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URUGUAY TRAVEL GUIDE

Uruguay is a South American country known for its verdant interior and beach-lined coast. The capital, Montevideo, revolves around Plaza Independencia, once home to a Spanish citadel. Progressive, stable, safe and culturally sophisticated, Uruguay offers visitors opportunities to experience everyday ‘not made for tourists’ moments, whether caught in a cow-and-gaucho (cowboy) traffic jam on a dirt road to nowhere or strolling with maté-toting locals along Montevideo’s beachfront.

 

It pays to dig deeper than just the cosmopolitan Montevideo though. Go wildlife-watching along the Atlantic coast, or hot-spring-hopping up the Río Uruguay, or horseback riding under the big sky of Uruguay’s interior, where vast fields spread out like oceans.

COUNTRY PAGE
  • Capital: Montevideo
  • Government: Republic
  • Currency: Uruguayan peso (UYU)
  • Area: 176,220 km²
  • Population: 3,449 million (2018)
  • Language: Spanish (official), Portuñol, or Brasilero
  • Religion:Roman Catholic 47%, non-professing or other the remainder, with almost 20% agnostic/atheist

 

Uruguay is often called the Switzerland of South America not for geographical features but for a stable democracy and social benefits such as free education, but mostly due to a developed financial sector based on bank secrecy.

 

In 2013 Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize cannabis. Uruguayan citizens are allowed to grow up to 6 marijuana plants for personal use each year, and are entitled to purchase up to 40g per month at local pharmacies through the government’s national distribution system. Smoking marijuana in public is perfectly legal – for anyone, foreigners included – in the same places where cigarette smoking is permitted. However, non-Uruguayans are not allowed to purchase any for themselves.

 

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SEASONS AT A GLANCE

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Peak Season

Shoulder Season

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Climate Chart with avergae monthly temperatues and rainfall

BEST TIME TO VISIT URUGUAY

The best time to visit Uruguay is October through March, when the sun shines and temperatures are mild. Punta del Este overflows with tourists from Argentina in summer; if you're seeking a more relaxed time to visit the beaches of the coast, consider going between October and December. That said, every season in Uruguay offers travellers ideal weather for a certain type of activity. In the country’s autumn months (from late April to early June), you can enjoy exploring the city, as well as the coastal region without the crowds of the summer season.

 

Temperatures begin to cool in Uruguay during the Autumn months (March - May). While the busy tourist season of the summer dies down, visitors at this time will enjoy warm days and quiet streets perfect for strolling. Additionally, marked as the harvest season, vineyards across the country are busy picking grapes. The event is largely celebrated, including wine festivals and events at many vineyards and towns across the country.

 

  • February - Street theatre and drumming consume Montevideo during Carnaval celebrations.
  • March - Tacuarembó’s gaucho festival, plus lower prices on the still-sunny Atlantic coast.
  • October - Soak in Salto’s hot springs, or explore Uruguay’s monuments for free during Días del Patrimonio.

BEST TIME FOR:

The best time to enjoy the beautiful beaches of Uruguay is from October to May, with the busiest peak tourist season (and warmest weather) between December and March. 


Uruguay boasts a variety of beautiful beaches, each offering a unique experience. Punta del Este is renowned for its vibrant atmosphere and is a hub for celebrities and tourists alike, featuring the famous Brava Beach known for its surfing opportunities and the iconic La Mano sculpture. 


For those seeking a more tranquil setting, Playa Mansa offers serene waters and stunning sunsets, while Pocitos Beach combines upscale surroundings with cultural attractions like the Naval Museum of Montevideo. For a more secluded experience, the remote sands of Cabo Polonio provide a peaceful retreat amidst nature.

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URUGUAY TRAVEL COSTS

Generally speaking, Uruguay is considered to be moderately expensive compared to other destinations in South America, but it can be more affordable than some of its neighboring countries like Argentina or Chile.


Here are some factors to consider when evaluating the cost of traveling to Uruguay:

  • Accommodation costs can range from budget hostels to luxury resorts. Prices vary depending on the location and the level of comfort you seek. In popular tourist areas like Punta del Este or Montevideo, expect higher prices, especially during peak seasons.

  • Transportation such as buses, taxis, and shared taxis called "remises," is generally affordable. Renting a car is also an option but can add to your expenses.

  • Food and Dining out out in Uruguay can be reasonably priced, especially if you stick to local eateries and markets. Uruguay is famous for its beef, so trying local specialties like "asado" (barbecue) can be a highlight. However, dining at upscale restaurants or international chains can be more expensive.

  • The cost of activities and attractions in Uruguay varies. Some activities like visiting museums or exploring national parks may have nominal entrance fees, while others like guided tours or water sports can be more costly.

  • Keep in mind that exchange rates can affect your expenses. It's a good idea to check the current exchange rate and plan your budget accordingly.

In comparison to other destinations in South America, Uruguay might be slightly more expensive than countries like Peru or Bolivia but could be on par with countries like Brazil or Colombia, depending on where you go and how you travel. Ultimately, your travel budget and preferences will determine whether Uruguay is expensive for you compared to other similar destinations.

 

HOW EXPENSIVE IS URUGUAY

Here's a sample daily budget breakdown for traveling in Uruguay, based on mid-range expenses:

  • Accommodation: Hostels or budget hotels: $30 - $50 per night, Mid-range hotels or guesthouses: $70 - $150 per night.
    Food and Dining:Breakfast at a café or hostel: $5 - $10, Lunch at a local restaurant or market: $10 - $20, Dinner at a mid-range restaurant: $20 - $40, Total daily food expenses: $35 - $70
    Transportation:Public transportation (buses, taxis): $5 - $15 per day, Renting a bicycle: $10 - $20 per day, Renting a car: $50 - $100 per day (excluding fuel and insurance)
    Activities and Attractions:Entrance fees to museums and attractions: $5 - $15 per attraction, Guided tours or excursions: $30 - $100 depending on the activity, Beach activities (renting umbrellas, chairs, etc.): $10 - $30 per day
    Miscellaneous:Souvenirs and miscellaneous expenses: $10 - $30 per day, Tips and gratuities: Tipping is not mandatory but appreciated, around 10% of the bill is customary.

Total Daily Budget Range: $105 - $285


Keep in mind that this is a general estimate and actual expenses can vary based on your travel style, preferences, and the specific locations you visit within Uruguay.

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TRAVEL TIPS FOR URUGUAY

  • Get off the beaten track: Look beyond the tourist hot spots and embrace Uruguay’s wide-open spaces in places like Valle del Lunarejo and Cabo Polonio.

  • Learn Some Spanish Phrases: While many Uruguayans speak English, especially in tourist areas, knowing some basic Spanish phrases can enhance your experience and make it easier to communicate with locals.

  • Montevideo: If possible, visit Montevideo on the weekend, when you can enjoy some of the city’s most iconic local events, like the Ciudad Vieja antiques market.

  • Explore Beyond Montevideo: While Montevideo, the capital city, is vibrant and worth exploring, don't miss out on other gems like Punta del Este, Colonia del Sacramento, and the countryside. Each destination offers its own unique charm and attractions.

  • Try the Local Cuisine: Uruguay is famous for its beef, so be sure to try the traditional barbecue known as "asado." Also, don't miss out on other local dishes like "chivito" (a sandwich with steak, ham, cheese, and other toppings) and "mate" (a traditional herbal tea).

  • Stay Safe: Uruguay is generally considered safe for travelers, but it's still important to take common-sense precautions. Keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas, and be cautious when using ATMs.

  • Use Public Transportation: Travel in Uruguay is refreshingly easy. Uruguay has a reliable and affordable public transportation system, especially in Montevideo and other major cities. Buses are a convenient way to get around, and taxis are also readily available.

  • Respect Local Customs: Uruguayans are known for their friendliness and hospitality. Show respect for local customs and traditions, such as greeting people with a handshake or kiss on the cheek, and avoid discussing sensitive topics like politics or religion unless invited to do so.

  • Embrace the Beach Culture: Uruguay boasts beautiful beaches along its coastline. Whether you're looking to relax, swim, or enjoy water sports, be sure to spend some time soaking up the sun and enjoying the beach culture. One of the prettiest beach towns on the Atlantic Coast, the Punta del Diablo has an easy-going vibe and laid-back guesthouses, beachfront bars and fireside parties on the sands.

  • Stay Flexible: Uruguayan culture values "tranquilo" (relaxation) and things may not always go according to plan. Embrace the laid-back atmosphere and be flexible with your itinerary.

 

GETTING AROUND MONTEVIDEO

  • Buses, shuttle vans, taxis and remises (private cars) make the 20km journey from the airport into Montevideo. Cheapest are the local Copsa and Cutcsa buses (US$1.50, 45 minutes) that leave from a stop directly in front of the arrivals hall, making frequent stops en route to Terminal Suburbana, five blocks north of Plaza del Entrevero. Faster and more comfortable is COT’s direct bus service between the airport (US$4.50, 30 minutes) and Tres Cruces bus terminal. Look for the stop to the right as you exit the arrivals hall. Shared shuttle vans (five-person minimum) also travel from the airport to the center (US$10 per person); buy tickets from the taxi counter in the airport arrivals hall. Fixed-rate airport taxis charge between US$30 to US$40 (depending on neighbourhood) for the 30- to 45-minute taxi ride from the airport into Montevideo. You can also book a private car (remise) for the same price in advance on www.bybremises.com.

  • Montevideo’s city buses, operated by Cutcsa, go almost everywhere for < US$1 per ride. For the beach neighbourhoods of Punta Carretas and Pocitos, take city buses 174 and 183, respectively, from in front of the terminal.

  • At the time of writing Uber is available in Montevideo as well as in Punta del Este.

 

GETTING AROUND URUGUAY

  • Buses are comfortable, the government-regulated fares are reasonable and distances are short. Many companies offer free wi-fi on board. In the few cities that lack terminals, all companies are within easy walking distance of each other, usually around the main plaza.

  • If you are staying in Uruguay less than 90 days and plan to drive, you need only bring a valid driver’s license from your home country. Uruguayan drivers are extremely considerate on average.

  • Taxis, remises (private cars) and local buses are similar to those in Argentina. Taxis are metered; between 10pm and 6am, and on Sundays and holidays, fares are 20% higher. There’s a small additional charge for luggage, and passengers generally tip the driver by rounding fares up to the next multiple of five or 10 pesos. Uber and similar ride-sharing services are also widely used in Montevideo and Punta de Este.

  • Micros (minibuses) form the backbone of the local transit network in smaller coastal towns such as La Paloma.


REGIONS & HIGHLIGHTS OF URUGUAY

Uruguay is a relatively small country, but it offers a diverse range of attractions across its various regions. Here are some of the main regions worth visiting and their highlights:


Montevideo and the Coast:

  • Montevideo: Uruguay’s capital and largest city, Montevideo is a favourite for many travellers: small enough to walk or cycle around, but big enough to have some great museums and nightlife, plus an impressive string of beaches along the Río de la Plata. Young montevideanos (people from Montevideo) take genuine pride in their city, and the arts and artisan scene is particularly strong. Montevideo’s most interesting buildings and museums are in the Ciudad Vieja (Old Town), west of Plaza Independencia, the city’s largest square. Hire a bicycle and go cruising along the riverfront Rambla, a 20km walking-jogging-cycling track that leads past Parque Rodó, one of Montevideo’s most popular parks, then follows the shoreline to the city’s eastern beaches: Punta Carretas, Pocitos, Buceo, Malvin and Carrasco.

  • Punta del Este: A glamorous beach resort city famous for its stunning beaches, upscale restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. Visit Playa Brava and Playa Mansa, browse the shops and galleries in La Barra, and take a selfie at the iconic hand sculpture, La Mano.


Colonia del Sacramento:

  • A UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its well-preserved colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. Explore the historic quarter, visit the lighthouse for panoramic views, and stroll along the picturesque waterfront.


Eastern Region:

This is Uruguay’s playground - a long stretch of beaches all the way from Montevideo to the Brazilian border offers something for everyone: from surfers, party animals, nature lovers to family groups. In midsummer prices skyrocket and beach towns seriously pack out. During the rest of the year you might have them to yourself. Conflicts between Spain and Portugal, and then between Argentina and Brazil, left eastern Uruguay with historical monuments such as the imposing fortress of Santa Teresa. Just inland lies a varied landscape of palm savannas, lagoons and marshes rich in birdlife.

  • Cabo Polonio: A remote coastal village with no roads or electricity, known for its pristine beaches, shifting sand dunes, and abundant wildlife. Take a 4x4 tour to explore the area, climb the iconic lighthouse, and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere.

  • Piriápolis: A charming beach town nestled between hills and the sea, offering scenic landscapes, historic landmarks, and outdoor activities like hiking and horseback riding. Don't miss the panoramic views from Cerro San Antonio.


Western Region:

The land west of Montevideo is in many ways the ‘real’ Uruguay – little river towns separated by large expanses of pampas and wheat fields. It’s far off the tourist trail, mostly, except for the region’s superstar, Colonia del Sacramento, whose charms attract visitors from all over the world. 

  • Colonia del Sacramento: Take a step back in time as you explore the gracious 18th-century cobbled streets and fascinating history of former smugglers’ haven, Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. Check out the great bar and restaurant scene and the gorgeous position on a peninsula of the Río de la Plata. All this and its super-accessible location a short hop away from both Montevideo and Buenos Aires make ‘Colonia’ a classic tourist town, but even on weekends it’s worth dodging the crowds and letting yourself get seduced by the town’s eternal charms.

  • Salto: Known for its hot springs and thermal baths, Salto is a popular destination for relaxation and wellness. Visit Termas del Daymán or Termas de Arapey to soak in the therapeutic waters and enjoy spa treatments.

  • Paysandú: A city situated on the Uruguay River, offering opportunities for outdoor recreation such as fishing, boating, and birdwatching. Explore the waterfront area, visit historic sites like the San Francisco de Paysandú Cathedral, and sample local cuisine.


Northern Region:

  • Tacuarembó: Known as the "cradle of gaucho culture," Tacuarembó is a rural region with vast grasslands, estancias (ranches), and traditional festivals celebrating Uruguayan cowboy heritage. Explore the countryside on horseback, attend a rodeo or folklore event, and learn about gaucho traditions at local museums.

 

Download map waypoints for URUGUAY here: KML / GPX 

WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN URUGUAY

WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN URUGAY

 

  • Carnaval - Dance the nights away during Montevideo’s famous festivities.

  • Punta del Diablo - Catch a wave or a beach party along the sultry shoreline.

  • Thermal Baths - Soak your travel-weary muscles in the hot springs near Salto.

  • Valle del Lunarejo - Get yourself off the beaten track in this pristine nature preserve.

  • Colonia del Sacramento - Sunbathe on the town wall like a local, or just wander around this town on the Río de la Plata.

  • Cabo Polonio - Get lost in the sand dunes and spot sea lions from atop the lighthouse.

  • Museo de la Revolución Industrial - Tour Uruguay’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site in Fray Bentos.

  • Punta del Este - Hitting the beaches by day and the clubs by night.

  • Tacuarembó - Discover the simple joys of estancia living under the stars.


RECOMMENDED ITINERARY FOR URUGUAY

TWO WEEKS

With a week up your sleeve you definitely won’t see all of Uruguay, but if you keep on the move you can see some of the best of what Uruguay has to offer. Start in the easy-going, picturesque historical river port of Colonia and head for the urban attractions of Montevideo, both an easy ferry ride from Buenos Aires. From Montevideo, continue north along the Atlantic coast and sample a few of Uruguay’s best beaches: the 1930s vintage resort of Piriápolis, glitzy Punta del Este, isolated Cabo Polonio, surfer-friendly La Paloma or the relaxed beach-party town of Punta del Diablo. Alternatively, follow the Río Uruguay upstream toward Iguazú Falls via the quirky industrial museum at Fray Bentos and the wonderful hot springs of Salto. Adding another week will allow you to do the above at a more leisurely pace, plus get out and explore Uruguay’s scenic and little-visited interior, where the gaucho (cowboy) tradition lives on.



  • Carnaval - Dance the nights away during Montevideo’s famous festivities.

  • Punta del Diablo - Catch a wave or a beach party along the sultry shoreline.

  • Thermal Baths - Soak your travel-weary muscles in the hot springs near Salto.

  • Valle del Lunarejo - Get yourself off the beaten track in this pristine nature preserve.

  • Colonia del Sacramento - Sunbathe on the town wall like a local, or just wander around this town on the Río de la Plata.

  • Cabo Polonio - Get lost in the sand dunes and spot sea lions from atop the lighthouse.

  • Museo de la Revolución Industrial - Tour Uruguay’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site in Fray Bentos.

  • Punta del Este - Hitting the beaches by day and the clubs by night.

  • Tacuarembó - Discover the simple joys of estancia living under the stars.


SUGGESTED ITINERARIES FOR URUGUAY


ONE WEEK ITINERARY FOR URUGUAY

Day 1-3: Montevideo

  • Day 1: Arrival in Montevideo, explore Ciudad Vieja (Old Town), visit the Mercado del Puerto for lunch, and stroll along the Rambla waterfront.

  • Day 2: Visit Plaza Independencia, explore the Legislative Palace, and wander through Parque Rodó. In the evening, experience Montevideo's nightlife in neighborhoods like Pocitos or Punta Carretas.

  • Day 3: Take a day trip to nearby attractions such as Punta del Este or Colonia del Sacramento. In Punta del Este, enjoy the beaches and visit landmarks like La Mano sculpture. In Colonia, explore the historic quarter and visit the lighthouse.

Day 4-7: Punta del Este

  • Day 4: Travel to Punta del Este and spend the day relaxing on the beaches of Playa Brava and Playa Mansa.

  • Day 5: Explore the trendy neighborhood of La Barra, visit art galleries, and enjoy lunch at a seaside restaurant.

  • Day 6: Take a boat tour to Isla Gorriti for snorkeling or sunbathing. In the evening, explore the nightlife in Punta del Este.

  • Day 7: Visit nearby attractions such as Casapueblo, a unique art gallery and hotel designed by Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. Spend your last evening enjoying dinner and drinks overlooking the sunset.



TWO WEEK ITINERARY FO URUGUAY

Day 1-3: Montevideo

  • Follow the itinerary for Montevideo as outlined in the one-week itinerary.


Day 4-7: Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo

  • Day 4: Travel to Colonia del Sacramento and spend the day exploring the historic quarter, visiting landmarks like the lighthouse and Plaza Mayor.

  • Day 5: Return to Montevideo and take a day trip to nearby wineries in the Canelones wine region. Enjoy wine tastings and learn about Uruguay's wine production.

  • Day 6: Visit additional attractions in Montevideo, such as the Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales or the Botanical Garden.

  • Day 7: Relax and enjoy Montevideo's beaches, such as Pocitos or Playa Ramirez.


Day 8-14: Eastern Region

  • Day 8: Travel to Punta del Este and spend the day exploring the city's beaches and landmarks.

  • Day 9: Take a day trip to Cabo Polonio, exploring the remote coastal village and enjoying activities like dune buggying or wildlife watching.

  • Day 10: Return to Punta del Este and visit nearby attractions such as Casapueblo or the nearby beach town of José Ignacio.

  • Day 11-13: Relax and enjoy the beaches of Punta del Este, take part in water sports or boat tours, and explore the local cuisine.

  • Day 14: Departure from Punta del Este.


These itineraries offer a balance of cultural exploration, outdoor activities, and relaxation, allowing you to experience the diverse highlights of Uruguay within one or two weeks. Adjustments can be made based on your interests and preferences.

WHAT TO EAT IN URUGUAY

Uruguayan cuisine revolves around grilled meat. Parrillas (restaurants with big racks of meat roasting over a wood fire) are everywhere, and weekend asados (barbecues) are a national tradition. Chivitos are hugely popular, as are chivitos al plato (served with fried potatoes instead of bread). In rural Uruguay, vegetarians often have to content themselves with the ubiquitous pizza and pasta, although vegetarian- and vegan-friendly restaurants are increasingly emerging in places like Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento. Seafood is excellent on the coast. Desserts are heavy on meringue, dulce de leche (milk caramel), burnt sugar and custard. 


  • Asado - Mixed grill featuring various cuts of meat cooked over a wood fire.

  • Buñuelos de Algas - Savoury seaweed fritters.

  • Chajá - A sweet concoction of sponge cake, meringue, cream and fruit.

  • Chivito - Steak sandwich piled high with toppings.

  • Medio y medio - A refreshing blend of half white wine, half sparkling wine.

 

Most restaurants charge cubiertos – small ‘cover’ charges that theoretically pay for the basket of bread offered before your meal.

LGBTQ IN URUGUAY

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WHERE TO STAY IN URUGUAY

When visiting Uruguay for the first time, there are several regions worth considering, each offering unique attractions and experiences. Here are some options along with reasons and accommodation suggestions for each:


Where to stay in Montevideo

Montevideo is the capital city of Uruguay, offering a blend of history, culture, and modernity. It's known for its charming Old Town, beautiful coastline, vibrant street markets, and lively nightlife.

  • Budget: Hotel Hispano: Hotel Hispano provides affordable accommodations with basic amenities. Situated in the Ciudad Vieja neighborhood, guests can explore the historic district and nearby attractions easily.

  • Mid-range: Own Montevideo: Own Montevideo is a stylish mid-range hotel located in the Pocitos neighborhood. Guests can stay in modern and well-equipped rooms, enjoy amenities such as a fitness center and rooftop pool, and dine at the hotel's restaurant serving international cuisine.

  • Luxury: Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco & Spa: Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco & Spa is a luxury hotel housed in a historic building overlooking the beach. Guests can stay in elegant rooms and suites, enjoy access to a casino, spa, fitness center, and multiple dining options.


Where to stay in Punta del Este

Punta del Este is Uruguay's premier beach resort town, known for its beautiful beaches, upscale resorts, glamorous nightlife, and vibrant art scene.

  • Budget: Hotel Milano: Hotel Milano is another budget-friendly option located in the heart of Punta del Este. Guests appreciate its convenient location, clean rooms, and friendly staff. The hotel offers basic amenities and is a great choice for travelers on a budget.

  • Mid-range: Hotel Atlántico: Hotel Atlántico offers mid-range accommodations with a prime location near Playa Brava and Punta del Este's main attractions. Guests can stay in modern and well-equipped rooms, enjoy amenities such as a swimming pool and fitness center, and relax in the hotel's gardens.

  • Luxury: The Grand Hotel Punta del Este: The Grand Hotel Punta del Este is a luxury hotel located on Playa Brava. Guests can stay in elegant rooms and suites with panoramic views of the ocean, enjoy access to multiple swimming pools, spa, fitness center, and gourmet restaurants.


Where to stay in Colonia del Sacramento

Colonia del Sacramento is a charming colonial town on the banks of the Río de la Plata, known for its cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and picturesque waterfront.

  • Budget: Posada del Gobernador: Posada del Gobernador offers budget-friendly accommodations in a historic building near the city center of Colonia del Sacramento. Guests can stay in simple yet comfortable rooms and enjoy amenities such as free Wi-Fi and breakfast.

  • Mid-range: Charco Hotel: Charco Hotel offers mid-range accommodations with a prime location overlooking the Rio de la Plata. Guests can stay in modern and stylish rooms, enjoy amenities such as a rooftop terrace with panoramic views, and relax in the hotel's gardens.

  • Luxury: Radisson Colonia del Sacramento Hotel & Casino: Radisson Colonia del Sacramento Hotel & Casino is a luxury hotel located near the waterfront of Colonia del Sacramento. Guests can stay in elegant rooms and suites, enjoy access to a casino, spa, fitness center, and gourmet dining options.



Each of these areas in Uruguay offers its own unique experiences and accommodation options to suit different preferences and budgets. Whether you're interested in exploring historic cities, relaxing on beautiful beaches, or experiencing vibrant nightlife, Uruguay has something to offer for every traveler.


For hassle-free bookings, use platforms like Booking.com for competitive rates or Holiday Swap for unique homes worldwide. Ensure to book in advance, especially during peak seasons, and align your preferences with nearby activities such as surfing, snorkeling, or cultural exploration.

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