The Internet is an excellent source of information on Uruguay. Try www.turismo.gub.uy or www.uruguaynatural.com for official visitor information. Additional countrywide tourist information can be found at www.visit-uruguay.com. A bilingual magazine called Pasaporte Uruguay is distributed in all the tourist spots and can be seen at www.pasaporteuruguay.com.
Telephone Dialing Info at a Glance -- Uruguay is in the middle of transforming its fixed line numbers, with the object of having eight digits instead of seven or five. The process is taking longer than expected but basically the idea is that every area code is joined with the local number. For example, a Montevideo number 02/123-4567 will become 21234567 or a Colonia number 042/12345 will become 4212345, with no need for local area codes. As no crossover date has been set, I have kept to the original format. The changeover does not affect numbers dialed from outside Uruguay. Uruguay's national telephone company is called ANTEL. You can buy a telephone card from any kiosk or ANTEL telecentro location. You can also make domestic and international calls from telecentro offices -- they are located every few blocks in major cities -- but be warned that international calls are very expensive, especially during peak hours.
- To place a call from your home country to Uruguay, dial the international access code (011 in the U.S., 0011 in Australia, 0170 in New Zealand, 00 in the U.K.) plus the country code (598), plus the city or region area code (for example, Montevideo 2, Punta del Este 42, Colonia del Sacramento 11), followed by the number. For example, a call from the United States to Montevideo would be 011+598+2+000+0000.
- To place a domestic long-distance call within Uruguay, dial a 0 before the area code, and then the local number.
- To place a direct international call from Uruguay, dial the international access code (00), plus the country code of the place you are dialing, plus the area code and the number.
- To reach an international long-distance operator, dial tel. 000-410 for AT&T, tel. 000-412 for MCI, or tel. 000-417 for Sprint.
- While calling within the country, you will notice some numbers with four-digit numbers. Sometimes these do not work properly, so be sure to try and get a conventional seven-digit land-line number as well. Cellphones have no area code but a three-digit beginning code, usually beginning with 9, followed by six digits.
Entry Requirements & Customs
Citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand need only a passport to enter Uruguay (for tourist stays of up to 90 days).
Uruguayan Embassy Locations -- In Australia: Ste. 2 Level 4, Commerce House, 24 Brisbane Ave., Barton ACT 2600, P.O Box 5058, Kingston ACT 2604 (tel. 2/6372-9100)
In Canada: 130 Albert St., Suite 1905, Ottawa, ON K1P 5G4 (tel. 613/234-2727; fax 613/233-4670; www.embassyofuruguay.ca)
In the U.K.: 125 Kensington High St., First Floor, London W8 5SF (tel. 207/937-4170)
In the U.S.: 1913 I St. NW, Washington, DC 20006 (tel. 202/331-1313; fax 202/331-8142; www.uruwashi.org)
The official currency is the Uruguayan peso (designated NP$, U$, or simply $ throughout the country, and as U$ in this guide); each peso comprises 100 centavos. Uruguayan pesos are available in $10, $20, $50, $100, $200, $500, $1,000, and $5,000 notes; coins come in 10, 20, and 50 centavos, and 1 and 2 pesos. The exchange rate is approximately 21 pesos to the U.S. dollar.
Note: Prices of hotels, tours, and some transportation options are listed in U.S. dollars.
Traveler's checks are accepted only at some currency-exchange houses. The most widely accepted credit cards are Visa and MasterCard; you'll have less luck with American Express and Diners Club. To report a lost or stolen credit card, call the following numbers: for American Express, tel. 0411/008-0071; for MasterCard, tel. 636/722-7111 (collect call to the U.S.); and for Visa, tel. 0411/940-7915.
ATMs -- ATMs on the Cirrus network are widely available in Montevideo and Punta del Este. If you travel to Colonia or elsewhere outside these cities, you should bring Uruguayan pesos.
When to Go
Peak Season & Climate -- 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. Average temperatures are 62°F (17°C) in spring, 73°F (23°C) in summer, 64°F (18°C) in autumn, and 53°F (12°C) in winter.
Public Holidays -- National holidays include New Year's Day (Jan 1), Día de los Reyes (Jan 6), Carnaval (the days leading up to Ash Wednesday), Easter, Desembarco de los 33 Orientales (Apr 19), Labor Day (May 1), Batalla de las Piedras (May 18), Natalicio de José Gervasio Artigas (June 19), Jura de la Constitución (July 18), Independence Day (Aug 25), Día de la Raza (Oct 12), Día de los Difuntos (Nov 2), and Christmas (Dec 25).
There are no specific health concerns or vaccination requirements for travel to Uruguay.
Getting There & Getting Around
International flights land at Carrasco International Airport (tel. 02/604-0272), 19km (12 miles) from downtown Montevideo. A taxi to downtown costs about U$500. Uruguay's national carrier is Pluna (tel. 0800/112-910 or 02/902-1414; www.pluna.aero), serving domestic and international destinations. American Airlines (tel. 02/916-3929; www.aa.com) offers connecting service from the United States. Aerolíneas Argentinas (tel. 02/902-0828; www.aerolineas.com) connects Buenos Aires and Montevideo; the flight takes 50 minutes. Varig (tel. 0800/997-000 in the U.K.; www.voegol.com.br) offers flights from the U.K. or Europe. LAN (tel. 02/902-3881; www.lan.com) and Aerolíneas Argentinas connect Australia and New Zealand.
Argentina and Uruguay are in a long-term diplomatic dispute over a paper mill in Uruguay that is allegedly polluting the Río Uruguay, near the Argentine town of Gualeguaychú. Access to Uruguay, at times, is restricted because of ongoing protests, and extra security is sometimes in place at crossings, airline gates, and the Buquebús terminal. From Montevideo, the easiest way to reach Colonia and Punta del Este is by bus.
Tips on Accommodations
Accommodations in Uruguay run the full gamut from a booming hostel scene in the capital to a burgeoning estancia network in the countryside to a series of well-established beach resorts along the coast, in particular Punta del Este. In between you'll find well-run business hotels in Montevideo and small lodges, known as posadas, in Colonia. Prices can vary greatly depending on the time you go, with weekends usually more expensive throughout the year. Prices rise off the charts in the summer season, particularly along the coast, where a three-star establishment will charge five-star rates during the peak times at Christmas and January. I have classified any rates more than $300 as Very Expensive; between $175 and $300 as Expensive; between $100 and $175 as Moderate; and below $100 as Inexpensive. Hotel prices in Uruguay are quoted in U.S. dollars.
Tips on Dining
Strangely enough, you'll not find Uruguay's national drink, mate tea, on any restaurant menu. The locals prefer to drink it at home or in the park, and it is made to be shared, with several drinkers sharing the same cup. What you will find instead is lots of meat. Uruguayans are committed carnivores and parrillas (grill houses) dot the landscape, offering asado de tira (ribs) and pulpo (fillet steak) among many other cuts of the sacred cow. Thankfully, along the coast great seafood is available.
Pizza and pasta are also common and the steak sandwich, known as chivito, is the national snack. All menus offering lack spice, and vegetarian options are limited, though growing in the capital. There is, however, plenty for sweet tooths, with dulce de leche (caramelized milk) slathered across everything from croissants to meringue pie. Most upscale restaurants charge a flat fee of U$20 just to sit at the table. Restaurants that charge more than U$400 for a main dish are classified as Expensive; between U$200 and U$400 are Moderate; and any below U$200 are Inexpensive.
Tips on Shopping
Look out for Manos del Uruguay (www.manos.com.uy), a nationwide cooperative that specializes in handicrafts, particularly fine woolens. It has store branches in all the main tourist centers. Uruguay is also the place to stock up on gaucho paraphernalia, be it decorated knives, mate gourds, leather accessories, or silverware. Montevideo has some excellent open-air markets selling everything from books to jewelry and the occasional antique. Colonia displays a fine line in Portuguese ceramics, and Punta del Este has all the high-end stores you'd associate with a chic beach town -- they stay open late so as not to disturb your tan time. The capital also has some excellent art stores displaying the country's vibrant art scene.