Time to find out all about Uruguay, a small country tucked away between Argentina and Brazil with a population of just over three million people. It’s still relatively off the beaten track for travellers – primarily in my opinion due to a lack of good information in English.
Uruguay is No. 1
For such a small country, Uruguay has a surprising number of outstanding achievements. Let’s name just a few…
- Uruguay has the world’s cleanest air
- Uruguay is the fairest country in the Americas according to the Americas Social Inclusion Index
- Uruguay is the most gay-friendly country in Latin America
- Uruguay is the only nation in the world where all school children have a laptop as part of national policy
- Uruguay’s national soccer team is the world’s most successful international side
- leading classical music duo Igudesman & Joo to conclude that “Uruguay is the best country!!!!”
A pioneer in progressive social reform
Perhaps it is not really SO surprising that Uruguay has so many talented folks when you look back at their recent history.
Free primary school education has been compulsory for almost 150 years. The university system is still free.
Women had the vote before many European countries (in 1917). Divorce was legalised in 1907. Compare that with neighbours Argentina and Chile which did not legalise until 1987 and 2004 respectively (really!) . There was a complete separation of church and state in 1917.
Uruguay has a stable economy in an often volatile region. Since the 1990s, Uruguayans have consistently voted in national referenda to keep their public utilities state-run.
- What’s the average Uruguayan income?
- Exchanging money is easy For those of you coming from Argentina, you can breath more easily – even the ATMs here dispense dollars
Uruguayan solidarity and tolerance
Most Uruguayans are fine with a simple life. Give them a good asado and a whisky and they’ll not want for more cosmopolitan tastes. To my mind they are remarkable for their general preference for spending time with family and friends and lack of interest in material things. The gap between rich and poor is not in your face (this is where you may want to read my article about glitzy Punta del Este).
- The story of the survivors of the 1972 Andes disaster reflects Uruguayan values of solidarity, teamwork and friendship.
- How many other nations would have elected a president like ex-guerrilla José Mujica?
- Solidarity in Montevideo’s Old City
Uruguay does not have the dramatic scenery of Chile or Bolivia. But it does have outstanding art-deco architecture, white unspoiled ocean and river beaches which breathe an air of nostalgia from the 1950s and 60s and peaceful countryside.
It is very easy to get around by car (throw away the GPS, it’s just not necessary) and public transport is cheap and very good.
Music and culture
One of the most exciting reasons to visit Uruguay is for music and culture. Check out how I helped a music journalist from Austin, Texas discover the Montevideo live music scene, but not before you listen to 5 essential Uruguayan albums and see my Uruguay rock and pop tasters.
Below check out a scene from Montevideo’s carnival. The longest carnival in the world.
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Photo: Punta del Diablo by Marc Veraart courtesy of Flickr