Transportation - Get In
The country's largest airport and primary hub is Carrasco International Airport, located 20 km east of Montevideo. Carrasco is a relatively small airport and most travelers outside Latin America will have to connect at least once or twice to get there.
From Carrasco there are flights to several destinations in Argentina and Brazil, Buenos Aires and São Paulo having direct connections to many major airports on other continents. Other Latin American destinations include Santiago de Chile, Asunción, Santa Cruz, Lima and Panama. Moreover there are flights to Miami, Madrid and Paris.
Other airports in the country exist, but they have just a one or two flights to Montevideo or Buenos Aires a week — given the short distances and affordable and frequent bus transportation these airports are of marginal use for most travelers. If you are heading to western Uruguay, consider flying into Buenos Aires and continuing by bus or ferry.
The former flag carrier Pluna ceased operations in 2012.
There are no international train lines to Uruguay.
There are land border crossings from both Argentina and Brazil. Some ferries between Buenos Aires and Colonia also carry vehicles.
In Uruguay, drive on the right just like in most of the rest of South America. The highways are in good shape and the speed limit is 90 km/hour to 110 km/hour on most of them but it's not enforced.
You should have the "carta verde" licence to drive in Uruguay, you can find it in the embassy. The legal limit of alcohol contentration is 0.03 % (0.0% for trucks,taxis and bus drivers)
There are many buses running from the Brazilian cities of Porto Alegre, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Bus service is very extensive and there are many services that run from Montevideo to different cities across the country. Terminal Tres Cruces, Agencia Central and Terminal Ciudad Vieja are Montevideo's three main hubs. Travel by bus is very safe. International services are available to São Paulo, Porto Alegre, (Brazil), most of the Argentinian provinces (Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Mendoza, Entre Rios), Asunción (Paraguay) and Santiago de Chile. The service is catered and buses have an outstanding level of service, much better than the average European service.
The Buquebus ferry service operates between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and both Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo, Uruguay. Some services continue from there to Punta del Este. For the Buquebus-Ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento there are two options. One takes three hours and the other one hour to get there. A ticket to Montevideo for the three-hour ferry is about ARS147 (03/2010) and ARS190 (03/2010) for the fast one.
Colonia Express operates between Buenos Aires and Colonia by one hour ferry and then by bus to Montevideo. Ticket prices to Montevideo from ARS149 (03/2010) or even cheaper in special web offers.
Seacat Colonia operates as well between Buenos Aires and Colonia by one hour ferry and then by bus to Montevideo and Punta del Este. Ticket prices to Montevideo from ARS142 (03/2010).
Transportation - Get Around
There are limited commuter train services around Montevideo. There are some tourist trains which do not have a fixed schedule. You need to find announcements for them at the Montevideo train station. There is no regular long distance train service. The most usual means of public transport is the bus (local buses inside Montevideo and from Montevideo to other main cities of the country).
Uruguay has an extensive internal bus system and in practice the only way of getting around between cities if you aren't driving. From Montevideo interdepartmental buses leave from the Tres Cruces station which also serves the international buses. There are often several companies serving the routes and the buses are frequent, safe, comfortable and the fares are affordable.
Depending on the company, tickets can usually be bought online, at bus stations and on board the buses themselves. If you buy tickets before departure you will get a reserved seat, otherwise you can sit at seats that don't happen to be occupied (otherwise there's place to stand in the aisle). At least on board the buses of the COT company there was a separate ticket salesman/inspector on board selling and checking tickets.
Taxis in Uruguay are safe and fairly affordable, costing about USD2 per km. All taxis in Uruguay use meters and have fixed costs.
The main highway is the one that goes from Montevideo to Punta Del Este (main tourist city of Uruguay), it is double lane from both sides. However this is the exception and most of the highways are single lane and therefore you should take precautions when driving long distances (a "long distance" in Uruguay is 500 km max), trying to pass another car. Always keep your distance from the car in front of you.
To rent a car in Uruguay, residents of many countries (including the United States) need only their driver's license, passport, and credit card; only residents of certain countries must obtain an International Driver's Permit. Vehicle imports and gasoline are both heavily taxed. Therefore, most Uruguayans prefer to buy cars with fuel-efficient manual transmissions, which in turn means that vehicles with automatic transmissions are rarer and much more expensive. If you can drive a manual transmission, you are looking at about USD $50/day and up, while those who can only drive automatic transmissions (primarily residents of Canada and the United States) are looking at USD90/day and up for a car rental.
It will cost USD60 and up to fill up the gas tank just on a regular small sedan like a Chevy Aveo. Traditionally, the sole gasoline retailer in Uruguay was the state-owned monopoly, ANCAP. (ANCAP is the "National Administration" for "combustibles," alcohol, and Portland cement, hence the name.) Today, ANCAP competes with Petrobras and Esso. All gas stations are full service, so you will need to know enough rudimentary Spanish to tell the attendant to fill it up.
Driving in Uruguay is very similar to European driving, but with less traffic lights and lots of roundabouts. North Americans accustomed to wild big-city driving (New York or Los Angeles) will not find it too difficult to adapt to. As in many developing countries and parts of Europe, Uruguayans have a tendency to split lanes or make their own lane. Since manual transmissions take longer to spin up, Uruguayans like to watch for the cross-traffic's yellow light and then jump the green about a second in advance, which means you should never run yellow lights if you can brake safely. Many intersections are marked only with yield signs. If you don't see a sign, treat it as a yield. If you see a stop sign ("Pare"), it means stop, please stop, probably because it's a blind intersection and someone was killed there.
Uruguay has not yet implemented sensor loops, so all traffic lights are on timers and you will have to sit there regardless of whether the cross-street has traffic. (Some local drivers will just run the red after sitting for a few minutes if cross-traffic is nonexistent.) Right turns on red after stop are not allowed. Headlights must be turned on at all times while moving.
Like much of Latin America, Uruguay has a fondness for giant speed bumps at the edge of towns the road passes through, this is true also for major roads. These are signed well in advance and require drivers to brake to 20 km/h or less; failure to brake in time will send one's car flying.
Uruguayan law requires drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel while moving, which means you cannot use a handheld cell phone while driving.
The speed limit ranges between 75 km/h to 110 km/h on most intercity highways, with 90 km/h standard on most stretches. Uruguay does not have any long-distance freeways, expressways, or motorways. Some short stretches of Routes 1 and 5 to the west of Montevideo have been upgraded to freeways.
Look out for pedestrians and slow-moving traffic in the roadway, especially in rural areas and poorer suburbs. Because automobiles are so expensive, many Uruguayans get around solely by foot, taxi, scooter, motorcycle, or bus. Like many developing countries, Uruguay lacks the resources to properly maintain sidewalks in poor neighborhoods, so sidewalks often have cracks, potholes, or worse. Therefore, you will see pedestrians frequently walking in the street even when there appears to be a sidewalk or footpath next to the road.
Uruguayan national highways are well-maintained, well-designed, easy to drive, and in excellent condition; they are maintained by the private Highway Corporation of Uruguay (CVU) under the supervision of the National Highway Directorate (DNV). CVU charges a standard toll (UYU55 for a regular auto) to traffic in both directions at toll plazas strategically sited throughout the country near bridges over major rivers (where it is difficult to find a toll-free detour). Transitions between CVU/DNV and local department highway maintenance are always marked with large signs (if the jarring change in the quality of the pavement doesn't already make it obvious). Roads under local maintenance tend to vary widely in terms of quality.
The most important long-distance highway in Uruguay is the Ruta Interbalneria linking Montevideo to Punta Del Este, which is a four-lane road with a broad median. Note that the IB was built as what people from western North America call an expressway; that is, cross-traffic still crosses at-grade at intersections rather than at interchanges with overpasses and underpasses. Most other highways are two-lane highways.
It is nearly impossible to obtain paper road maps of Uruguay outside of the country. Fortunately, ANCAP sells an excellent map package at all its gas stations which, as of 2012, includes three maps. Two are large foldable sheet maps. One is an overview-level highway map, which has the entire Mercosur bloc on one side and all of Uruguay on the other. The other is a detailed street map of Montevideo. The third map is a booklet with detailed street maps of all departmental capital cities and several other major cities, including Punta del Este.
Google Maps, Bing Maps from Microsoft, and OpenStreetMap all have excellent coverage of Montevideo, and the first two also have good coverage of the rest of the country. Although there are now mobile apps available which enable users to download OpenStreetMap data in advance to one's mobile phone, OpenStreetMap's coverage of areas outside of Montevideo and Punta del Este is still incomplete.
Another important quirk to keep in mind is that only online map services accurately depict the one-way streets common in Montevideo and other Uruguayan cities and towns. Virtually all Uruguayan paper road maps (including the ANCAP maps and the official maps from the Ministry of Tourism and Sport) lack arrows to show the direction of one-way streets.
Take notice of the emergency phone numbers prominently posted on the highways and keep them in mind. Uruguay is not a dangerous country, but since it is mostly agricultural and very sparsely populated between the towns, if your car breaks down it can take you a long time to walk to the nearest pay phone. It is recommended to carry a cell phone with you. Antel is the state company and the main provider.
In rural areas hitch hiking is fairly common and as safe as hitching is anywhere. Uruguay has the lowest level of violent crime in the Americas, outside Canada. If you are female don't hitch hike alone. Play it safe but it's more likely that the car is going to crash (1 in 100 chance) than something bad is going to happen.