Sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina, the two largest countries in South America, Uruguay is sometimes overlooked. But the “Switzerland of South America” offers more than meets the eye: you can spend time with the cowboys on an estancia or head off-road for a gaucho adventure; hang out in Punta del Este, the playground of models and millionaires; or just get some sun at some of the best beaches in the southern hemisphere.
Uruguay is located on the east coast of South America between Argentina and Brazil. On the map it looks tiny in comparison to its huge neighbours and, with a population of approximately 3.5 million people, it is relatively small. But don’t let size put you off!
The name “Uruguay” literally means “river of birds,” and the range of both animal and birdlife that lives here make it an excellent destination for nature lovers. With government-maintained hides dotted in choice spots around the country, visitors have a great opportunity to catch sight of some of these local inhabitants.
Gaucho (cowboy) culture is another important piece of the puzzle that makes up Uruguay. The largest gaucho festival in South America, Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha, takes place in Uruguay during the month of March. And if you want to have a go at being a gaucho for yourself, there are estancias of all shapes and sizes with different programmes available.
Besides the countryside, however, Uruguay also boasts one of the richest playgrounds in the world: Punta del Este. It’s become a haven for the rich and famous during the summer months of December to February, and if you fancy some glitz to go with your gaucho, this is the place to be.
Getting to and from Uruguay
It is possible to arrive in Uruguay by plane, by long-distance bus, or by boat. Most international flights arrive into Montevideo Airport. For those visiting Punta del Este, flights usually arrive at Montevideo and then connect to the domestic network.
Some of the main carriers that fly into Uruguay are TAM, LAN, Iberia, American Airlines, and Lufthansa, which are all part of either the Oneworld or Star Alliance networks. At the time of writing, TAM offers the best value if you’re wanting to travel with lots of baggage, with an allowance of two bags of 32kg per person, with the possibility to exchange one of those bags for a bike at no extra cost.
Note that citizens of the United States do not need to pay an entrance fee when arriving in Uruguay, unlike other South American countries like Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.
If you’re travelling around South America and want to reduce the cost of flying to and from your different destinations, the long-distance bus network is an excellent option. These buses are safe and comfortable and, although they take longer to get you from A to B, you get to see the places you’re travelling through instead of being stuck in a box in the sky.
There are several yacht harbours around the Uruguay coastline for those with the sea spirit in their veins. Alternatively, arrive in luxury on one of the cruiseliners that regularly call in here, with Punta del Este being the most prestigious stop on the route.
Uruguay travel resources
Check out our Uruguay travel podcast or browse the articles below.
This page was written by Honor Dargan.