo del Gaucho y de la Moneda, which houses an impressive display of artefacts from Uruguay's gaucho (cowboy) past.

Also, don't miss the Mercado del Puerto, once the finest port in South America, and now a colorful, lively center filled with markets, restaurants, artists and street musicians. The Feria de Tristán Narvaja is an outdoor market peddling groceries, antiques and souvenirs. A handful of sandy beaches stretch along the metropolitan waterfront and are popular excursions for the city's residents on summer weekends. Inexpensive accommodation, eateries, nightclubs and theaters are found in the Ciudad Vieja, while the best shopping is along Avenida 18 de Julio, which runs eastwards from the old city. The Uruguayan Littoral West of Montevideo, and covering the portion of Uruguay which fronts the Río de la Plata and the Río Uruguay, is the country's most important agricultural area. Its outstanding attraction is the lively colonial city of Colonia (del Sacramento), an under-appreciated gem of narrow cobbled streets flanked by whitewashed buildings. The boating, fishing and swimming are good along the beaches of Mercedes, and there are many excellent museums in Paysandú, Uruguay's second largest city. The Uruguayan Riviera. The area east of Montevideo is one of the most Westernized places in Uruguay with innumerable beach resorts, plenty of water activities and lots of well-groomed, narcissistic tourists sporting hibiscus shirts.

Immediately east of the capital is the major resort of Atlántida, and Piriápolis is a mere flick of the towel away. From here, you can venture into the surrounding countryside and climb the 493m (1617ft) Cerro Pan de Azúcar or visit Minas, a lovely town set in wooded hills.

The largest and best known of the resorts is Punta del Este, one of South America's most glamourous and exclusive destinations. The place is awash with yacht and fishing clubs, golf courses, casinos and beautiful holiday homes. If that's not enough, there are excellent bathing beaches, perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Just offshore are Isla Gorriti, which has more superb beaches and the ruins of an 18th-century fortress, and Isla de Lobos, a nature reserve that is home to a large sea-lion colony en is een van de mondaine badplaatsen van Zuid-Amerika. Leuke eilanden om te bezoeken zijn Isla Gorriti (met prachtige zandstranden en een achttiende-eeuws fort) en Isla de Lobos. Ook het historische stadje Carrasco is het bezoeken waard. Colonia del Sacramento, ten westen van de hoofdstad, behoort tot het werelderfgoed.

Deze plaats is in 1680 gebouwd door Portugezen om de Spanjaarden te imponeren. Het is een levendige stad met smalle straatjes en witte huisjes in een mooie natuurlijke omgeving. Aguas Dulces ligt in het departement Rocha en is ideaal voor een rustige vakantie aan de kust. Dit vissersdorpje kent enkele bescheiden voorzieningen en restaurantjes waar u heerlijke visgerechten kunt uitproberen. De lokale specialiteit is de vrucht van de butía-palm (knoeien geblazen!). Colonia Suiza, 120 kilometer ten westen van Montevideo, is een voormalige Zwitserse landbouwkolonie uit 1862. Deze stad is nog steeds hét centrum van de zuivelproductie, en er hangt een opvallend Europese sfeer.

Uruguay

Uruguay's main attraction is its beaches, so most visitors come in summer. Along the littoral, summer temperatures are smothering hot, but the hilly interior is cooler, especially at night. Uruguay has a temperate climate. The average temperature for the warmest months of January and February is 21.7° C (71° F), and for the coldest month, June, 10° C (50° F). Rain falls throughout the year and averages about 890 mm (35 in) annually. During the winter months cold storms known as pamperos blow from the south-west. You could go to South America at any time of year and find good weather or bad: unbearable tropical humidity or bone-chilling cold.

The equator runs through northern Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador and the countries immediately to the north and south of it are essentially tropical in climate (altitude aside), and so as a general rule are less humid, even if they are as hot, in our winter ( Dec.-Feb.). The further south you go, the more temperate the climate becomes. Generally, winter is a good time to go to Uruguay. Going Uruguay is not something you would do just in a blur, you would to think about it and maybe visit the neighbouring countries.

Currency: Peso Uruguayo (U$)

Meals
  • Budget: US$2-8
  • Mid-range: US$8-15
  • Top-end: US$15 and upwardsLodging
Lodging
  • Budget: US$5-15
  • Mid-range: US$15-20
  • Top-end: US$20 and upwards

Annual inflation in Uruguay hovers around 15%, but steady devaluations keep prices from rising rapidly in dollar terms.Costs are slightly lower than in Argentina, especially with respect to accommodation and transportation. Budget travelers can get by on US$15 a day; those looking for a bit more comfort and nutrition should expect to spend closer to US$30 a day. Cambios in Montevideo, Colonia and Atlantic beach resorts change US dollars cash and travelers' checks (the latter at slightly lower rates or modest commissions). Banks are the rule in the interior. Better hotels, restaurants and shops accept credit cards, but Uruguayan ATMs reject North American or European credit cards. There is no black market. In restaurants, it's customary to tip about 10% of the bill. Taxi drivers do not require tips, although you may round off the fare for convenience.

Uruguay's aboriginal inhabitants were the Charrúa Indians, a hunter-gatherer people who cared little for outsiders. They killed the explorer Juan Diaz de Solís and most of his party when the Spaniards encountered them in 1516. By the 17th century, the Charrúas had prospered and, abandoning hostilities, began trading with the Spanish. In 1680, the Portuguese founded Colonia on the estuary of the Río de la Plata as a rival to Spanish-held Buenos Aires on the opposite shore. Spain responded by building its own citadel at Montevideo. Uruguayan hero José Artigas fought against the Spanish but was unable to prevent a Brazilian takeover of the Banda (the original name of the eastern shore of the Río de la Plata). Exiled to Paraguay, he inspired the '33 Orientales' who, with Argentine support, liberated the area in 1828 and established Uruguay as an independent buffer state between Argentina and Brazil. Uruguay's fragile independence was repeatedly threatened during the 19th century - militarily by Argentina and Brazil, and economically by Britain. Federalist forces in collusion with Argentina besieged Montevideo from 1838-51 and helped create two warring political parties, the Blancos and the Colorados. Around the same time, the British introduced new wool, meat and rail industries.

They also replaced the rangy criollo stock with their own cattle, thus commercializing one of the country's few abundant resources. For the remainder of the century, the contest between the Blancos and Colorados continued, immersing the country in civil war, dictatorship and political intrigue.

In the early 20th century, the visionary President José Batlle y Ordóñez achieved far-reaching reforms and made Uruguay the only 'welfare state' in Latin America. During his two terms as president - 1903-07 and 1911-15 - he implemented a range of free social services, abolished capital punishment and sought to curb the country's legacy of strong-arm rule. Uruguay soon flourished on the back of the rural livestock sector but its failure to grow, coupled with the country's lack of natural resources, meant the welfare state became increasingly fictitious over time. The country's former prosperity had ebbed away by the 1960s as state-supported enterprises became riddled with corruption. The country slid into dictatorship and was thrown into turmoil by the Tupamaros, an urban guerrilla movement which appeared publicly in 1967.

In 1971, the military was invited to participate in government, Congress was dissolved, and the Tupamaros were effectively wiped out. The much-hated military continued to hold sway in national politics until 1984 when Julio María Sanguinetti won the presidential election. His government implied a return to democratic traditions and fostered a process of national reconciliation beginning with a widespread political amnesty, but there were no new radical economic policies. In 1990, free-market reformer Luis Alberto Lacalle took office. However, in 1994, considerable opposition to Lacalle's plans for wage restraint, spending cuts and major state sell-offs paved the way for Sanguinetti to once again take control.

Uruguay may be a small country but it has impressive artistic and literary traditions. International acclaim has greeted artists such as Pedro Figari, a painter of bucolic scenes, and José Enrique Rodó, arguably the nation's greatest writer. Theater is popular and playwrights such as Mauricio Rosencof - a former Tupamaros founder tortured by the military government in the 1970s - are prominent in cultural life. Most of the country's musical and dance traditions (folk songs, polkas, waltzes, tangos, etc) came from Europe but developed local hybrids. Football is a national obsession. Uruguayans who profess a religion are almost exclusively Roman Catholic, but the Church and state are officially separate. Other religions have made small inroads: There is a small Jewish community in Montevideo, several evangelical Protestant groups and traces of Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

Uruguayans are voracious meat eaters and the parrillada (beef platter) is a national standard. Another standard is chivito, a tasty and substantial steak sandwich with all the trimmings. Typical snacks include olímpicos (club sandwiches) and húngaros (spicy sausage wrapped in a hot dog roll). Tea or mate is quaffed in enormous quantities. Clericó, a mixture of white wine and fruit juice, and medio y medio, part sparkling wine and part white wine, are popular, and the beer is pretty good.