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Overall, we have LOVED backpacking in Uruguay. We honestly had very few expectations of the country as we only really decided to go backpacking in Uruguay as our first stop on our 2+ year trip due to it having the cheapest flights from the UK. Arguably, our experience would have been different had we not met such great people along the road, so you’ve got to get out there and strike up conversations in your hostel, on the bus, etc.
People you meet backpacking in Uruguay are usually either at the beginning of their journey (either having just landed from their home country or having only seen Brazil), or are at the end having come from the north of South America, so there is a lovely mix of people who need advice and people who have tons of advice and can’t wait to spill it.
After these tips for backpacking in Uruguay, you may also want to have a gander at:
Although the food is kinda meh (and we HATE to say this because the people are just so great that we’d never want to upset them, but the best food we’ve had in practically every part of the country has actually been Mexican food), the Uruguayan people are incredibly generous, laid-back and helpful, which totally makes up for their lack of seasoning and sauces.
I’m pretty sure we’re the only people on the internet right now to admit that Uruguayan food is bland, but after a month backpacking in Uruguay there has been little to show us otherwise (sorry!).
And on top of that, the views are insane – with a population of only 3 million people most of it is pretty untouched. The country’s many nature reserves make backpacking in Uruguay an amazing experience. This is not the best place to be if you’re looking for a party in South America (we cut our Montevideo stint short because the city is pretty dull), but its beauty lies in its chilled atmosphere that allows you to just sit back and appreciate where you are. Uruguay, we frickin’ love you!
So before you start backpacking in Uruguay, here are some general tips that may help you plan your trip…
Backpacking in Uruguay budget
We spent 26 days backpacking in Uruguay, and during this time we spent a grand total of £1800, which at the time was $2325 USD, or 68k Uruguayan pesos. For those who like to budget at a micro level, backpacking in Uruguay cost us $44.71 USD each per day. For more detail on what we spent and how things are priced out there, check out our budgets and travel costs for our first 6 months in South America.
Money tips while backpacking in Uruguay
Three things are worth knowing about how finances work before you travel to Uruguay:
1. Try to pay for as much as you can on a credit/debit card. This is because all restaurants, bars and some shops will automatically refund the IVA tax to a foreign card (equivalent to VAT), but there is no discount if you pay in cash, even if you look super-gringo. Sometimes this takes a couple of weeks to show up in your account, but if the card terminal shows less than your receipt, it’s been automatically deducted at point of sale. Hooray!
2. In order to take advantage of this, make sure you are equipped with both a MasterCard and Visa card. Unlike in the UK where all cards are good except perhaps American Express, here financial services have managed to create a system in which small business choose whether they want to use Visa or MasterCard, meaning they can’t accept payment from any other card provider.
In short, this is a ballache, mainly because our Revolut card was MasterCard (they since seemed to have switched to Visa) and Visa seems to be winning the race over here, so we’ve had to miss out on some cool restaurants that only took Visa when we didn’t have enough cash on us. I’d say this was by far the biggest frustration about backpacking in Uruguay.
3. Which leads us to our final financial tip… Cash. In cities like Montevideo and Punta del Este you will be fine to use card most places, but in smaller towns you may struggle to find establishments with card machines, and – here’s the clinker – there are often no cash points. Yep.
In Punta del Diablo, for example, which is small but probably has a larger population than the average UK village, there is one ATM but it only opens in December and January (high season). Outside of those months, the nearest cash machine is 11km away. ELEVEN KILOMETRES. While paying on card is optimal, always take a healthy wad of cash with you just in case you get stuck outside a big city.
Travel within Uruguay
Travel between towns is a pretty easy part of backpacking in Uruguay. While taxis are cheap and Uber exists over here, we recommend bus travel if you can face it. Local bus rides cost 33 pesos (around 85p) no matter how far you’re going, and although sometimes crowded they are easy enough to catch.
Not all towns have the route numbers written on bus stops (something that confuses even locals) but if you download the Moovit bus app you can at least find where you need to be to catch the right bus in Montevideo.
In Montevideo, all international and cross-country bus routes come out of the bus terminal at Tres Cruces. When you get there, you’ll see rows of ticket desks for different bus companies; they more or less charge the same prices for the same routes, so it comes down to comfort and departure times.
We recommend COT, which is always on time, has very comfy seats and free onboard WiFi (which is good enough for general browsing but not streaming). When you book at the desk, your ticket will have a seat number allocated to you.
Note that the buses do allow standing passengers, even on 5 hour trips, so buy your ticket a few hours – or even a day – before to ensure you have a seat. Major stops will be called our along route, but just keep an eye on your Google Maps location so you don’t miss out. To give you an idea on prices, a 5 hour journey to Punta del Diablo cost around £30 each, and Punta del Este to MVD (2 hours) cost around £10.
Catching the ferry from Uruguay to Argentina
For ferry crossings, you will need to book in advance, but this can all be done online with most providers. Note that some will require you to have printed your ticket, so check your hostel/hotel can do this. It is possible to get a ferry to Buenos Aires from Montevideo, but far cheaper to go from Colonia del Sacramento, a beautiful small town about 3 hours west of MVD.
WiFi for digital nomads backpacking in Uruguay
Wifi connections when backpacking in Uruguay are generally pretty good, except of course in off-grid towns like Cabo Polonio (although ironically one of the first signs you see when you get off the bus is for ‘Rocha WiFi’). Lots of the bigger towns also have free hotspots, and it’s common for restaurants and bars to offer it too. In hostels, speeds have regularly been good enough to video-call and stream smoothly.
Sun protection in Uruguay
This one took us by surprise, as being here in Spring temperatures haven’t reached more than 26 degrees C, and the average is much cooler, probably 20. At 20 degrees, caramac-club Lozzy would never think of putting on sun cream, but as it turns out this region sits under a particularly damaged part of the O-Zone, so for the first time in her life, Lozzy got sunburnt (and only at around 22 degrees on a fairly cloudy day!). If you are prone to burning, you need to be careful here even when it’s dull.
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