This laidback country can certainly stand up to its bigger, brasher neighbours.Read more...
Uruguay - Travel and visas
Citizens of most countries (except China, India, Russia and a few smaller countries) require only a passport for visits of up to three months to Uruguay. The same usually applies to Australians (although there was a hiatus in mid-2007 when an agreement lapsed and visas were required for a while).
If you wish to extend your stay for a further three months, contact the Dirección Nacional de Migración (National Office of Migration; Montevideo; www.dnm.minterior.gub.uy – in Spanish only) or in departmental capitals – but it’s generally easier to leave the country for a night and return. If you wish to settle in Uruguay, contact the Inspectoría de Migración (email@example.com), although it’s really better to discuss this first with the Uruguayan embassy in your home country.
Arriving by plane, you’ll be given two forms, for Immigration and Customs; they are currently in Spanish only but are not difficult to fill in (just remember that your apellido is your family name). You’ll be given a white form to keep with your passport, but if this gets lost it shouldn’t be a problem as long as you have the correct stamp in your passport. Immigration queues are dealt with pretty fast, and there are special desks for the disabled and pregnant and those with babies.
From the northern hemisphere, most people will naturally arrive by air. From Madrid, for a long time Iberia flew direct every night to Montevideo, code-sharing with the Uruguayan flag-carrier Pluna and British Airways; Pluna closed down in 2012 and Iberia announced early in 2013 that they were giving up the route. The new BQB local airline (www.flybqb.com) announced plans to take over the route (Uruguay’s key link to Europe), flying six times a week with leased Boeing 777s, code-sharing with Iberia. In addition Air France–KLM (www.airfrance.co.uk) announced plans for their Paris–Buenos Aires flights (also with 777s) to stop five times a week in Montevideo. Air Europa (www.aireuropa.com) also flies three times a week from Madrid.
Several companies operate ferries between Argentina and Uruguay. The best known is Buquebus (www.buquebus.com), which runs both fast ferries and traditional slower ships from Buenos Aires; these no longer go directly to Punta del Este, but connecting buses go there from both Colonia and Montevideo. Fast ferries reach Colonia in an hour from Buenos Aires or Montevideo in three hours, while slower ships are scheduled to take three hours to Colonia. Both types of vessel carry cars. The fast ferries are quick enough but rather cramped, with lots of over-excited children running around, no access to the deck and a disproportionate amount of space set aside for first-class and primera especial accommodation – totally unnecessary on a one-hour crossing, but an easy way to part Argentines from their money.
Although it’s a long way around, buses do run from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and Punta del Este, offering an overnight journey at a far lower cost than Buquebus. Leaving between 21.30 and 23.30, they take eight hours and charge US$55 each way (US$40 between Buenos Aires and Fray Bentos or Mercedes) or US$70 for a cama (a seat that reclines to form a bed). Bus de la Carrera, Cauvi and General Belgrano all run to and from the Tres Cruces terminal in Montevideo, and General Belgrano also serves Punta del Este. Bus de la Carrera also has a daytime service, leaving at 10.00 in each direction.
Uruguay has excellent infrastructure, with modern main roads (rutas nacionales) and bus stations; many minor roads (caminos) are unsurfaced but decently maintained. The main roads from Montevideo to Colonia and Punta del Este (Ruta 1 and the Ruta Interbalnearia, abbreviated to IB) are toll roads, and there are tolls on other main roads, often at departmental boundaries; these are fairly inexpensive at about US$3. Payment is accepted in Uruguayan or Argentine pesos, Brazilian reals or US dollars, but change is given only in Uruguayan pesos.
The major highways fan out from Montevideo and are numbered from west to east with single digits. The main route north from Montevideo (dual carriageway as far as Canelones) is Ruta 5; Ruta 6 is pretty minor, Ruta 7 and 8 cross at Melo and are the wrong way around to the north, ie: Ruta 7 runs to the east and Ruta 8 runs to the west. Along the coast, Ruta 10 only exists in isolated sections. The only routes to cross the country are Ruta 14 and Ruta 26, together with Ruta 11 which bypasses Montevideo. The Anillo Perimetral, a new bypass of Montevideo, closer to the city, has recently been completed. Kilometre markers are placed alternately on the left and the right side of most roads. As in much of South America, there’s an obsession with speed bumps (lomadas), which are often fierce and should be taken very slowly (if you’re following a bus, in particular, expect it to almost stop).
There are very limited passenger train services, on just two lines in the Montevideo hinterland. Passenger services have been suspended altogether at various times in the past, and there are currently no Sunday trains. Fares are very low, but the service is too infrequent to be very useful, especially if you want to head out from Montevideo in the morning and back in the evening. However, special trains are put on for passengers from cruise ships visiting the Juanicó winery.
Being a relatively small country, Uruguay does not generally have separate systems of local and long-distance buses; most interurban buses will stop to pick up passengers who flag them down by the roadside. Standing passengers are allowed, but a point may come at which no more will be picked up. However, at busy times one departure will in fact consist of several buses leaving at the same time, some of which will omit stops at certain towns, as well as roadside pickups (check your ticket carefully to see which one you should be on). The bus number and destination are displayed in the front windscreen, often on a dot-matrix screen; middle-distance buses headed for Montevideo may show ‘XXX’ to represent Montevideo’s Tres Cruces terminal, but longer-distance ones simply show ‘Montevideo’. There are virtually no buses across the middle of the country – you’ll almost always have to pass through Tres Cruces.
There’s quite a lot of cycling in Uruguay but (apart from a few clubs of lycra-clad road racers with high-tech gear) it’s very much of the popping-around-the-corner variety, almost always without panniers or lights. Many bikes are of the ‘beach cruiser’ type, with curved double top tubes designed to look a bit like a motorbike – some even have fake fuel tanks, to appeal to boys. There are a few mountain-bike-style machines, but they’re really pretty cheap and not much use for serious cycling.