Traveling in Uruguay
I had no idea what to expect when we entered Uruguay. There is definitely a big Italian cultural influence on the country from the colonial days. You can see it in the food and the architecture and even in the features of the people who live there. Most people are very fair skinned and the accent is very Castilian sounding. The country experiences good economic success due to its thriving sea ports and has very low unemployment rate. Uruguay is often regarded as one of the most politically progressive countries in Latin American. Their acceptance of gay rights and recent legalization of marijuana are just two examples. It is a very small country and can be traveled pretty thoroughly in just a few weeks. We crossed over into Salto from Argentina by boat during our 2014 South America trip. When we left we took a ferry from Colonia del Sacramento to Buenos Aires.
The Cost of Travel in Uruguay
- Currency: Uruguayan peso
- Exchange Rate: 23 UYU = $1 US Dollar
- Sleep: Hostel Bed 250U
- Breakfast: (bread, coffee/tea)- included at hostels
- Lunch/Dinner: 200U at the cheapest (so we cooked all of our own meals at the hostel kitchens)
- Beer: 70U (so we drank cheap boxed wine and maté)
Tips for Traveling in Uruguay
- Stay at the Che Lagarto hostel chains. They are the cheapest, they are clean, they have kitchens, provide breakfast, and you can book them online or on Hostelworld.
- Cook for yourself at your hostel to save money. Restaurants are very expensive
- Buy boxed wine and drink with a straw like a big adult juice box
Things to do in Uruguay
It’s really just maté, maté, and more maté. Bakeries are pretty popular too. It is hard to write about maté, because the word isn’t supposed to have an accent over the “e”, but without it, it just looks like I’m saying the English word “mate.” However, with the accent makes it the Spanish word for “killed.”
- Salto is known for its natural hot springs. It’s not exactly a young people attraction though. We felt like we had jumped the fence at a retirement village.
- Montevideo has a large indoor market that is popular and the plazas in town are cool to hangout and soak up the culture
- Colonia del Sacramento
We got to Salto through a really interesting route. We took a small river boat from Concordia, Argentina, over the river and entered Uruguay on the other side. You could tell not many people do this. We had to wait around for quite awhile for there to be enough people leaving. Clearing customs was a joke. I had to remind them to stamp our passports when we entered Salto. They didn’t search our things or ask us anything. They just waved us through. The town of Salto is cool. There is a cool plaza and some nice bakeries. However, there is nowhere to stay. There is one hostel in town and the person said it was $40 usd/night. We went to an old hotel in town and they said it was $50. I begged them to let us pay $40 and they agreed as long as we didn’t stay for breakfast and we took the room with the broken shower. Most people come here for the hot springs. There are a number of natural hot springs parks that you can take a bus to. We spent the day at one and I’ve never seen a more maté drinking group of people. There are literally hot water dispensers sponsored by maté companies all over the park. We paid for a locker at the bus station in Salto to leave our stuff while we went to the hot springs and when we came back we took a night bus to Montevideo.
Definitely don’t take the night bus anywhere in Uruguay. The buses are super nice and have wifi and great seats, but the longest distance across the country is only like a 6hr drive. So we arrived in Montevideo from Salto at like 6am and our hostel wouldn’t let us check in until 2:00pm. Once we got a night’s sleep under our belts the city was great though. Uruguay has Italian immigrant roots and everyone looks white. The Spanish they speak is super Castillion sounding. Shits really expensive in the capital. Our hostel (Che Lagarto) had a kitchen for its guests and served breakfast, so we opted to eat breakfast there each day, have something from a bakery for lunch, and then make pasta in the kitchen for dinner. There is a really cool contemporary art museum in Montevideo that used to be a prison. The other art museum in town is cool too and huge. Walking down to the water and along the boardwalk is a great activity. You can also look in the various markets around town and check out cool street art all over.
Colonia del Sacramento
Colonia is a great little town and a big attraction for people visiting the country. This town was once a fortress and has some cool relics and old canons to show for it. The cobble stone roads and old cars take you back to a simpler time. The restaurants are really expensive here. They are mostly bistro style and steak places with wine and cheese boards and the like. There is definitely a ritzier crowd in this town. In that same spirit we opted to drink wine straight from the box by the river and play with stray dogs most of the time. We spent the afternoons just wondering around aimlessly until we got hungry and then we would go to a store and buy a box of noodles and a bag of pasta sauce to go make back at the hostel. We enjoyed some really good sunsets here though and the town is nice and quiet.
Playa de Pussy Toes
Positos is a short bus ride from Montevideo. It’s the sister city to playa del diablo, which are both big party towns during the peak of the season. However, when we visited it was like the opposite of peak season. We walked the vacant streets all afternoon and were the only ones on the beach aside from some stray dogs named Squid Humper and J.G. Wentworth. I can see how it would be a nice place during the summer. The beach was nice and there were a lot of boats on the docks. There are some small shacks that have super fresh seafood too. Like everything else in this country though, fresh seafood will cost you some serious sand dollars.