The official currency of Uruguay is the Uruguayan peso. ATMs and credit cards are used throughout urban areas, but it is better to have local cash on hand to shop in small stores, family run restaurants and markets.
Spanish is the official language of Uruguay. Close to the border with Brazil, people also speak a mix of Portuguese and Spanish language called Portunol. English is commonly used in the tourist and resort areas of the country.
Best time to go
It is possible to travel to Uruguay year round. However, the best time to visit is during local summer - from November to February. The weather during these months offers comfortable temperatures between 22°C (72°F) and 28°C (84°F). This is also the high season for beach resorts that are often closed during colder months. It is important to book ahead for a summer beach stay in Uruguay to get the best choice of accommodations.
Climate in Uruguay is characterised as subtropical all through the country. The summer months of November to March are sunny and warm (occasionally hot, with thunderstorms) with temperatures around 28°C (84°F) with January being the hottest month. June to September is colder, sometimes with rainy wind gusts, but this winter period is still mild with the coldest temperatures in July, hovering around 15°C (59°F) during the day.
Uruguay is most suited to travelers who want to escape the well known route around South America and discover something new. Far from overrun by tourists, Uruguay still knows how to welcome visitors with open arms. Uruguay is also an ideal destination for wine enthusiasts.
Getting There From North America
Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo is the country's largest airport and major gateway.
Major Air Routes from the United States
Currently, only Miami offers direct flights to Montevideo during summer (December - February). The most convenient connections are via Panama City on Copa Air from US cities like New York, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Boston, or via other major Latin American cities like Sao Paulo, Lima, or Santiago.
Major Air Routes from Canada
There are currently no direct flights from Canada to Uruguay. The most convenient connection can be made via Panama City with Copa Air, which offers direct flights to Panama from Toronto and Montreal.
Essential Sights in Uruguay
Colonia de Sacramento
Colonia de Sacramento is a very picturesque town located on the east bank of Rio de la Plata. Its impressive historic center is protected by Unesco. The highlights of the town are Plaza Mayor, Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs), the Convent of San Francisco, Colonia del Sacramento lighthouse, Calle de Portugal, and the city’s many vintage cars.
Montevideo is Uruguay’s capital and largest city, filled with beautiful art deco buildings in its historic city center - the Ciudad Vieja. This includes the Palacio Salvo, neoclassical Solis Theater, and Plaza de la Independencia. The Port Market and Mercado Agricola Montevideo are also popular stops.
Punta del Este
Punta del Este is the most popular resort city in Uruguay (located approximately 2.5 hours-drive from Montevideo), with beautiful beaches, a great choice of hotels (including upscale and boutique properties), fantastic local and international cuisine, many art museums and galleries, music festivals and opportunities for paragliding, windsurfing, cycling, and more.
Other Highlights of Uruguay Off the Beaten Path
Jose Ignacio is a resort town in Uruguay that some see as an extension to Punta del Este. Previously a small fishing town, within the last few decades it has turned into a popular vacation spot for the local and international elite, with upscale hotels and a remarkable food scene.
Carmelo is a small town located 75 km (47 miles) north from Colonia that is rapidly becoming one of the top wine destinations in South America. The vineyards produce world-renowned wine, but are not overcrowded by tourists, offering an ideal balance to visitors.
Cabo Polonio is a tiny fishermen’s village that sits behind the sand dunes and is home to one of the largest sea-lion colonies in Uruguay. There are no banking services in the village, or even a proper road! Visitors will need to walk a bit off the main road to get here - a rare chance to truly get off the beaten path and find a town packed with atmosphere and charm.
Top Activities and Experiences in Uruguay
Take a stroll in Colonia de Sacramento
Cobblestone streets and beautiful colonial buildings make this city probably the most charming in the whole country. A stroll in Colonia feels like stepping back centuries. Despite its beauty and popularity, the town doesn't feel overcrowded, giving you space to enjoy the city's history and culture.
Have a meal at Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo
With its beautiful cast-iron structure, Mercado del Puerto was once a major meat and produce market in Montevideo. Nowadays, it’s the best place to venture on a culinary adventure and try mouthwatering traditional Uruguayan dishes.
Relax on the beach in Jose Ignacio
Relaxing on one of many beaches of Jose Ignacio while enjoying delicious meals in numerous restaurants in the town is surely a great way to spend a few days on a vacation to Uruguay.
Essential Uruguayan Foods to Try
Asado, surely the most traditional Uruguayan meal, is a variety of meats and sausages along with cheese, bread and vegetables cooked on a gigantic grill (parilla) over a wood fire. Asado is a true feast and different parts of it are eaten in bits (starting usually with cheese, bread and sausages) instead of all at the same time. There are numerous parrilladas in Uruguay where clients can pile on their plate with whatever they like and enjoy the meal while watching how other pieces of asado sizzle on parilla.
Chivito is a steak sandwich filled with various ingredients like pickles, mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, pancetta, ham, green olives, red pepper, fried egg, and mayonnaise, all stacked between two white buttered and grilled wheat buns. This delicious sandwich is often served with French fries and is the most famous national dish of Uruguay, along with asado.
Pasta Con Salsa Caruso
With very strong Italian influence, it is natural that Uruguayns enjoy all types of pasta. But the most famous one is probably stuffed pasta (usually with meat) with a signature creamy sauce - Caruso - that makes this dish truly Uruguayan. The sauce is made with cream, ham, mushrooms, onions, cheese and meat extract.
Churros with Dulce de Leche
Churros, a popular dessert in other South American countries as well, is a long strip-shaped fried pastry sprinkled with sugar. What is special about Uruguayan churros is that they are filled with heavenly dulce de leche (or cream and chocolate as variations).
Most Popular Itineraries for Uruguay
A 6-day River Plate Triangle itinerary is an ideal add-on to Argentina, since it includes an easy connection by ferry from Buenos Aires and gives a taste of Colonia and Montevideo. In the likely event travellers fall in love and want to return for a longer trip (or just take our word and start with one) they can take in Uruguay over 10 -12 days, adding in Punta del Este or Jose Ignacio, checking out a few wineries and horseback riding in the Uruguayan countryside.
Tips for Sustainable Travel
Travel with a tour operator that practices responsible and ethical tourism that supports sustainable travel. Shop in local markets and boutiques, and try to eat in small traditional restaurants. All help to generate much needed income for local communities.
Bring your own reusable water and refill it at the hotel or wherever possible instead of buying plastic bottles along the way. Opt not to use a straw in restaurants unless you really need one, or bring your own stainless steel or bamboo reusable straws.
Where to Go Next
While often overlooked when travelers go to neighboring Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay is a perfect add on to a vacation in either of these two countries. Easy logistics on regional flights and ferry connections from Buenos Aires make combining Argentina or Brazil with a stop in Uruguay a simple decision.