A practical foreign exchange and currency guide on sending money and travel to Uruguay
Wedged like a grape between Brazil’s gargantuan thumb and Argentina’s long forefinger, Uruguay has always been something of an underdog. Yet after two centuries living in the shadow of its neighbors, South America’s smallest country is finally getting a little well-deserved recognition. Progressive, stable, safe and culturally sophisticated, Uruguay offers visitors opportunities to experience everyday ‘not made for tourists’ moments, whether caught in a cow-and-gaucho (cowboy) traffic jam on a dirt road to nowhere or strolling with maté-toting locals along Montevideo’s beachfront.
Short-term visitors will find plenty to keep them busy in cosmopolitan Montevideo, picturesque Colonia and party-till-you-drop Punta del Este. But it pays to dig deeper. Go wildlife-watching along the Atlantic coast, hot-spring-hopping up the Río Uruguay, or horseback riding under the big sky of Uruguay’s interior, where vast fields spread out like oceans.
The currency in Uruguay is the Uruguayan peso. There are plenty of currency exchange locations throughout Montevideo and the big cities, but you should convert your money before going to a smaller town, just in case there isn’t one there. The airport, as in most cities, is the worst place to exchange your currency, as it’s more expensive. It’s sometimes best to convert your local currency to US dollars before travelling, because even though you’ll be converting the currency twice, it can save you money. Uruguay is not as cheap as some other Latin American nations, and tourist destinations at peak season can be difficult if you’re on a budget.
Buses are comfortable, the government-regulated fares are reasonable and distances are short. Many companies offer free wi-fi on board. In the few cities that lack terminals, all companies are within easy walking distance of each other, usually around the main plaza. Reservations are unnecessary except during holiday periods. On peak travel dates a single company may run multiple departures at the same hour, in which case they’ll mark a bus number on your ticket; check with the driver to make sure you’re boarding the right bus, or you may find yourself in the ‘right’ seat on the wrong bus. Most towns with central bus terminals have a reasonably priced left-luggage facility.
Visitors to Uruguay who are staying less than 90 days need only bring a valid driver’s license from their home country. Uruguayan drivers are extremely considerate, and even bustling Montevideo is quite sedate compared with Buenos Aires. Due to government regulation, all service stations, including the ubiquitous state-owned Ancap, charge the same price for fuel. At the time of research, regular unleaded gasoline cost UR$54.95 per liter, premium UR$57 per liter. Economy cars rent locally for upwards of UR$1500 a day in high season, with tax and insurance included. Advance online bookings are often significantly cheaper than in-country rentals. Most credit-card companies’ automatic LDW (loss-damage-waiver) insurance covers rentals in Uruguay.
Taxis, remises (private cars) and local buses are similar to those in Argentina. Taxis are metered; between 10pm and 6am, and on Sundays and holidays, fares are 20% higher. There’s a small additional charge for luggage, and passengers generally tip the driver by rounding fares up to the next multiple of five or 10 pesos. Uber and similar ride-sharing services are also widely used in Montevideo. City bus service is excellent in Montevideo and other urban areas, while micros (minibuses) form the backbone of the local transit network in smaller coastal towns such as La Paloma.
Uruguay’s climate is relatively mild year-round, so plan your Uruguay visit at your leisure. While Uruguay’s summer, which lasts from February to December, attracts the most tourists, visiting the country in the winter, spring or fall has its advantages. The temperatures are cool but rarely freezing, and you’ll avoid the price hike that accompanies peak-season.
In Uruguay, you will be doing everything a bit later than you’re used to. Here, 11pm is a perfectly normal time for dinner, and even though some restaurants open at 7pm to cater to tourists, don’t expect them to be full until at least 9.30pm. Feel free to hit a bar from 12am onwards, as most are open until 4am or 5am. Clubs are usually open until 8am or 9am, just in time to get breakfast the day after. You will see movement in the city streets at all hours, as people are coming and going places at all times.
In Uruguay, and specially in Montevideo, there are plenty of things to do for free if you’re on a budget. For example, all public museums (which means most museums in Uruguay) are free by law. Another way of experiencing some free culture is by going to a street market to people-watch, or finding out when the neighbourhood comparsas will be playing the drums. There’s always something going on in the streets of the city centre, so you might even unknowingly join a march! There are a lot of beautiful parks and squares, and amazing architecture that you can see just by walking around.
A lot of Uruguayans speak some English, but you shouldn’t expect very fluid communication. The best way is to learn some basic Spanish phrases to get around with, and brace yourself for a lot of hand gestures. Uruguayans will graciously try to understand and talk to you with great patience and politeness, as these qualities are characteristic of this welcoming nation. Uruguayans are very friendly and curious, and they will try to communicate, even if it’s difficult and frustrating for both of you.
The below comparison table makes it easy to find the best exchange rates and lowest fees when you want to make a Transfer or Spend Uruguayan peso.
24 Nov 2021
09 Sep 2021
08 Dec 2020
09 Dec 2016
11 Dec 2011