Backpacking in Uruguay
The locals like to describe their own country as a “house with a garden” and in a figurative sense this description also applies to Uruguay. When you travel through this country, you experience Montevideo as a house with around 1.5 million inhabitants. The metropolis is the ecological, cultural and political centre of the country. Other larger cities such as Salto and Paysandú, on the other hand, with only a few thousand inhabitants, seem rather village-like.
Uruguay’s garden is the flat, wide hinterland, the pampa, which you can discover while backpacking in Uruguay. Here you will find few people, but all the more sheep and cattle that populate the country. Besides French Guiana and Suriname, Uruguay is the third smallest country in South America. It is a member of MERCOSUR and has a close relationship with its neighbours Brazil and Argentina.
Due to the good infrastructure you are very mobile in Uruguay, no matter if you use the railway, buses or as an alternative the navigable waterways on your backpacker trip. The country on the great Rio de la Plata offers you not only fantastic stalls, but also unique landscapes with their peculiarities and relics from bygone times, which belong to the UNESCO World Heritage.
The country has an indescribable cultural diversity, which is due to the ancestors from many European countries like Spain, Italy and also Germany as well as Armenia. You will not only experience a love for Candombe, but also a great passion for Argentine Tango. The various influences can also be discovered in Uruguay’s cuisine, where beef plays an important role alongside pizza and pasta.
The only official language is Spanish. However, French, Italian, German and English can also be found as second languages, so that there should be few communication problems in many places. However, it is advisable to speak and understand a certain basic Latin American Spanish, as this makes many things easier.
During your backpacking tour through Uruguay you can expect a temperate climate and mild winters in summer, with neither a pronounced rainy nor a dry season. You get money simply at the many cash machines, which there are straight in the larger cities everywhere.
But attention: The withdrawal of cash at the ATMs is not always possible with the EC card. Therefore, it makes sense to take a credit card with you as an additional means of payment. The payment of the cash money takes place in Uruguayan Pesos (UYU) or in US dollars, as you wish it or just need it. The largest bank in the country is the Banco de República Oriental del Uruguay (BROU).
Culture in Uruguay
Cultural life in Uruguay is strongly influenced by European traditions. Spanish culture is at the forefront, as the Spanish colonized the country. But there are also influences of the Italian culture to be found through emigration. There is almost nothing left to be found of the original Indian culture, as there are hardly any indigenous people left and this culture is almost extinct.
Newer influences on the culture in Uruguay come from Argentina. They are reflected above all in music and dance. The local population is very liberal, especially towards marginalized groups of society. They are very helpful and friendly. It is laughed gladly. Xenophobia is not to be found. In Uruguay the same rules of decency apply by the European influence as in Western Europe.
Basically, Uruguay is a safe travel destination for a backpacking trip. But you should take care of your belongings, especially in tourist areas and larger cities, as well as avoid certain streets and quarters. The safest places to go are in groups in the nightlife districts like Punta Carretas and Pocitos. If you want to make a detour to districts with a large number of corrugated iron huts, you should have a local escort.
You will find the best shopping opportunities in Sacramento, Montevideo and Punta del Este if you are looking for leather goods, amethyst jewellery, paintings or antiques. Everywhere there are also different markets, where you can rummage in all peace and quiet. Food and drinks are always available, as you can go to supermarkets for your daily needs, snack bars and restaurants.
More Backpacking information about Uruguay
During your backpacking trip in Uruguay you can cover your costs per day with 40 to 60 Euro.
Uruguay is a country with many faces. On the one hand, there is the hustle and bustle of the cities and the absolute remoteness of the unique inland landscapes on the other. The vast plains of the Pampa, unique beaches, vast swamps and gently rising ranges of hills cover the land and can be explored on extensive walks.
There are many ways to find a hostel in Uruguay. On average you pay about 19 Euro for hostels in the big cities. But you can also find bargains where you pay much less. The cuisine of Uruguay has much more to offer besides pizza, pasta and beef, so that you cannot avoid trying all the delicacies once. For a meal in a good restaurant you pay on average between 10 and 15 euros.
Also when shopping you will not only experience a variety of great products, but also a pleasant price/performance ratio. The small shops in the alleys of Montevideo are a good place to go for exclusive things.
As a German citizen you don’t have to worry about a visa because you can enter Uruguay for 90 days without a visa. What else you need to know about Uruguay as a backpacker can be found under Visa & Vaccinations.
Traveling and living in Uruguay is similar to the neighboring backpacker countries and is cheaper than North America and Europe. As a rule, your needed budget per day will be between 40 and 60 euros. This will help you to make ends meet. The local currency is the Uruguay Peso.
When exchanging money in Uruguay, it is advisable to exchange the cash for US dollars beforehand, because this is most often accepted in the exchange offices. Since the currency is quite stable, you do not have to reckon with large exchange rate fluctuations. But prices in Uruguay have also risen as a result of the economic boom that has lasted for 10 years.
A simple meal in a snack costs between 3 and 5 euros. If, on the other hand, you want more comfortable food, you will pay 40 euros quickly and easily. A beer in a pub costs around 1.50 euros. In a pub you pay much more for it. For a Coke you have to plan about 1,30 Euro.
Buses in Uruguay
As in many Latin American countries, the bus network in Uruguay is very well developed. There are many bus lines to the main cities. Tres cruces is the name for the central terminal from where you can reach almost every corner of Uruguay on your backpacker journey. With the COT line, for example, the journey from Montevideo to Colonia takes around three hours. You only travel first class in the very latest buses for a price of around 10 euros. Information about bus connections in Montevideo can be found on this great website if you speak some Spanish.
Taxi driving in Uruguay
The use of a taxi in the cities is relatively inexpensive and reliable. In Montevideo, for example, you should definitely use the black and yellow vehicles. These have a taximeter, which is also used by the drivers. The display is only the basis for a conversion table, which will irritate you at first. But the requested fare is calculated according to a table and is always correct.
Domestic fares in Uruguay
Of course you can also use the plane to get from A to B in the country. From the airport Aeropuerto International de Carrasco in Montevideo you can fly to Paysandú, Salto, Rivera and Punta del Este. There are also other airports in the country. However, these are not open for regular scheduled flights and are only approached by so-called air taxis or charter flights. These include the airports in Colonia del Sacramento, Carmelo and Durazno.
Train travel in Uruguay
Uruguay has had a well-developed rail network for more than 100 years, of which only one section is left today that is used for freight traffic. However, you can experience a very special train ride on your backpacking trip. Because there are still a few old, steam-powered Pullmann locomotives and wagons that will take you through the immediate vicinity of Montevideo. A ride on this train will cost you around 10 euros per person.
On your backpacker journey through Uruguay you will dive into an indescribable, unique landscape and experience the culture in a special way. The vast pampas, rolling hills, marshes and beautiful beaches are just waiting to be discovered by you.
No less exciting are the Sierras in the southern part of the country, around the city of Minas. There are bizarre rock formations and lonely, hardly visited areas with their indescribable nature to discover. A unique experience are the lagoons of Uruguay, several large freshwater and saltwater lagoons located in the south and west of the country. The lagoons near the sea are all nature reserves, where an infinite number of bird species live. The question quickly arises what you should have seen on your backpacker trip in Uruguay.
Route 1: The classic (15-20 days)
- 2 days to explore Montevideo, the capital of the country. Museum tour included!
- 2 days Bella Vista. Relaxation and recreation is the order of the day!
- 1 day excursion to Isla de Lobos and experience sea mammals.
- 2 days to discover Maldonado culture, nature and sights.
- 2 days to discover Guardia del Monte sights and lagoons.
- 2 days Faro José Ignacio and dreamlike beaches explore.
- 1 day roam the shifting dunes at the Coba Polonio.
- 2 day Enjoy Punta del Diablo beach and landscape on a trekking tour.
- 1 day Montevideo. Shopping in all its facets!
Route 2: Backpacker Intensive Trip (up to 30 days and more)
- 3 days to explore Montevideo, the capital of the country. Museum tour included!
- 3 days Discover Guardia del Monte sights and impressive lagoons.
- 2 days Cabo Polonio Experience coast and shifting dunes very closely.
- 3 days of exploring Maldonado, Cuartel de Dragones and the landscape.
- Discover 2 days Trinidad and Department Flores.
- 1 day Mercedes experience.
- 2 day Bella Vista. Recreation and relaxation are the order of the day!
- 3 days Colonia del Sacramento at the Rio Uruguay and hike through the landscapes.
- 2 days El Chaco with a trip to an Estancia experience.
- 2 days Salto and explore the department.
- Experience 2 days Tacuarembó.
- 2 day Punta del Diablo beach and enjoy the landscape on a trekking tour.
- 2 day Melo and the influences of the Brazilian culture experience very closely.
- 2 days Faro José Ignacio and explore the harbour.
- 2 days exploring Punta del Este and enjoying the beach.
- 1 day excursion to Isla de Lobos and experience sea mammals.
- 1 day Montevideo with extensive shopping tour experience.
Travel times in Uruguay
Uruguay is located in a temperate climate zone. The comparatively flat topography ensures that there are hardly any differences in the weather throughout the country. However, there are distinct seasons with warm to hot summers and cool winters. In the summer, from December to April, the temperatures are between 25 and 32°C.
In summer, tropical currents can come from the north, causing the thermometer to rise to 40°C. The nights have an average temperature of 16 to 18°C. During the winter months, from May to November, there is an average temperature of 15°C during the day. At night it is only around 5°C. Due to polar air temperatures can also fall below freezing point.
Precipitation is distributed over the whole year, whereby the quantity increases from southeast to northwest. The quite flat landscape provides for a fast weather change and at the same time for violent winds, which sweep over the country. They sometimes cause noticeable drops in temperature.
For your backpacker trip to the Atlantic beaches, the warm months from December to January are perfect, because the Atlantic water with 20 to 22°C invites you to bath, relax and enjoy. In the period from December to March it gets very hot in the interior. In spring it is rather humid. An ideal time for trekking and sightseeing tours is autumn, when there is little rainfall and pleasant temperatures prevail.
Uruguay is not a cheap travel country like Bolivia or Guatemala, but comparable in price to Colombia and Panama. You can also feel this in the many different overnight accommodations where you can stop off at your backpacker trip. Very inexpensive you can stay in simple hostels. If you prefer a more luxurious overnight stay, there are several hotels in the big cities. For an overnight stay in a double room you pay between 50 and 80 Euro depending on the equipment. If you stay in a 5 star hotel, it can cost you 100 Euro and more.
If you travel out of season, you can get the noble hostels directly at the beach with sea view often cheaper than in the high season. But there are also nice overnight accommodations on campsites or in hostels. Even locals sometimes offer private rooms where you can sleep on your backpacker journey. The hostel page Hostelworld gives you an interesting insight into the prices for an overnight stay in a hostel. You pay the following prices for an overnight stay:
- Montevideo 12 -15 Euro
- Punta del Este 7 -20 Euro
- Colonia del Sacramento 10 -18 Euro
- Punta del Diabolo 10 -15 Euro
- Cabo Polonio 10-15 Euro
- La Pedrera 15-20 Euro
- Carmelo 13-25 Euro
- La Paloma 10 -25 Euro
- Piriapolis 15 Euro
In the hostels the prices are very different, which is due to the location and the existing offer. You can also use motels to stay overnight.
Motels on exit roads and motorways
Motels are not only an overnight option if you are travelling with a rental car. However, they are often used as love nests. The prices for one night are around 30 euros in a double room. Depending on the equipment of the motel, the prices vary strongly upwards. In addition to TV, private bathroom and PC connection, noble hostels also have an interesting wellness area with them. Most motels are located on the entry and exit roads or on motorways.
Camping on the beach
Camping in Uruguay is no problem at all, as there is a place for you in every smaller city. So you will find state (camping municipal) as well as private campsites, which offer a much higher standard. Especially in the east there are many campsites on the beach. Interesting information can be found on zonacamping, where you will find a variety of campsites, in the most beautiful spots of the coast.
When you are a backpacker in Uruguay, you automatically come into contact with the culture. The locals attach great importance to a certain etiquette, especially when dealing with them. During the greeting the hand is reached to the counterpart. Conversations usually begin with the question of one’s state of health. Just as in Europe, the usual forms of courtesy apply in Uruguay.
Good behavior has a high value with the natives. Respect for the age is clearly noticeable in Uruguay. This is also clearly shown in the manners. On weekends, going out is the young people’s favourite activity. Because it means: See and be seen! The appearance and to present oneself is very important. The night life begins relatively late, takes place mainly in the old part of town as well as in the clubs, bars and discotheques. Before one o’clock in the morning you don’t even have to go because most shops only open their doors at this time.
Backpacker Highlights in Uruguay
In almost the smallest country in South America, you will certainly never encounter boredom. Because there are a lot of things you should have experienced. Classical beauty may not await you in Montevideo. However, you should definitely have a look at the harbour market and enjoy the atmosphere. With a delicious lunch you experience the lively hustle and bustle very closely.
Another highlight is Colonia del Sacramento, a romantic, charming colonial city, where you can clearly feel the Spanish and Portuguese past as you stroll through the picturesque cobbled streets. Pretty restaurants, gorgeous plazas and small boutiques invite you to stroll, shop and linger.
Something for the palate there is with the Winetasting. Because in Uruguay there is an optimal climate for winegrowing. The capital Montevideo is embedded in vineyards, so that you don’t have far to go for a delicious wine tasting. In the west of the country, along the Rio de la Plata and the Rio Uruguay, you will also find small wineries where you can taste delicious Merlot, Carbanet or Sauvignon.
Backpacker Insider Tips in Uruguay
In the inland, where a lovely hilly landscape awaits you, you will find large estancias and small fincas, where you can experience the traditional way of life of the gauchos in a special atmosphere. They are available in small and rustic, as well as in comfortable. You can see how herds of cattle are herded together with horses. Long hikes and unique walks in nature are part of it.
An absolute insider tip lies on the Atlantic. It is the fishing village of Cabo Polonio, which is completely surrounded by sand dunes. To reach this small village on your backpacker trip, there are only three possibilities. You either have the choice between a hike or a riding tour, which leads along the coast in Valizas over the sand dunes or you use the special 4×4 trucks. There is no other way to reach Cabo Polonio.
The charming fishing village awaits you with cheerful colours and a romantic lighthouse, a few restaurants and a seagull colony. Cabo Polonio is a wonderful place to stay. From December to February, when the weather is warm, you can relax on the beach and swim in the sea.
The cuisine in Uruguay is strongly influenced by the structure of the agricultural economy. You will find beef in every form, which is usually prepared on the grill. Vegetarians sometimes have a hard time finding food without meat. A further coinage of the kitchen results from the Spaniards and Italians.
In Uruguay the majority of food is eaten outside. The breakfast and lunch is rather lean. But the dinner is all the more opulent. The different dishes have a southern European touch. Thus, there are seafood as well as pizza and pasta. The national dish in Uruguay is Asado, where different kinds of beef meat are prepared over an open wood fire.
But also offal like kidneys, sweetbreads and beef intestines are served. They are prepared on the grill just like beef. An opulent meal in Uruguay naturally includes a dessert. Dulce de leche, so-called milk caramel, is preferred. This is also used for all cakes, tarts, ice cream and pastries.
Food in Uruguay
Due to the influence of Spanish and Italian cuisine, there are not too many things that are foreign to you. For meat lovers, Uruguay’s cuisine offers a whole range of delicious dishes that you should definitely try on your backpacker trip. The muzzarella is a very special kind of pizza and has nothing in common with the one you know from the Italian at home. The toppings are tomato sauce and cheese. Ketchup or mayonnaise is served with it.
The table label in Uruguay is also exciting. Because if you get an invitation to dinner in the evening, it’s okay if you arrive about 30 minutes after the agreed time. In the bigger cities there are everywhere beside the well-known Fastfood chains small snack stands, where you get inexpensive and good food.
Drinking in Uruguay
Clerió, a delicious refreshing drink, is a popular drink on the beach or at parties. It consists of sparkling wine, white wine and fruit juice as well as chopped fruit pieces from oranges, grapes or peaches. Very widespread is the Mate tea, which even stands before coffee in the ranking list. Everywhere you can see people with wooden cups where a silver tube protrudes or locals with thermos flasks in which there is mate tea.
The local wines that you get in Uruguay are very different in quality and therefore purely a matter of taste. There are red and white wines as well as Medio-Medio. The local beer is very good. Other local spirits are Caña, Grappa, Whisky and Gin, which are produced in various distilleries.
During your backpacking trip through Uruguay you do not need a visa, as German citizens are allowed to enter as tourists without a visa for up to 90 days. Nevertheless, it is important that you have valid entry documents. According to the entry regulations of the Federal Foreign Office, entry is possible with the following documents:
- Passport: Yes
- Temporary passport: Yes
- Identity card: No
- Temporary identity card: No
- Passport for children: Yes, with photograph
All children need their own ID to enter Uruguay. If you wish to stay longer than three months, you will need to apply to the Uruguay Immigration Service for a one-time extension before the 90-day period expires. If you want to stay longer, you will need a temporary residence permit.
Medical Information & Vaccinations for Uruguay
For a backpacker trip in Uruguay you do not need any special vaccinations, but it is recommended to have the standard vaccinations of the Robert Koch Institute up to date. As a rule, the medical care offered is similar to that in Europe, but can vary considerably in more rural areas. It is important to have sufficient, worldwide health insurance coverage and possibly a reliable repatriation insurance.