Uruguay - Health and safety



With Dr Felicity Nicholson

Uruguay is a clean temperate country with very few nasty diseases or health risks, and a good standard of healthcare. 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. Similarly, yellow fever is found in Argentina’s Misiones and Corrientes states and in adjacent parts of Brazil, but not as yet in Uruguay. It is recommended to have a yellow fever vaccination at least ten days before visiting the subtropical forests of Argentina and Brazil. The vaccine is not suitable for everyone, so ensure that you seek medical advice before booking your trip if you wish to stray outside of Uruguay. If you are coming from a yellow fever endemic zone into Uruguay then they will ask for a certificate. If you cannot have the vaccine for medical reasons then ensure that you obtain an exemption certificate from your GP or a travel clinic.

Travel clinics and health information

A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. 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 money-belt, 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); similarly 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.

There were 109,000 reported thefts in 2007, making it the most common crime in Uruguay; but there’s 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.

Women travellers

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.

Gay travellers

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 & 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 2013 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. For more information see the blog http://uruguaydiverso.blogspot.com. A map of gay Montevideo is available, along with a list of gay-friendly hotels, restaurants, bookshops and clubs (La Lupa Libros, Bacacay 1318, Ciudad Vieja; www.friendlymap.com.uy). Viajes Sunlight in Montevideo (2355 3400; www.viajessunlight.com) specialise in gay travel.

Travelling with a disability

Facilities for the disabled 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 wheelchair ramps and accessible taxis are appearing fast in Montevideo (www.discapacidaduruguay.org). There are special immigration desks for disabled travellers 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.

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