Cities in URUGUAY


Geography and Landscape


The Republic of Uruguay (officially: República Oriental del Uruguay) is one of the smallest states in South America. Uruguay, along with Argentina and Paraguay, is included in the La Plata countries because it lies in the catchment area of the rivers that flow into the La Plata. Uruguay has a total land area of 176,215 km2 and is therefore even larger than England and Wales combined.

Uruguay Satellite ImagePhoto:public domain

Uruguay is bordered to the west by Argentina (579 km), to the north and east by Brazil (985 km) and to the south by the Río de la Plata and the South Atlantic Ocean.


The landscape of Uruguay is a continuation of the landscape of southern Brazil and consists in the north and east of a gently undulating landscape of rocks from the Cretaceous period. The western part of Uruguay is completely covered with dark colored, horizontal basalt layers, and forms part of the great Paraná plateau; the eastern edge forms a sharp cue edge.

Two mountain ridges run from the north to the southwest: the Cuchilla de Haedo in the west and the Cuchilla Grande in the east. In the Cuchilla Grande, on the Brazilian border, the Cerro Catedral is the highest peak in the country at 621 meters.

Top of the Cerro Catedral, highest hill in UruguayPhoto:Scheridon Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unportedno changes made

Along the ocean coast west of the capital, Montevideo, there is a wide sandy plain with dunes and lagoons, including the Lagoa Mirim. There are also sand deposits along the Río de la Plata and the Río Uruguay, but also loess. The Cuchilla Grande is the main watershed. To the east, short rivers flow to the ocean or to the Cebollati, which flows into the Lagoa Mirim. Between Cuchilla de Haedo and Cuchilla Grande, the rivers meet in Uruguay's main river, the Río Negro. A dam built in the Río Negro created the largest artificial lake in South America, the Río Negro Lake. The lower reaches of the Río Negro are navigable and at Fray Bentos the river flows into the Río Uruguay.

Climate and Landscape

Uruguay has a mild, even climate where even in winter it almost never freezes. The climate is the transition from the subtropical climate of Brazil to the temperate climate of Argentina. Along the coast, the average daytime temperature is 28°C in January and about 15°C in June; the average night temperature is approx. 17°C in January and approx. 7°C in June. The seasons are therefore the opposite of those in Europe. There is no specific best time to travel, you can visit the country all year round.

Climate diagram Montevideo, UruguayPhoto:Hedwig in Washington CCAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The constant trade winds alternate between east, north-east and south-east and therefore rain falls all over the country all year round, about 1000 mm per year. In the north an average of approx. 1250 mm falls and in the south an average of approx. 950 mm. Due to the lack of natural barriers, the often strong winds can develop into tornadoes.

Plants and Animals


The flower of the ceibo tree is the national flower of UruguayPhoto:jacilluch Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic no changes made

Uruguay consists mainly of grassland and gallery forests along the rivers, which makes it very similar to the vegetation of the Argentinian pampas and southern Brazil. The gallery forests include eucalyptus trees, willows, poplars and acacias. One of Uruguay's strangest trees is the ombú, whose bark is soft and fluffy to the touch. The beautiful flower of the ceibo tree (also called coral bush or coral tree) is the national flower of Uruguay.

Peltophorum dubium is de nationale boom van UruguayPhoto:João Medeiros Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

In the southeast, a large palm savanna area occurs along the Brazilian border. For the rest, only a small percentage of the country is covered with forests. Bushes mainly grow on the moist soils of the valleys. Coconut palms still stand along the coast. Uruguay's national tree is Peltophorum dubium.


Wild Geese are common in UruguayPhoto:Dori Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic no changes made

Large wild animals are rare in Uruguay, although rheas are found near the Río Uruguay. The animal world is typically that of the open plains of South America, that is, a fauna of the grass savannah, which generally links up with that of Northeast Argentina. Many bird species occur in the river forests and wetlands, including the king duck, the black-necked swan and various species of wild geese. In the grasslands we find the aforementioned rhea and partridges. The hornero or oven bird builds its oven-like nest in telephone poles, among other things.

Golden Dorade, UruguayPhoto:Felipe cancian CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Freshwater fish include piranhas, salmon and pejerrey. Furthermore, there are pacú, tararira and surubí, all related to the North American bass. Uruguay's best-known freshwater fish is the carp salmon Salminus brasiliensis or golden dorado, which can weigh up to 32 pounds. Anglers from all over North and South America come to Uruguay to fish the golden dorado in the Río Santa Lucía. The Río de la Plata estuary is very rich in fish. Here you will find a combination of salt and fresh water where sharks, rays, anchovies and corvina occur.

armadillos, UruguayPhoto: Mwcolgan8 in the public domain

Animals such as jaguars, cougars, collared peccaries and giant anteaters are extinct in Uruguay. Mammals that do occur include white-lipped parrots, armadillos (armadillos), capybaras (the world's largest rodent) and three-toed anteaters or tamanduá.
Three hundred years of extensive livestock farming have left a negative mark on the animal and plant world. Uruguay has only four national parks, including the seal colony near Punta del Este and Cabo Polonio.


First inhabitants

Monument to the Charrua, the first inhabitants of UruguayPhoto:Maximasu CCAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Archaeological finds of the first inhabitants indicate that people lived in this area as early as 8,000 years ago. The very first inhabitants of Uruguay included the Charrúa, a people of hunters, fishermen and gatherers. They were very hostile to the Spanish explorers and conquistadors. They survived Spanish rule into the 19th century and even played an important role in the struggle for independence.

Other tribes that lived here at the time of the Spaniards were the Chaná and the Guaraní. However, they soon disappeared when the Spanish colonized the country. It is believed that around 1500, at the time of the first contact with the Europeans, about 9000 Charrúa and 6000 Chaná and Guaraní lived in Uruguay.
There were three main reasons why the Indian population disappeared from Uruguay: massacres, merging with the Spanish occupiers and most importantly the diseases that the Spaniards brought with them from Europe such as smallpox, tuberculosis and the flu. In 1840 only 18 Charrúa lived in Uruguay.

Spanish rule

The Spaniards discovered the Río del Plata as early as 1502, but did not investigate the area further. One of the first to investigate the area was the Spaniard Juan Diaz de Solís who, along with most of his men, was murdered by the Indians in 1516. Because no gold or other precious minerals were found, it took until the 17th century before the Spaniards colonized Uruguay.

Charruas near the Rio de la Plata, UruguayPhoto:public domain

In the 17th century, the Charrúa had meanwhile taken over horses from the Spaniards and kept large herds of wild cattle with which they even traded. At present, the Charrúa no longer exist as a tribe, and only a few mestizos still live inland along the Brazilian border. The first Europeans to settle in the Banda Oriental, as Uruguay was called during the colonial period, were Jesuit missionaries. This was near present-day Sorianoac de Río Uruguay. In 1680 the Portuguese founded Nova Colõnia do Sacramento, opposite Buenos Aires in Argentina. The Río de la Plata lies between these two places. Colõnia soon became a smugglers' nest and therefore a direct danger to the Spaniards. In response to this, the Spaniards built their own fortress where the capital Montevideo would later emerge. The rivalry between Spain and Portugal would eventually lead to Uruguay's independence.

José Gervasio Artigas, UruguayPhoto:Public domain

José Gervasio Artigas, Uruguay's greatest national hero, teamed up with the United Provinces of the River Plata against Spain. The Portuguese, called to the rescue by the Spanish commander, drove Artigas to Paraguay. After this, Uruguay was occupied by Brazil and incorporated as a province of Brazil. The Brazilians then called Uruguay the Cisplatine Province. Gervasio Artigas was expelled to Paraguay, where he inspired the “33 Orientals” led by General Juan Lavalleja and with the help of Argentina tried to liberate Banda Oriental from the Brazilians.

Uruguay independent!

Proclamation of the Constitution in 1830, UruguayPhoto:Public domain

On October 4, 1828, after three years of struggle, Uruguay became an independent state following a British-directed peace deal; in 1830 this agreement was constitutionally ratified. The British intended to use Uruguay as a sort of buffer between the great powers Argentina and Brazil. Throughout the 19th century, Uruguay's independence was threatened militarily by Argentina and Brazil, and economically by the British. Between 1838 and 1851, the capital Montevideo was besieged by federalist troops (Guerra Grande), encouraged and helped by the Argentinian dictator Rosas. The period between 1830 and 1903 was one of great unrest in Uruguay. For example, Uruguay had 25 different presidents between 1870 and 1903. Of these, nine were forced to resign, two were murdered, one was seriously injured, ten survived one or more revolutions and only three presidents had no problems. It was also during this period that the two groups that would later have such a great influence on political life in Uruguay emerged, the blancs and the coloradoes. They were so named because of the color of the headband they wore to distinguish themselves from each other.
After the independence of Uruguay, Great Britain became more and more interested in the country. Great Britain had long been an important market for hides and it expanded further with the introduction of merino sheep. Furthermore, the Liebig Meat Extract Company of London opened a meat factory in Fray Bentos in 1864. In 1868 a company started building a railway from Montevideo to the interior. Later that century, native cattle were replaced by Hereford and Shorthorn cattle. This commercialization of the meat industry and livestock farming meant the end of the romance surrounding the "gaucho", the South American cowboy. They now came to work for the large landowners (latifundios) just like elsewhere in South America. This change did make a major contribution to the development of prosperity in Uruguay.

From 1865, Uruguay, along with Brazil and Argentina, took part in the war against Paraguay (War of the Triple Alliance), which threatened Uruguay's independence. Paraguay lost this war in 1870 at the cost of many deaths.

Social reforms and prosperity

José Batlle y Ordóñez (standing), UruguayPhoto:Public domain

One of South America's most visionary political leaders was the Uruguayan José Batlle y Ordóñez. During two reigns as president of Uruguay (1903-1907 and 1911-1915) he introduced, among other things, the eight-hour working day, unemployment benefits and retirement benefits (Batllismo). He also tried to contain the power of the large landowners (caudillismo) through constitutional amendments. He also created a legislative power on the Swiss model.

This model was called “colegiado” and implied that, instead of a president, a council of wise men formed the day-to-day administration of Uruguay. However, the nationalization of many industries was successful, resulting in a fairly high level of prosperity for a large part of the population for a long time. However, this prosperity depended to a large extent on the growth of meat exports. When there was no more growth in this economic sector, the further development of prosperity quickly ended. A big mistake was also that the money earned was not invested further, but that it was used up on luxurious matters.

Also during the tenures of Claudio Williman (1907-1911) and Feliciano Viera (1915-1919), a number of reforms (social welfare, public utilities, and education transitioned from clergy to laity) were implemented in Latin American relations. that time were very advanced. In general, it can be said that Uruguay was one of the most stable, democratic states in South America in the first half of the 20th century.

Uruguay is slowly sliding into dictatorship

From the middle of the 20th century, the economy stagnated completely and the population of Montevideo in particular suffered greatly, as they were used to the high level of prosperity. All social services cost a lot of money and when the economy collapsed people had no more money to pay for these expenses. Unfair favoritism and corruption further exacerbated the situation. The economic crisis was at its peak in the mid-1960s, resulting in much political unrest.
With the election of Oscar Gestido, a Colorado man, people became more optimistic about the future. However, he died shortly after taking office as president and was succeeded by his vice-president Jorge Pacheco Areco, relatively unknown but with some dictatorial strands. Under Pacheco, Uruguay slowly slid into dictatorship. He banned left-wing parties and certain newspapers and declared a state of emergency several times over guerrilla activities.

Flag of the Tupamaros, UruguayPhoto:Public domain

The main urban guerrilla movement was the Marxist Movimiento de Liberación Nacional, better known as the Tupamaros. This movement had already existed in 1963 under the leadership of socialist law student Raul Sendic, but did not make itself heard until 1967. The name Tupamaros comes from a Peruvian Indian (Tupac Amaru) who led a revolt against the Spanish in the 18th century. In the beginning, the Tupamaros received popular support, but that changed when they were blamed for the excesses carried out by the government. Eventually the army was deployed against the Tupamaros who were finally defeated in 1972.

The 1971 presidential election saw a victory for Pacheco's chosen successor Juan María Bordaberry. Bordaberry invited the military to join the government, eventually leading to a National Security Council. Bordaberry was forced by the army to dissolve Congress in June 1973 and the military dictatorship was a fact. This military dictatorship would last a total of twelve years. The military dictatorship in Uruguay was slightly “milder” than that of Argentina, for example, and was completely out of step with Uruguay's history and political traditions. Yet freedom of speech was severely curtailed and the military assumed all important positions. Torture was the order of the day and about 60,000 civilians were imprisoned in total. There were also Berufsverbote (certain people were not allowed to practice certain professions), libraries were censored, and even large-scale family gatherings had to be approved. A military regime was established in a coup on June 12, 1976. The constitution was inactivated. The main purpose of the military dictatorship was to get the economy back on track. However, it was unfortunate that an oil crisis broke out in 1973 that pushed the country even further into the abyss.

Democracy again after twelve years of dictatorship

In a plebiscite in 1980, the people were asked whether the military role in politics should be legally established. Despite the threat of continued military rule, the majority of the population voted against it. In September 1981, the military leadership appointed former Commander-in-Chief Lieutenant General Gregorio Álvarez president. From June 1982 this allowed the traditional parties to develop political activities again. Finally, politicians and military agreed to hold elections to parliament and a civilian president on November 25, 1984.

Julio María Sanguinetti, UruguayPhoto:Agmontesdeoca CCAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The winner of the election was Julio María Sanguinetti of the Colorado Party. Still, there was something fishy about Sanguinetti's victory. The Blank leader Wilson Ferreira Aldunato was boycotted by the military because he had always opposed the military dictatorship and was very popular with the people. Under Sanguinetti, Uruguay slowly returned to its democratic traditions and political and civil rights were restored. It was remarkable that a referendum was held in 1989 asking for an amnesty for “wrong” soldiers. A large majority voted in favor! Later that year, Blanco candidate Luis Lacalle Herrera succeeded incumbent President Sanguinetti. The conservative Lacalle formed a coalition government with fractions of the Colorados, but during his tenure constantly clashed with the municipal government of Montevideo, in which the Frente Amplio was the largest party. Former President Sanguinetti in turn returned to the plush at the head of a coalition government in 1994. In July 1995, an agreement was reached in parliament on a revision of the electoral system, so that from now on each party could only run one presidential candidate. This constitutional amendment was approved by voters in a referendum in December 1996.

In December 1995, a presidential summit was held in the seaside town of Punta del Este of the four countries that are members of the South American Common Market (Mercosur): Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. At the summit it was decided to admit Bolivia as an associate member and to continue negotiations with Chile.

21st century

Dr. Tabaré Vázquez, UruguayPhoto:Gobierno de la Repúblic CCAttribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

After presidential elections in late 1999, Jorge Batlle Ibáñez was installed as president on March 1, 2000. In March 2005, for the first time in Uruguay's history, a left-wing government was installed under President Dr. Tabaré Vázquez of the Frente Amplio (FA). The transition from a conservative to a progressive regime went smoothly, both in terms of democracy and with regard to the collegial transfer of the departments. In June 2008, Vázquez announced the discovery of a large gas field in the waters off the coast of Uruguay.

In November 2009, José Mujica, former left-wing rebel leader, wins the presidential election. Former President Bordaberry will be tried in February 2010 and will be sentenced to 30 years in prison. In March 2010, Mujica will start as the new president of Uruguay. Uruguay has recently shown its most progressive side. Successively, an abortion law will be passed in October 2012, and same-sex marriage will be legalized in April 2013. In December 2013, Uruguay legalized the cultivation and recreational use of marijuana in the context of the fight against the drug cartels. The new scheme will take effect in April 2014. Tabare Vazquez wins the presidential election in November 2014 and takes office in March 2015.

Luis Lacalle Pou, UruguayPhoto:Alan Santos/PRa Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

In July 2017, Uruguay becomes the first country in the world to make it legal to produce and sell mariunana for recreational use. After the leader of the National Party, Luis Lacalle Pou, won the elections at the end of 2019, he will take office as president in March 2020.


Uruguay had 3,360,148 million inhabitants in 2017. On average, 19 inhabitants live per km2. The Uruguayan population is predominantly white (88%) of mainly Spanish and Italian descent, making it the most homogeneous country in South America; it is estimated that 8% are mestizos and 4% are mulattoes or Africans. Uruguay is the only country in South America that no longer has any indigenous tribe.

Football fans UruguayPhoto: ? CCs Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The population is mainly concentrated in the departments along the Río de la Plata; almost half live in and around the capital Montevideo (1.7 million inhabitants), the main population concentrations are also found in the cities in the west, Salto, Paysandú and Mercedes and in the north Rivera. Approximately 2500 inhabitants per km2 live in the capital Montevideo.
More than 95% of the population lives in the cities. The low birth rate (13 ‰ in 2017) limited annual population growth. Population growth was 0.27% in 2017. More than 20% of the population is younger than 15 years old. The average life expectancy is quite high, 77.4 years. (2017)

Many Uruguayans have left the country in search of more prosperity or because of the dictatorial period. In the period 1963-1975, approximately 180,000 Uruguayans emigrated abroad, mainly to Argentina, but also to the United States, Australia, Spain, Brazil and Venezuela. From 1975 to 1985, during the dictatorship, another 150,000 Uruguayans left (fled) the country.


The Spanish spoken in Uruguay mainly descends from Castilian and Andalusian. Spaniards who wanted to settle in the New World in the 16th century had to do so through the province of Castile in Central Spain. Then they were sent to Andalusia or Seville because from there the ships left for South America. This could take up to a year and because of that they also learned to speak and understand Andalusian. By the time they arrived in South America, they all spoke about the same language. Over time, this language has changed a bit, of course, but is still very much like the Spanish spoken in Spain. The differences are in the pronunciation and the choice of words. Some words that have not been used in Spain for a long time are still used in South America.

Spanish language map of the worldPhoto:Simonsyo CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

Spanish is therefore the official language in Uruguay and is spoken and understood by practically everyone. In the north, along the Brazilian border, most people speak both Spanish and Portuguese or they speak “fronterizo”, a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. Uruguay’s location between Argentina and Brazil, and the fact that Uruguay has been a province of Brazil for a while, are related to this. The Montevideo dialect, the “porteño”, is practically the same as that of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Several words of the “lunfardo”, a working-class dialect, have been incorporated into Uruguayan.

Cocoliche, a type of Spanish spoken by Italian immigrants, and the Gaucho dialect of the cowboys of Uruguay, are extinct languages that are no longer spoken by anyone. They are only sometimes used in poetry and theater. For example, the word "chau" has been adopted from the Italians, from the Italian "ciao". For a period in the 18th and 19th centuries, Montevideo was an important port for the slave trade. Words of African slaves have also been recorded in Uruguayan.
The Spanish of the La Plata countries, including Uruguay, the Español Rioplatense, differs markedly in some aspects from the rest of Latin America. Most notable is the use of the pronoun “fox” instead of “tú” for “you”, and the pronunciation of the “Ll” (eg Llanos) as “zh” instead of “y”. The name Uruguay comes from Guaraní and means “the river where the birds live”.

Although a large part of the population officially belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, the society in Uruguay is not very ecclesiastical and has always been tolerant to other religions. Uruguay has always been special in this compared to many other South American countries. There is no state religion in Uruguay, so there is complete freedom of religion. The first constitution stated that Roman Catholicism was the official religion, but even then it stated that people could choose which religion they wanted to adhere to.

Roman Catholic Cathedral of Melo, UruguayPhoto:Alejandro Gil Álvarez CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

About 50% of the population is Roman Catholic. The statistics are quite contradictory in this regard. In 1978, the Roman Catholic Church reported that only 4% of the population attended church regularly! In addition, there are small Protestant (15%) and Jewish (50,000 members) denominations. Approx. 30% are not religious.
From the past, the influence of Roman Catholicism has always been less than in other South American countries. Spain always sent missionaries along with the conquerors to the Indian peoples they encountered. Because Uruguay had few Native American peoples on its territory, who were usually very hostile to the Spaniards, not many missionaries and priests came to Uruguay.

Anglican Church in Montevideo, UruguayPhoto:Hoverfish CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

As early as 1844, the British built an Anglican church in Montevideo, one of the first Protestant churches in South America. During the 20th century, many other Protestant churches settled in Uruguay. By the way, this is a trend throughout South America. Since the 1960s, Protestant churches have been trying to convert Roman Catholics to Protestantism. Because the Uruguayans are not so ecclesiastical, this is not very successful. In Uruguay there are still Baptists, Adventists, Methodists and Mennonites and Russian Orthodox believers, together about 2% of the population.

Synagogue in Montevideo, UruguayPhoto:Felipe Restrepo Acosta CCttribution-Share Alike 4.0 Internationalno changes made

Various laws were passed in the 19th and 20th centuries, all aimed at reducing the influence of religion on daily life. Thus, in 1907 it became officially legal to divorce and in 1909 religion classes were abolished in schools.
Before the dictatorship, there was quite a large group of Jews in Montevideo. There were six synagogues and about 2% of the population was Jewish. These Jews had emigrated to Uruguay because Uruguay was known as a religiously very tolerant country. The first large group of Jews came to Uruguay in the early 20th century. The second group fled the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. Many Jews left Uruguay again during the dictatorship period, so that only a small number of Jews are currently living in Uruguay.


State structure

The Constitution of Uruguay, established in 1967, provides for an executive power of a president, a vice president and a council of ministers (approx. 12 ministers), who are appointed by the president. The legislative branch, the Asamblea General, consists of a Senate (Senado) of 30 members and a Chamber of Deputies of 99 members.

Parliament building UruguayPhoto:Eduardo Ruggieri CCAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The president, vice president and members of the assembly are elected in direct elections every five years. All Uruguayans from the age of 18 have a general obligation to vote. The elections for the president are complicated and at first glance strangely put together. Each party may nominate several members. The winner is the one with the most votes of the party with the most votes. This means that the winner almost never has the majority of the population behind him (even within their own party), and not even the candidate with the most votes in total. In eight elections between 1946 and 1984, the winning presidential candidate drew no more than 31% of the vote.
The two largest and most important parties are the progressive Partido Colorado (Colorados), with the most support in the cities, and the conservative Partido Nacional (Blancos), with the most support among the agrarian population. The Blanco party has provided president only three times since independence: 1835-1838, 1958-1967 and 1989-1994. A third, increasingly stronger party is the Frente Amplio or the Encuentro Progresista, a center-left party consisting of opposition parties that provided the mayor of Montevideo, among others. The elections of October 31, 1999 resulted in a coalition of the following parties: Colorado Party (10 seats), Blanco Party (10 seats), Frente Amplio (9 seats) and Nuevo Espacio (1 seat). Voor de huidige politieke situatie zie hoofdstuk geschiedenis.

Administrative division

Administrative division of UruguayPhoto:Milenioscuro CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

Administratively, Uruguay is divided into 19 departments with limited self-government headed by a governor. The departments have their own departmental legislative and administrative bodies.


Uruguay was the first country in South America to have free and compulsory education. In 1877, the first education law was passed, giving all children access to education. Primary and secondary education is free and compulsory for all children up to the age of fourteen. Higher education is not free. As a result of this policy, Uruguay has the lowest illiteracy rate in South America, approximately 4%.

Faculty of Law of the University of the Republic, UruguayPhoto:Felipe Restrepo Acosta CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes

Eighty percent of the workforce has at least attended primary school, 40 percent has completed secondary education and 18.5% has completed university education. For some years now, the pre-school period has also become increasingly important. At the moment, 44% of children between the ages of three and six go to the so-called “Kindergarten”. About 30% of the national budget is spent on education.
There is a state university with, among other things, a highly regarded medical faculty, an independent Roman Catholic university and a private technical education at university level, all located in Montevideo. About 70% of all university students come from Montevideo.



Uruguay has long been considered the “Switzerland” of Latin America. In the 1960s, people had the highest per capita income (1999 $ 8,500). Despite the economic crisis in the 1970s, Uruguay is still one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America. However, income distribution has become increasingly unequal as a result of the economic policy pursued. Yet Uruguay still has a fairly large middle class. Approx. 5% of the population is very rich and over 45% belongs to the reasonably prosperous middle class. About 50% of the population belongs to the working class with the lowest incomes. Of the labor force, approx. 73% work in the service sector, approx. 14% in industry and approx. 13% in agriculture (2017). Inflation is around 6.2% per year and unemployment is quite low (7.6% in 2017).

World Trade Center in Montevideo, UruguayPhoto:Marcelo Campi Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made
Mercosur (Mercado del Sur), the common economic market of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, was established in 1995. Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia are associate members. Almost half of Uruguayan trade was with Mercosur members. The largest sector of the national economy is the tertiary sector, which includes restaurants, hotels, transport and communication. The banking system also generates a lot of income. It is organized in much the same way as in Switzerland, so with strict banking secrecy.

Agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, forestry

Traditionally, Uruguay has been mainly a country of cattle and sheep. 9 million head of cattle and 21 million sheep graze there, especially in the center of the country. Due to lack of investment and low prices for wool, income from this sector stagnated. Meat processing has also been an important industrial activity for a long time. Of the total land area, 77% is used for livestock farming and 9.5% consists of agricultural land (together approx. 16 million hectares).

Hereford Cows, UruguayPhoto:Lux Valens CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

In the west and south, wheat, barley, soy, beans, onions, vegetables, fruit and grapes are grown. Big corporations dominate and strong mechanization over the years has led to high rural unemployment and strong migration to the city. Only in the southwestern coastal area does intensive agriculture occur, while more and more rice is grown around Lagoa Mirim. Wood is mainly imported from Brazil. Uruguay itself has a very limited forest cover (3.5% of Uruguay is covered with forest, 670,000 hectares of natural forest and 350,000 hectares of planted forest) that is largely used for firewood.
The National Fisheries Development Plan, carried out by the state fishing company INAPE, has proved a success. Sea fishing has grown rapidly since 1991 and the fish caught is frozen or exported as canned food. A lot of fish is caught every year, both in the lakes, the rivers and on the sea. The annual catch is still growing.

Mining and industry

All minerals found in Uruguay belong to the state. Of the proven minerals, only limestone is actually used for the cement industry; the extraction of the other minerals is impeded in part by transport difficulties. Marble and granite are mined on a modest scale. It also shows reserves of iron ore, gold and silver, copper, manganese, uranium and a type of brown coal.
Since Liebig started a meat extract factory in Frey Bentos in 1864, meat processing has been the basis of the industry in the country; slaughterhouses, cold stores and canning plants are mainly located in Paysandú, Montevideo and Frey Bentos.

Industry, UruguayPhoto:MIEM, Uruguay Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) no changes made

More than three quarters of all industry is located in or near Montevideo.
Improvement and expansion of existing and the establishment of new industries were stimulated, which has been of particular importance for the production of textiles, chemicals, electrical appliances and the metalworking industry. The industry also produces car tires, plastics, paint, cement, fertilizers, leather products (footwear), foodstuffs, glass, paper, dairy products and engines. The state oil refinery ANCAP in La Teja (near Montevideo) processes imported oil.


Salto Grande dam, UruguayPhoto:Lenilucho Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported no changes made

Until 1979, Uruguay was mainly dependent on thermal power plants that operated on increasingly expensive imported oil for its energy supply. Since July 1979, when the first turbines of the Argentine-Uruguayan Salto Grande joint project started operating, 73% of the installed capacity has been supplied by hydropower plants. The thermal power stations currently supply 27% of the required energy.

In collaboration with the El Palmar project (in the Río Negro) carried out by Brazil, Uruguay has even started exporting electricity. The electricity supply is in the hands of the state-owned Usinas y Transmisiones Eléctricas (UTE).


Export UruguayPhoto:R. Haussmann, Cesar Hidalgo, CCAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Wool and meat are still the main exports, followed by soybeans, hides and leather goods, textiles, fish and rice. In 2017, approximately $ 11.4 billion was exported mainly to the Mercosur countries, China, the countries of the European Union and the United States.
Oil plays an important role in imports; also imported means of transport, machines and foodstuffs. In 2017, $ 8.6 billion was imported from mainly China, the Mercosur countries, the countries of the European Union and the United States.


There are almost 3000 km of railways in Uruguay. All railway lines converge in the capital, Montevideo. The railway network was built mainly with British capital in the last century and has played an important role in economic development, but is now very outdated. The rail network has been nationalized since 1948.
Domestic transport is largely done by road; the road network is quite dense at 60,000 km and connects the main cities and ports via a more than 20,000 km long system of asphalted highways. Two international bridges and a road across the Salto Grande dam connect Uruguay to Argentina. Four highways lead to Brazil. The “Southern Cone Axel Highway” connects Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay and runs from Porto Alegre in Brazil to Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires.

Port of Montevideo, UruguayPhoto:Jimmy Baikovicius CCAttribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic no changes made

Uruguay's main ports are on the Atlantic Ocean, the Río de la Plata and Río Uruguay. Of great importance is the Río Uruguay, which is navigable to Paysandú for large sea-going vessels and allows shipping to the port of Salto, which is important for the export of the meat industry; over 95% of foreign trade is shipped in the port of Montevideo. Here too, the government is in control through the Administración Nacional de Puertos (A.N.P). Inland navigation has approx. 1200 km of navigable rivers and other waterways at its disposal. Uruguay is partnering with Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay in a project that aims to provide a reliable and efficient transportation system through rivers and canals.

The national airline PLUNA (Primeras Líneas Uruguayas de Navegación Aérea) maintains domestic air traffic and some scheduled services to neighboring countries. The national airport is Carrasco in the vicinity of Montevideo.

Holidays and Sightseeing

Tourism is increasingly important to the Uruguayan economy. In 1997 visitor numbers increased again by 17% (2.3 million tourists), while revenues increased by 25% ($ 759 million). Most visitors come from Argentina.

Punde del Este, UruguayPhoto:Andrés Franchi Ugart… CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

However, the tourism industry, which in 1996 yielded as much as a third of total exports, fears damage to the image of Uruguay as the safest country in South America. To stop the increased crime, a kind of vigilante was set up. Montevideo, Colonia and especially Punta del Este are favorite holiday destinations. Punta del Este, for example, has a 40 km long beach.

Montevideo, the capital of uruguayPhoto:Marcelo Campi CCAttribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic no changes made

Montevideo is Uruguay's largest city, capital and main port. The old town shows the influence of the old European architecture. Notable government buildings are the Legislative Palace, the City Hall and the Estevez Palace. The most famous stadium is the Estadio Centenario. The Park of the Allies is a large public central park. The ramblas of Montevideo is a very large boulevard of more than 20 km long where you can walk or cycle given the distance. Especially in the evening with a beautiful sunset it is a good place to be. The ramblas runs almost entirely along the coastline. Read more on the Montevideo page of Landenweb.

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Bernhardson, W. / Argentina, Uruguay & Paraguay
Lonely Planet

Haitsma, M. / Uruguay: een landenmap

Jermyn, L. / Uruguay
Marshall Cavendish

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated October 2021
Copyright: Team Landenweb