Notes from traveling to Uruguay from Argentina:
1. By air, water or land: it’s easy
Frequently scheduled ferries between Colonia del Sacramento and Buenos Aires were a very convenient and quick way to travel.
Once you’re in Uruguay, traveling by bus was easy and super comfortable – not to mention great value. I can recommend both modes of transport warmly.
Air travel was smooth, too, though if you’re too slow in leaving the arrivals area, you might miss all the buses and taxis to town and have to wait around for a while until the next opportunity, like we did. Read more here!
2. Shoulder season offered plenty of low-to-mid-budget hotel options
We booked hotels only a few days in advance, using a couple of our favorite booking sites’ mobile apps.
All of our hotel rooms offered us free wifi, so choosing our next hotel was always easy; we’d usually do our hotel searches on one of our last evenings at the previous destination. Even after a long day out and about, we’d developed an efficient routine for narrowing down our very favorite hotels, while comfortably eating snacks and lounging about.
We encountered no problems anywhere even though we booked quite late: there was plenty of availability, leaving us the freedom of choice.
During high season, it’s always a good idea to book a bit earlier, though!
3. Know which bus is yours! (Yes, you read that right)
If you’re taking a long distance bus between cities, check the bus number on your ticket since there might be several identical buses going to the same destination, leaving at the same time, with the same company, from the same place!
If there are three buses leaving at the same time, know which one is yours so you don’t miss it. They were pretty punctual in departing.
The bus tickets had seat numbers that locals followed obligingly. (While in Argentina, on the other hand, some bus companies had “free seating” despite having seat numbers printed on tickets. To avoid disputes – we actually witnessed a couple seating disputes amongst passengers! – it would be good to know the policy before you board, especially if the bus is full.)
4. Shopping in the small beach town of Punta del Este
Before arriving at Punta del Este, I didn’t know what to expect, having read that some of the smaller beach towns in the region had close to no services. Punta del Este was larger than these towns and, as it turned out, quite comfortable.
Though there were shops and a mall, we were there just before the summer season started and the stores didn’t have full inventory yet. (I was looking for flipflops – you’d think you could find some in a beach town? I only found kids’ sizes.) Buy what you need at home and bring it with you – if you can carry it.
There was, however, a great supermarket in Punta del Este called Disco, where the variety and quality of food items was the best we had seen in weeks! When traveling, we like to save money on food: we often dine on just supermarket sandwiches and such. So we were happy for the good selection of fresh fruit, chocolates, and take-away dishes for good value.
To get to the mall, we simply walked there from the center of town. But if you’re not a fan of walking, you can take a taxi or bus. Bikes were popular, too, and several hotels loaned some out for free.
As opposed to some of the other beach towns nearby, Punta del Este was well equipped with all the normal services you’d expect to find, like money exchange points (not available everywhere!).
5. How to taste mate
Mate, the bitter hot drink that everyone was drinking in Uruguay (and Argentina)… you’d like to know what the fuss is about but it doesn’t feature on any restaurant or cafe menus. It’s a drink locals brew for themselves at home, then carry around all day in a Thermos.
We found a solution to this dilemma at our hotel in Colonia del Sacramento. Our friendly receptionist happily prepared some mate for us when we casually mentioned to him we’d never tasted it!
Besides preparing the drink for us, I’m happy our host also told us what to do with it, because drinking mate wasn’t as simple as it looked!
If you’re curious, it tasted like tea that was too strong, with a hint of tobacco flavor.
6. The language
My best Uruguay tip is to be prepared to use Spanish everywhere!
I must admit, I was surprised to the extent that English got us absolutely nowhere in Uruguay (and in Argentina). I was also thrilled by this, because it meant that I had no choice but to use my Spanish skills, which I might’ve otherwise been too shy to try out.
I do remember noticing during my pre-travel internet searches that there wasn’t a whole lot of information to be found targeting English-speaking travelers, besides Lonely Planet guides and such. That should have been my first clue! Once there, we noticed that most travelers appeared to be Spanish-speakers and local travel services were targeted towards them.
If, like me, you’re not a native Spanish speaker, you might consider downloading a dictionary app on your phone. I had a free one and though the vocabulary wasn’t very broad, it was still a nice back-up.
If Uruguay was once on your itinerary, what are your best travel tips?
I visited Uruguay in December 2014 as part of a rather long Argentina trip. My husband and I stayed in Uruguay for one week, though the country would certainly merit a longer stay! Shortly after, I drafted this casual little list of travel tips… but I never did publish it on my blog. Today, the experience feels distant and without my old notes, I would hardly have remembered these details if you asked me now.
For additional reading and photos, please visit these posts: