Introduction

Uruguay is in southeastern South America sharing a border with Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, to the north; to the west is the Uruguay River; to the southwest, the estuary of Rio de la Plata; Argentina is just across either of these bodies of water; and the southeastern border is the South Atlantic Ocean. Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America, larger only than Suriname.

Uruguay is a favorite tourist destination, with alluring cities, pristine and laidback beaches, and a very good infrastructure, including good highways and communications. Though quite small, many gravitate to Uruguay because of the peaceful atmosphere and the stability of the political system, and the natural beauty is very enticing.

People

Many of the Uruguayans descended from colonial-era settlers and immigrants from Europe, with almost 88% of the populace of European descent. The majority are descendants of Italians and Spaniards, followed by the Germans, French, British, Portuguese, Swiss, Irish, Poles, Russians, Bulgarians, Croats, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Swedish, Latvians, Danish, Austrians, Greeks, Dutch Belgians, Turkish, and Scandinavians. There are also smaller numbers of Georgian, Lebanese, and Armenian people, and of the remaining 10%, about 4% are black African, with 2% Asian. Most of the Africans have assimilated in Uruguay.

Geography

The landscape features gently sloping plains and low hill ranges with rich coastal lowland, as well as many lakes and lagoons, and most of its grassland is perfect for cattle and sheep. The highest peak in the country is the Cerro Catedral (Mount Cathedral) at 1,685 feet.

Uruguay is a water-rich territory, with major bodies of water marking its limits on the east, south, and west, and most of the boundary with Brazil follows small rivers.

The climate is temperate: it has warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters. The gently rolling landscape is somewhat susceptible to fast changes from weather fronts, and there is a sporadic influence of the polar air in winter, and tropical air from Brazil in summer. With no mountains to act as a blockade, the air masses freely move through the territory, causing sudden weather changes.

History

The early dwellers, before European colonization of the area, were varied tribes of hunter-gatherer Native Americans. The most well-established of these were the Charrua Indians, a small tribe driven south by the Guarani Indians of Paraguay. The name "Uruguay" originated from the Guarani language, meaning "river of the painted birds."

During the nineteenth century, Uruguay participated in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay. Following that war period, Uruguay was administered by elected and appointed presidents, and saw disharmony with nearby states resulting in political and economic instability, modernization, and an enormous surge of immigrants. Development came in the early 1900s during the term of President Jose Batlle y Ordonez.

The Uruguayan economy depends widely on agricultural exports, and two World Wars brought prosperity as Uruguayan beef and grain fed a war-torn Europe. World food prices dropped continually following the end of World War II, bringing years of economic decline.

In 1973, the army brought years of military dictatorship to what was once a region with the strongest democracy. Eventually, democracy was brought back in 1984 with the election of Julio Maria Sanguinetti, and Uruguay has been very stable since that time.

Famous Attractions

Ciudad Vieja:

The Old City is on one side of Plaza Independencia and the area offers several sites for exploration and investigation. Make time for lots of sightseeing, because, with its multi-cultural influence, shops, markets, and restaurants offer many new experiences

Plaza Independencia:

This is the site of Montevideo's tallest buildings, including the Radisson Hotel. Plaza Independencia acts as a line of demarcation between the old and new Montevideo.

Rambla:

This picturesque road runs from the Old City to Carrasco, and is perfect for walks along the beaches. Eventually, all visitors find themselves on La Rambla de Pocitos, a great place to just hang out and have a cold beer. With the gorgeous city on one side and stunning beaches on the other, what could possibly be better?

Museo del Gaucho y de la Moneda:

Situated on Plaza Independencia, this museum merges the history of cowboys and money, and though it may seem like an odd combination, it is well worth a leisurely vist.

Nightlife

Symphonic concerts, theater, and ballet are presented in Montevideo from March to January. Tango is almost as accepted as in Argentina, and there are discos in downtown Montevideo and coastal environs such as Pocitos and Carrasco. There are also quite a few dinner-dance places in Montevideo. Big Montevideo hotels have first-rate bars, and when there's music for dancing, the price of drinks increases quite significantly. There are also many casinos if you want to play some table games.

Uruguay is acquiring a good reputation for its fine wines, particularly those made from the Tannat grape. Yerba Mate is widely available on the streets, especially at night, but can scarcely be ordered in restaurants, so you may have to buy it somewhere else and make your own. The traditional drinking gourds are readily available, ranging from inexpensive to super-deluxe silver and horn. Find one you like and keep it handy, because Yerba Mate is a social drink.

Culture

Uruguay has a remarkable heritage of creative and literary traditions, especially considering its diminutive size. The contributions of alternating conquerors and varied immigrants have resulted in local traditions that reflect this diversity.

Uruguay is South America's most secular state. It has no official religion and church and state are completely separate, but religious liberty is assured. 66% of Uruguayans are Roman Catholics., and there is a small Jewish community in Montevideo (about 1% of the population) as well as numerous evangelical Protestant groups (about 2%). Macomb and Umbanda, religions of Afro-Brazilian source, are the fastest-growing religions in Uruguay.

Spanish is the official language and is spoken by almost all of the inhabitants. English is common in the business world though it is a minority language, as are French and Italian. Other languages include Portuguese and Portunol, a fusion of Spanish and Portuguese.

Cuisine

Uruguayans are generally meat eaters, and the parrillada (beef platter), chivito (a substantial steak sandwich), and pasta are the national dishes. Pasta came to be a favorite because of Uruguay's many Italian immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Other Uruguayan dishes include Milanese, a breaded veal cutlet similar to the German Wienerschnitzel, and morcilla dulce, a type of blood sausage cooked with ground orange fruit, orange peel and walnuts. Snacks consist of hungara (spicy sausage in a hot dog roll), olimpicos (club sandwiches), and masas surtidas (bite-sized pastries). Usual drinks include medio y media (part sparkling wine and part white wine), mate, tea, clerico (a mixture of white wine and fruit juice), and red wine