How To Vacation in Uruguay On a Budget
As many of you know I returned from a dream trip to Uruguay this past winter. I’m a Uruguay fanatic. I believe it’s special because nobody goes there.
I think Uruguay is the most underrated vacation spot in the world. But I don’t want everyone finding out about it and ruining it either. As a traveler who believes in being culturally immersed into every new place I visit, I encourage you to do the same: visit Uruguay with your eyes, ears, and noses wide open.
Uruguay is a relatively unknown nation snug between Argentina and Brazil. Though widely visited by vacationing Latin Americans with money and affluence, Uruguay is also welcoming to budget travelers. Many backpackers think of Uruguay as a stop-over from Buenos Aires or Patagonia, but I’m here to tell you it’s worth devoting an entire vacation to.
During my three-week getaway, I loved experiencing many facets of Uruguayan life – starting with a leisurely afternoon in the serene town of Colonia right off Rio de la Plata, then spending a week walking Montevideo’s cobble stone streets, and then escaping to the north, beach bumming along the coast. Everywhere I went I met the nicest, warmest people eager and passionate about sharing Uruguayan culture with me. Plus, the weather (our February is their peak summer) brought much-needed hot temperatures. Extended sunlight with cool winds in the evening were perfect for attending a parilla (BBQ) outside with new friends. I found Montevideo in particular to be a great walking city that also provides speedy and cheap transit options for traveling in and out of the city. I rode buses everywhere with the help of friendly locals. As a Spanish-speaking tourist, I must admit it was much easier for me to navigate throughout my travels and practice my native tongue, but rest assured many Uruguayans I met spoke English and were happy to practice doing so.
Below are my tips for vacationing in Uruguay (with mention of Buenos Aires) on a budget:
Book Early Through Buenos Aires
I booked my overnight flight via LAN Airlines (after months of stalking travel alerts) for $1,031.53 USD which is under the market average ($1,200+ USD) for a roundtrip flight in and out of Buenos Aires. I’m a travel alert hoarder and if you play your cards right, you can score amazing deals and getaways too. I use a mix of travel sites to keep an eye on budget-specific alerts including Hipmunk, TravelZoo, Sky Scanner, and Airfare Watchdog. Pick one or a few, set your parameters, and pay attention to your inbox. When you find a deal you like, act quickly!
After hanging in BsAs (short for Buenos Aires) for a week, I booked a ferry via Colonia Express from Buenos Aires to Colonia then a bus from Colonia to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay ($29.95 USD). On my return trip from Montevideo back to Buenos Aires, I splurged for the express Buquebus ferry which turned out to be a lovely ride ($87.82 USD).
Stay With Locals on AirBnB
For this particular trip, I wanted to stay with locals who could offer up a private room or home for an affordable price. I knew very little about Uruguay and desperately wanted to connect with locals who would welcome me into their home and share a piece of Uruguayan life with me. I knew hotels would not offer that local experience, and hostels aren’t my scene anymore. Enter: AirBnB. I booked AirBnB rooms for roughly 1 week each in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and outside of Punta del Este (Uruguay) for a total of $666.00 USD, an average of $31.71 USD per night. I loved every place I stayed at, I made friends with all my hosts, and each room was fully furnished. I also lucked out with convenient AirBnB locations which made going out and coming home relatively safe and easy. An overlooked luxury of booking an AirBnB is having a kitchen to cook or bring leftovers back. I even went grocery shopping a few times to save money on meals.
Order Meals from the ‘Menu Ejuctivo’
Similar to their sister European countries, both Argentina and Uruguay offer special menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that often promote affordable meals accompanied with a few sides. Breakfast specials range from $75 Argentine or Uruguay pesos ($2 - $8 USD) and typically include coffee, juice, a pastry, and/or egg dish. Lunch can run $300 Argentine or Uruguayan pesos ($11 USD) and include a glass of house wine, soup, and/or salad. Dinner will cost upwards of $500 Argentine or Uruguayan pesos ($18 USD) depending on what you’re craving and the type of dining experience you’re after. Note: Uruguay doesn’t do “fancy” so many restaurants are casual, laid back, and filled with locals. I found that to be quite a relief after trying to dress to impress whilst in Buenos Aires. Bonus: sometimes my meals were so big I had leftovers which spared me from dining out and spending more money! Fill up on steak and Tannat wine in Uruguay, it’s the best. See my foodie’s guide to Uruguay with my favorite dishes.
Ride Public Transit in the City
This should be a no brainer no matter where you travel. As a New Yorker, I believe in walking everywhere until my feet fall off. I take pleasure in walking and wandering about as much as possible. However, when the time comes that my feet can take no more, I want to feel comfortable hopping on a bus or metro nearby to return home. Luckily, Montevideo has many local buses to flag down. In Montevideo the local buses are called Ómnibuses and charge $22 Uruguayan pesos a ride ($0.83 USD). The easiest bus to take follows Avenue 18 de Julio (the main strip) from the main bus station (Tres Cruces) to the Plaza de Independencia (just before entering Ciudad Vieja) which costs $15 Uruguayan pesos ($0.55 USD).
Plan Your Uruguayan Vacation Now
Though I traveled during Carnaval season to Uruguay (February), there were hardly any tourists which made dining out easy, and especially great for meeting locals. Uruguay also offers a wide variety of vacation perks including beautiful vineyards boasting delicious Tannat red wines (for fans of strong, earthy Malbec), sleepy beach towns that stretch from the cityscapes of Montevideo across to Punta del Este and up the riviera to the tiny town of Jose Ignacio (home to the best beachside restaurant on the planet) and beyond, and lush greenery that makes up its rural gaucho (cowboy) country. I’m happy to report I was able to experience all of the above.
More resources to plan your Uruguayan vacation
Paul Brady is the only other Uruguay-obsessed travel writer I know. He was and has been my concierge for all things Uruguay for years now. This post is a tribute to one of his favorite places on earth and I highly suggest booking a stay here if you’re into being off the grid. There’s more hotel coverage on Uruguay he’s contributed over at CNTraveler.com.
This was one of the most exciting pieces I read on Uruguay as I began to research my trip. Here, the New York Times proves you don’t need two weeks to see the best of Montevideo, you can make it a weekend destination if you’re pressed for time. Book an overnight flight so you don’t miss out!
Thanks to the shortage of Uruguay travel guides – both in print and online – for American travelers, this blog run by a British expat fills the gaps. It became my bible, answering so many questions I couldn’t find elsewhere. The site is updated daily and the author owns an amazing guesthouse you can rent.
Go to Uruguay. Take pictures. Report back.