Why Uruguay? A North American explains why he chose the South

No earthquakes, no riots, no dressing to impress. A Canadian reader shares why he chose Uruguay and Montevideo's Old City as a place to live.
By Karen A Higgs
Why Uruguay? A North American explains why he chose the South

Ever wonder why some choose Uruguay as their home? Barry, a reader from Canada shared his compelling reasons—from social equity to geological stability—on why he and his partner chose Uruguay as a place to live.

Thank you, Barry, for taking the time to share your experience.

Note: This article has been edited for smooth reading and links added for more information on the topics mentioned.

When friends in Uruguay and in Canada ask: Why Uruguay?

This is our answer:

Well, Daina and I got to know a lot of South America through Daina’s work. Not counting the three Guineas on the North coast, she has been in every country in South America. I have been in all but Ecuador and Colombia. So when we decided to “snow bird” in South America we made a list of the things we wanted.

First is that Uruguay has the least social inequity of all South American countries. That was probably the biggest driver. But other things were important, too.

This is a very geologically stable country, unlike Chile. Although we have many friends there and long connections with the people and their political struggles, the earthquakes and also the radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in the Pacific waters pointed us away from Chile.

Uruguay feels mostly like a first-world country. It is the most expensive country in the region, but with smaller disparities between the rich and poor. Consumerism is not “king” here, and the vibe is very informal. People dress however they want and women don’t tend to wear a lot of make-up. Education is free and the health system is public and mostly efficient.

Of all the Southern Cone countries that lived under dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s, we think Uruguay recovered the best. It was able to rebuild its democratic structures because of its strong social fabric and trade union organizations.

Uruguay was founded as a very liberal country, with a strong streak of anarchism coming from the gauchos of the pampas who did not pay very much attention to rules but were big on mutual aid and solidarity. It is a country where women’s rights have long been enshrined, where church and state are rigorously separate, and there is great respect for diversity of all types, including gender, disability, politics and race. The parliament is currently about to approve a law to restrict campaign financing and another to allow physician-assisted death.

Other reasons to love Uruguay

  • the beef—all grass fed and better than Argentine beef
  • cannabis is legal here
  • lots of culture, music, dance, theatre, much of it free and state-supported, the countryside is beautiful (if a bit flat)
  • lots of beaches, including ocean beaches on the warm South Atlantic
  • wonderful wines and wineries, and good craft beer
  • we don’t stand out much among a mostly European-descended population
  • the longest carnival in the world!!

Daina and I used to participate in the Toronto Islanders’ Caribana band and we love carnival. Here it lasts for 40 FORTY days, not the paltry 3 days in other countries.

We go to all the parades (desfiles), to many tablados at the Museo del Carnaval near the port and we go to several shows at the Teatro de Verano.

We love our Old City neighbourhood. Our building is on a main pedestrian street, Sarandí and faces the “sea”, as people call this part of the Río de la Plata estuary that runs to the ocean. It is usually quiet here (except for the practicing comparsas, we often go and watch). We have a good view of ships coming in and out of the port.

All in all, that’s why Uruguay.

Cover photo: The Solís Theatre in the Old City neighbourhood (courtesy of Rem)




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