Uruguay is one of the most progressive countries in the world, let alone South America, especially when it comes to being LGBTQ+ inclusive. It was one of the first countries in South America to legalize same-sex marriage and has passed various other progressive laws, including legalizing abortions in 2012 and the legalization of cultivating, selling and consuming recreational cannabis in 2013.
Uruguay has been viewed as one of the safest places for LGBTQ+ travelers to visit and for LGBTQ+ people to live. Often overshadowed by more popular destinations within South America, like Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is quickly climbing the ranks to claim the top spot for LGBTQ+ visitors to South America.
Why Visit & When to Go?
The best times to visit Uruguay is from October to March, when the sun is out and shining and temperatures are mild. Punta del Este is saturated with tourists from Argentina in the summer, but if you are looking for a more peaceful beach experience, consider going between October and December. Average temperatures are 62°F (17°C) in spring, 73°F (23°C) in summer, 64°F (18°C) in autumn, and 53°F (12°C) in winter.
Interesting Cities to Visit in Uruguay
This city offers plenty to see and do, particularly around Plaza Independencia in the Old Town known as Ciudad Vieja and the Rambla beach promenade. The Ciudad Vieja has the famous statue of General Artigas, the national hero, as well as stunning colonial buildings that date back to the 1800s, like Teatro Solis and the iconic Puerta de la Ciudadela. The Ramblas beach promenade is worth checking out as it’s 22km in length and follows the avenue along the coast, which makes it perfect place to go for a walk and people watch. The Sarandi promenade is the main pedestrian street in the city, which begins at the Puerta de la Ciudadela and ends at the Rambla promenade on the coast. The Mercado Agricola Montevideo is also a popular tourist spot in the city. The famous market in the city is where locals come to purchase fresh produce and meats. It’s also a place to pick up some Uruguayan wine or have some coffee while enjoying more people watching.
COLONIA DEL SACRAMENTO
This city is located in the southwest of Uruguay and is one of the oldest cities in the country. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is made up of an old town layered with cobblestone streets, surrounded by thick fortified walls. While there, explore the historic quarter, which is the most popular attraction. The city walls of the old town were built in 1745 by the Portuguese. Additionally, the Puerto Viejo (old port), which is no longer functioning, is worth visiting. There is also the El Faro Lighthouse which was built in 1857. Visitors can climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse for incredible views. Visitors can also buy one museum pass that permits them to visit all the museums in town for one small fee.
PUNTA DEL ESTE
This international beach destination is famous for being packed during the summer months of December through February. Beachgoers enjoy activities such as parasailing, waterskiing and jet skiing. There are also lots of beach clubs and party options, during summer months. Nightlife is big here with most of the restaurants/bars being located near the port.
PUNTA DEL DIABLO
This small fishing town is located on the eastern coast of the country and over years has evolved to become a prime summer getaway for Uruguayans and Argentinians during the summer. If you happen to visit outside of summer, expect a very tranquil and chilled-out vibe as not much takes place outside of summer. The most popular beach here is Playa de la Viuda, which is great for surfing. Also, in Punta Del Diablo is Santa Teresa National Park, which borders Brazil and makes for a perfect backdrop while hiking the various trails.
Interesting Attractions to Visit in Uruguay
The Rambla is the coastline promenade, present in every coastal city of Uruguay. It typically makes for a great meeting place for locals. Walking along the Rambla in any city is typically stunning because of the views of the rivers and oceans.
GRUTAS DEL PALACIO
This geo-park in Flores is highly recommended, especially for those who enjoy different experiences related to geology, paleontology and archaeology. Here you can enter ancient caves filled with painting and geological formations that date back millions of years. It is one of only two geo-parks in South America.
This small village near Rocha mostly remained unknown until Chef Francis Mallman opened a Michelin-starred restaurant and hotel there, which put the town’s name on the map. It’s still very remote and peaceful, but now there’s a legitimate reason to visit.
LAGUNA DE CASTILLOS
This lake is great spot to go swimming and fishing since the natural water is a refreshing change from the salty seas. Visitors here can hire a boat to take them to Ombu mount, a special place that is home to massive shrub-like trees that are hollow inside as well as tall palm trees that are natural to the region.
PAN DE AZUCAR
Pan de Azucar is a hill in Maldonado that is recognized by the massive cross that sits atop it. The hill is home to a reserve filled with wildlife. It’s a great place for hiking and experiencing nature.
This is the largest football stadium in Uruguay, built in 1930 for the first World Cup. It is still Montevideo’s main stadium, and a must visit, even if football isn’t high on your interest list. If you can manage to buy a ticket to a game, it’s worth your time because the energy inside the stadium during a game is undeniable. Also, inside, visitors can visit the museum which details Uruguay’s football history.
Experiencing Uruguayan Food
Uruguay is best known for being a country of meat eaters, when it comes to their gastronomy, similar to Argentina. Most Uruguayans are committed carnivores and grill houses known as parrillas dot the landscape there. The parrillas typically offer asado de tira (ribs) and pulpo (fillet steak) among many other cuts of beef. Along the coast, seafood is prominent. Pasta is also common throughout the country as well as steak sandwiches known as chivito, which happens to be the country’s national snack. Most menus in Uruguay lack spice and vegetarian options are limited, though growing in the capital. The country’s national drink, mate tea, is typically enjoyed at home or at parks with friends and will typically not be found on any restaurant menu. Restaurants that charge more than U$400 for a main dish are classified as expensive, and typically, these restaurants charge a flat fee of U$20 just to sit at the table.
Safety Considerations for LGBTQ visitors to Uruguay
LGBTQ+ rights in Uruguay are among the most liberal in both South America and the world. Same-sex activity has been legal with an equal age of consent since 1934 and anti-discrimination laws protecting people who identify as LGBTQ+ since 2004. Civil unions for same-sex couples have been allowed since 2008 and same-sex marriages since 2013. Additionally, same-sex couples have been allowed to jointly adopt since 2009 and gays, lesbians and bisexuals are permitted to openly serve in the military.
Since 2003, incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation and sexual identity has been prohibited. In 2004, an anti-discrimination law was passed to create an Honorary Commission to Combat Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and other forms of discrimination, including sexual orientation and sexual identity discrimination. In 2009, the General Assembly of Uruguay passed a law allowing transgender people over the age of 18 to change their name and legal gender on official documents, so that it is in line with their gender identity. And since October 2018, sex reassignment surgery, hormone therapy or any form of diagnosis are not requirements to alter one’s gender on official documents. Additionally, that same month and year, the government passed the Comprehensive Law for Trans Persons that allows minors to change legal gender with parental consent. The law also established a framework to revert past discriminatory state actions, including providing monetary reparations to transgender individuals who were persecuted during Uruguay’s time under dictatorship.
LGBTQ Travel Tips for Uruguay
Montevideo Pride – This is the country’s largest pride, celebrated on the last Friday of September (known as Marcha por la Diversidad). Montevideo’s first pride was held in the ‘90s and attracted just a few hundred people in contrast to today where pride brings together more than 30,000 each year.
Punta Pride – This more recent pride event is less about the politics and more about having fun on a gorgeous beach. Punta Pride takes place during the summer in February, typically over a weekend.
LGBT Chamber of Commerce National Conference – Each September the Uruguayan chamber of commerce has their annual conference showcasing the best of gay travel in the country. This event is geared toward travel professionals.
David Duran is a freelance travel writer who has contributed to various publications including Fodor’s Travel, the New York Post, Travel + Leisure, and more. He’s visited all seven continents and more than 80 countries, co-authored a book on travel guides, filmed a travel show pilot currently under development and moonlights as a luxury travel advisor for one of the largest travel agencies in the world.
Featured image credit: Friendly Map