Driving in the Uruguay countryside

Driving in the interior of Uruguay is a real pleasure. Calculate a little extra time and relax on some of the emptiest roads in the world.
By Karen A Higgs
Last updated on February 3, 2017

Driving in the Uruguayan country is a real pleasure in part because there’s noone else on the road!

Calculate a bit more time than you would normally take for your journey and sit back and relax on some of the emptiest roads in the world.

You may be the only driver for miles around on Uruguay's country highways (yes, this is a highway in the interior). The roadmarker (known as a "mojón" in Spanish) tells you the number of kilometres you are from a major intersection or town. Direction are often given in the countryside based on the roadmarkings. ie get off at "Km 145,500" means you'd turn off this highway 500 metres after this marker.

1. Beware of pot holes

Uruguay’s highways between major tourist destinations ie Colonia to Montevideo to Punta del Este to the Brazilian border are in great shape.

However in the interior, even major roads may be full of potholes.

The speed limit inland is 90 kilometres per hour. That’s 56 miles per hour. But at times you will find yourself down to 60 kph because of poor road surfaces.

These babies were a foot wide in diametre (30 cm) and an inch or so deep and were numerous on Ruta 7 in Lavalleja.

I don’t mean to imply you need a 4 x 4 to drive on Uruguayan country highways -a standard car is just fine-, but you do need to take your time as you drive. Remember, the journey is all part of the experience.

2. Beware of cows

This was filmed thirty minutes north of Montevideo on Ruta 5 – Uruguay’s main highway running from the north to the south of the country. Enough said.

3. Beware, children crossing

When passing a school by law you must slow your car right down to a crawl. When schools are in session, you’ll usually see signs like this one.

4. Beware of unexpected curves and respect road signage

Country highways tend to be super straight but then suddenly there’s a zig zag, or a speedbump! Always drive alert and keep your speed down. Always respect roadsigns – especially those indicating when not to overtake. Road surfaces may not be great, but signage is usually pretty good.
Country highways usually cut through the middle of country towns. This sign indicates a speedbump which are frequent for obvious reasons.

5. Beware the blazing sun to the west

Take sunset into account when you are calculating drive time to your destination. Uruguay’s gently rolling countryside provides little shade when driving west in the late afternoon. The sun will be in your eyes obscuring your vision.

And there are few street lights in the countryside. So calculate reaching your destination ideally well before sundown.

6. Beware truckers’ sunburn

Between November and April, use sunscreen when you are in the car for more than fifteen minutes. Otherwise you are guaranteed sunburn on your one arm, one side of your face, and/or neck. Uruguay is affected by a hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic.

7. Be nice. Greet fellow travellers

Drivers and bystanders typically raise a hand to acknowledge each other’s presence in the countryside. I guess it has something to do with the fact that you may pass just three cars an hour on some highways!

Join the locals and greet passing gauchos on horseback, road workers filling those pot holes and other folk you cross on your journey. These will undoubtedly be the same folks that will help you out if you get a flat/run out of gas/etc.

Photos and video: Guru’Guay



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10 Responses

  1. Guten Tag
    Eine super Website. Vielen DANK für Ihre Bemühungen.
    Ich habe folgende Fragen:
    Kann ich als Schweizer ein Auto in Uruguay kaufen?
    Kann ich dieses Auto auf mich einlösen / immatrikulieren (mit uruguayischen Kontrollschildern)?
    Darf ich das Auto mit meinem schweizerischen und internationalen Führerausweis lenken?
    Vielen DANK für Ihre Unterstützung.
    Mit freundlichen Grüssen

    1. Thank you, Rolf! Yes, you can buy a car on your passport and register it, and drive it with your licence. Best wishes, Karen

  2. I am a USA citizen/resident and have a USA/California driver’s license. Do I need an international driving permit or inter- American driving permit to rent a car and drive in Uruguay?

    I can’t get a straight answer about this even from the Avis people in the USA. The AAA automobile club in the USA says you need an Inter-American driving permit, but most things I read on the Internet say either you don’t need anything or maybe an international driving permit, not Inter-American.


  3. Unless you’ve tried to drive from Salto to Rivera via Bella Union, you have no idea. Everyone told us not to travel that road at night because of the condition.

    Every now and again you could tell the road used to be paved at one time. We could only go about 50km/hr and even at that, we were slaloming the whole way trying to avoid deep holes. We tried to be careful, but ended up with a cracked bumper anyway.

    1. MT, we appreciate you sharing your cautionary tale. Yes, roads in the interior (NOT the coastal highways, they are in great shape) require slow attentive driving. The roads you mention in the very north sound very scary. — cheers, Karen

  4. Also good to know : take the weather forecast into account. When it’s raining you won’t see (the size of) the potholes which makes it particularly dangerous to drive.

    Waving to each other here is so lovely! 🙂 I love it.

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