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Uruguay - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson. For up-to-date information on health issues across Central & South America, click here.
Uruguay is a clean temperate country with very few nasty diseases or health risks, and a good standard of health care. There is a low risk of rabies and no malaria, and a very low risk of dengue fever, although in early 2009 Argentina’s health ministry belatedly admitted an outbreak affecting up to 15,000 people in Chaco and other northern states. Cities such as Paysandú are working hard to eliminate the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the dengue virus; you should in any case take precautions against mosquito bites in the daytime. At the time of writing in April 2017, there was no risk of zika. There is no yellow fever in Uruguay, nor is there a certificate requirement to enter the country. However, if you plan to visit countries that do have the disease, such as Brazil and rural parts of Argentina, then vaccination is recommended at least ten days before arriving in the endemic area. The vaccine is not suitable for everyone, so be sure too seek medical advice before booking a trip outside Uruguay.
Apart from yellow fever, as described above, no other vaccinations are required, but make sure you’re up to date with tetanus and diphtheria (which now come together with polio as the all-in-one Revaxis) and hepatitis A jabs. In general, your best health protection is to be fit and well before you set off. Have your teeth checked and carry your prescription if you wear glasses (or leave it as an email message to yourself).
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on ISTM. For other journey preparation information, consult NaTHNac (UK) or CDC (US). Information about various medications may be found on NetDoctor. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
There’s little casual crime in Uruguay, generally seen as an oasis of personal security in South America. Even so, you should take sensible precautions, especially in Montevideo. Avoid looking like a wealthy tourist: leave jewellery and other such valuables at home. If you carry a bag in addition to your pack, never put it down: keep it under your arm or over your shoulder. Do not keep valuables in it: not only can it be snatched, but it can also be picked, slit or slashed open. The same applies to a ‘bum bag’, although this is a handy way to carry a compact camera.
Divide your money and travellers’ cheques between at least two different places, in your baggage and on your body. For your passport and cash reserves, use a moneybelt, neck pouch or secret inside pocket. Alternatively, you can sew a hidden pocket into the front of your trousers or shorts. If your passport is too bulky to carry comfortably and safely, take some other form of identification, such as a driving licence or photocopies of the key pages of your passport. Keep the numbers of your travellers’ cheques, passport, credit cards and flight itineraries separate from other valuables, so that if they are lost you can replace them more easily; it’s also smart to leave them as an email message to yourself. You can even scan or take digital photos of passports and flight itineraries and attach them to your email.
If you are robbed and wish to claim on insurance, ask the police for a copy of the official report (la denuncia); these can now be filed online and signed off at a police station within 48 hours. In the case of a road accident, ask for the constancia. Even though you presumably won’t be around for the official ratification of the complaint in court, explain that you need it for insurance purposes. You may just be given a slip with a reference number and a few lines of explanation, which should be enough for your insurance company.
Theft and robbery have risen somewhat in the last decade, with the former being the most common crime in Uruguay, but there’s generally little violence and it’s not something you’re likely to notice at all. Where people in Argentina fear kidnappings, in Uruguay the worst that happens is petnapping.
Swimming beaches with lifeguards will fly a green, amber or red flag depending on weather and sanitary conditions, and swimming should be avoided when any kind of red flag is flying.
In some ways, Uruguay is a conservative country, but it’s not ridiculously macho and religion has relatively little sway. Although gender roles are traditional, with women largely identified with child-rearing, especially outside Montevideo, female travellers can relax as this is one of the safest and most hassle-free Latin American countries. Men may shout and whistle, but as a rule that’s as far as it goes. There certainly are bars where women should not go alone, but they’re pretty obvious. Dressing and behaving reasonably modestly is simply good manners in a conservative society, but this is less necessary in the main beach resorts.
Montevideo doesn’t have the kind of gay tourism scene now found in Buenos Aires, but it’s a relaxed place and there are various gay-only and gay-friendly clubs. A Plaza de Diversidad Sexual was created in 2005 (at Sarandí and Mitre, in Montevideo), and in 2008 Uruguay banned and punished discrimination against gay couples, and allowed transsexuals to change their registered gender. In 2009 gays were allowed to join the military and gay couples to adopt children, and in 2013 same-sex marriage was legalised. According to the 2016 Spartacus Gay Travel Index, Uruguay is the most gay-friendly country in Latin America, and the tenth worldwide.
Some gays are of course still in the closet, but many, especially the young, are out, as Uruguay is a tolerant, laid-back country where religion has little power.
A map of gay Montevideo is available for free, along with a list of gay-friendly hotels, restaurants, bookshops and clubs at Il Tempo Travel, Uruguay’s only LGBT-focused travel agency.
Travelling with a disability
Facilities for travellers with disabilities are very limited in Uruguay, although you’ll find that in Montevideo bus routes CA1 and 125 are fully accessible to wheelchairs, as is Plaza Independencia, according to signs posted there. Modern Antel phone centres are built to a standard design with ramped access. It has now been decreed that Uruguay is to be accessible by 2018, and while it’s unclear if it’ll hit this target entirely, wheelchair ramps and accessible taxis are appearing fast.
There are special immigration desks for those travelling with a disability at the new Carrasco airport terminal, where there are good facilities for wheelchair users and others. Spa hotels (including those at the hot springs of the northwest) are more likely to have accessible rooms and facilities than other hotels.
Travelling with children
Uruguayans love children but facilities may not always be what you’re accustomed to. In Montevideo and the major coastal resorts, you should be able to buy the supplies you’re used to at home; however, there will be a more limited choice of baby food in particular. Elsewhere there’s less choice, and English is less likely to be spoken if you need to explain your specific needs.
Uruguay has wide expanses of empty beaches where children can frolic freely, as well as busier resorts with family-friendly beach clubs and restaurants. Staying on a rural estancia may well also be a good choice, with plenty of animal-related activities in a largely traffic-free environment. However, in Colonia there are many cobbled streets, and in Montevideo the pavements can be rough – buggies, pushchairs and strollers are not very practical here.