Uruguay Tips & Tricks: Every FYI You Need To Know

BY JERRY ALONZO LEON

Flickr Romina Campos Uruguay

Photo: Flickr/Romina Campos

Given its relatively small size, Uruguay is a country that often gets left off many travelers’ itineraries, opting instead to visit its more popular neighbors in Argentina and Brazil. But don’t be fooled by Uruguay’s cool and calm exterior. Whether you want to mingle in the cosmopolitan heart of Montevideo, party with locals and backpackers in Punta del Este, explore the countryside with seasoned gaucho cowboys, or learn to dance tango in the country of its birthplace (depending on who you ask, of course), Uruguay is where South Americans go to have a good time.

5 things to avoid:

  • Avoid bargaining for goods as its not part of the culture.
  • Don’t throw toilet paper into the toilet bowl; use the wastebasket instead.
  • Don’t make the “O.K.” sign with your hand, as it’s considered very rude.
  • Though not particularly dangerous, hitchhiking is rare in Uruguay so take the usual precautions if you decide to hail a lift from a stranger.
  • Don’t try to bribe police or officials if you get in trouble.

Weather:

  • Dec – Mar: Rainfall: 2-5 in. Temp: 70-95 °F. Summertime in Uruguay means scores of tourists, and with temperatures rising, so too will the number of beachgoers.
  • Apr – Jun:  Rainfall: 2-3 in. Temp: 55-85 °F. With temperatures dropping, clement weather is restored, just in time for Easter as candombe music fills the streets.
  • Jul – Nov:  Rainfall: 2-4 in. Temp: 50-85 °F. Chilly weather accompanies shoulder season, which means little crowds and great discounted deals on accommodations.

Flickr Vince Alongi Uruguay

Photo: Flickr/Vince Alongi

Time:

Local time is GMT minus three hours. Daylight savings time runs from October to March.

Visa requirements:

Americans who plan to visit for less than three months (90 days) are not required to have a visa. Though there is an airport tax fee for departure, but it’s usually included as part of airfare. For most other countries, visas typically cost about USD $42. US citizens can check here for the latest visa requirements, and for all other nations be sure to check with your local embassy or consulate for current visa information.

Citizens of the following countries are not required to have a tourist visa for entry: Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad Tobago, Turkey, United States, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Language:

Here are a few phrases you should know:

  • Hello = Hola (o-la)
  • Goodbye = Adiós (a-dyos)
  • How are you? = ¿Qué tal? (ke tal)
  • Fine, thanks = Bien, gracias (byen gra-syas)
  • Excuse me = Perdón (per-don)
  • Sorry = Lo Siento (lo syen-to)
  • Please = Por favor (por fa-vor)
  • Thank you = Gracias (gra-syas)
  • You are welcome = De nada (de na-da)
  • Yes = (see)
  • No = No (no)
  • My Name is… = Me llamo… (me ya-mo…)
  • What’s your name? = ¿Cómo se llama usted? (ko-mo se ya-ma oo-ste) / ¿Cómo te llamas? (ko-mo te ya-mas)
  • Do you speak English? = ¿Habla ingles? (a-bla een-gles) / ¿Hablas ingles? (a-blas een-gles)
  • I don’t understand = Yo no entiendo (yo no en-tyen-do)

Flickr Vince Alongi Uruguay

Photo: Flickr/Vince Alongi

Etiquette:

Greetings among friends are met with either a firm handshake or a kiss on the right cheek. Keep in mind that strangers tend not to greet one another on the streets, so it’s best not to greet or smile at someone you don’t know. Expect close contact from Uruguayans when in conversation, whether it’s in a social or business setting.

Safety:

Uruguay has garnered a relatively safe reputation for travelers, with very little crime and violence compared to other South American countries.

Money:

Currency used is the Uruguayan peso (UR$). Banknotes come in denominations of 20, 50,100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000, while coins are in one, two, five, 10 and 50 peso units.

Money exchange:

Casas de cambio (exchange offices) offer slightly lower rates than banks and are readily available in large cities, such as Montevideo, Colonia and the Atlantic Coast beach. For money exchange outside of larger cities, it’s best to conduct your transaction inside a local bank. There’s no black market for currency exchange, so don’t be fooled by someone on the street who is offering a rate that is too good to be true.

Flickr Joaquin l Uruguay

Photo: Flickr/Joaquin l

ATM:

ATM machines can be found everywhere, including small towns. It should be noted that a limit of USD $200 is applied to any ATM withdraw, although you can technically have as many transactions as you’d like. To avoid unnecessary foreign transaction fees, talk to your bank beforehand to find out what rates apply to your card.

Credit cards:

Most hotels, restaurants and shops accept credit cards.

International calls:

Google+ Hangouts, Skype and FaceTime still offer better rates over many local options. Locutorios (phone offices) are readily available on nearly every corner and will be your next best bet if you have no laptop or Internet access. Pre-paid phone cards are available from most newsstands or kiosks, and offer better rates than most Antel phone calls.

Mobile phone:

Many travelers opt to bring an unlocked phone (or purchase a cheap one in country) and simply purchase a SIM card instead. You can also purchase a cheap phone from Antel, Movistar or Claro, at any kiosk or newsstand. The country code is 00598.

SIM cards:

Pre-paid cards and SIM cards are readily available at any kiosk. All cell numbers begin with 09.

Flickr Vince Alongi Uruguay 1980s

Photo: Flickr/Vince Alongi

Wi-Fi:

Internet access is readily available, including in small towns and cities. An hour of Internet will cost about UR$15 (USD $0.61).

Electricity:

Uruguay uses 220V at 50Hz. Though there are quite a few electrical plugs used in Uruguay, the most common is the two-rounded pin with no grounding pin.

Water:

Tap water is perfectly fine to drink in major cities.

Tipping:

General tipping rules apply in Uruguay, with 10% in restaurants. You can round up taxi fare to the nearest whole amount (though tipping taxi drivers is not expected), if you like.

Taxi:

Taxi fares are exceptionally economical, since rates are based upon segments traveled rather than miles/kilometers driven. A taxi ride in Montevideo, for instance shouldn’t go over UR$250, and no more than UR$45 for short rides in small towns. Typically, weekends demand higher fares, which can range from 25% to 50% higher.

Free walking tour:

For a terrific walking tour in Montevideo check out Free Walking Tour, which is absolutely free of charge and offer tours in English, Spanish or Portuguese.

Jerry Leon contributor profile

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