Wedged between Brazil and Argentina on the east coast of South America, Uruguay may be one of the smallest countries on this continent but what it lacks in size it makes up for with atmospheric cities, pristine beaches and giant grilled steaks. With a reputation for being the ‘Belgium of South America' in a somewhat turbulent continent, Uruguay has enjoyed a relatively stable economy and political status save the economic crisis and corresponding spike in crime in the past decade.
Now back on track economically and with a low crime rate by South American standards, tourists are flocking to discover this affordable country. Uruguay has a stunning coastline along the Atlantic Ocean with an abundance of beach resorts such as Punta del Este which is full of casinos, beaches, nightlife and beautiful people and where the jet-set go to holiday.
The majority of Uruguay's population resides in the metro area of the capital city, Montevideo, in the region known as Rio de la Plata. Montevideo's Ciudad de la Vieja (Old City) area is home to colonial architecture and boasts art deco and neoclassical buildings as well as skyscrapers such as Palacio Salvo, which was once South America's tallest and still offers great views of the city. Barrio Reus is the place to head for colourful houses, and Mercado del Puerto is an undercover market where you'll find an abundance of restaurants.
The northern interior is close to Argentina and the hub of gaucho culture. Uruguay is traditionally a ranching region with cattle outnumbering humans hence the gigantic and cheap steaks on offer throughout the country and preponderance of South American cowboys or gauchos in towns like Tacuarembo. The central interior near Brazil is home to huge dams and agriculture.
The Uruguayan cuisine centres around grains and meat. Chivito is the local sandwich and with hearty helpings of meat, sliced boiled eggs and vegetables between bread and served with fries, it's known as a ‘cholesterol bomb' and best reserved for truly ravenous appetites. Yerba mate is a popular traditional drink in Uruguay and a social occasion with groups of people imbibing the bitter liquid made from ground herbs on the streets. While it is an acquired taste, the drink is often presented in beautifully crafted gourds and an unique experience to share in Uruguay.
Enjoying its status as an affordable slice of Latin America, the popularity of this progressive South American country will continue to grow among travellers in the know so there's never been a better time to get acquainted with this simpatico country.