Should you visit Chile or Uruguay?Chile and Uruguay are both popular travel destinations in South America. Both offer a nice coastline for visitors with beaches. However, Chile's coastline stretches all the way to the southern tip of the continent, where many opportunities for wildlife viewing and hiking are available.
The top three destinations in Chile include the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia for some raw and picturesque scenery and wildlife, The Lake District region, especially for water-sports lovers and Atacama for the desert, salt flat and stargazing.
Chile is a long and narrow strip of land that's almost entirely mountainous with some coastal plains. While there are a few airports within the Chile's Patagonian region, travel is mainly handled over land and by water. Therefore the most important question that you need to answer before you head this far south on the globe is how much time you have.
Uruguay is much smaller than the rest of the Spanish speaking countries in South America. Many travellers ignore it and prefer to visit more popular destinations. Yet after two centuries living in the shadow of its neighbors, Uruguay is finally getting a little well-deserved recognition. Whether it is in Punta del Este or other satellite towns such as La Barra, Manantiales and Jose Ignacio, Uruguay's summer scene is about the beach. The beach destinations along the country's Atlantic coast are simply marvelous. However Uruguay also offers many other outdoors activities in its underpopulated landscape. From taking on the waves at Punta del Diablo, trekking with gauchos in Tacuarembo to kitesurfing at Laguna Garzon or hot air ballooning over vineyards, Uruguay's outdoor is opened to you and you might even end up being the only one there!
Thanks to Uruguayans' relaxed attitude toward life, Montevideo is a very chilled-out capital. Montevideo is a combination of colonial architecture, low-rise skyscrapers and 15 miles of beach-side rambla. Still wonder why it is home to about half the country's population? Even though the walkable city has a very sedated pace, it contains many great attractions to keep you busy, including picturesque Ciudad Vieja and Barrio Sur neighborhoods and the fun if sometimes overrun Mercado del Puerto market. As a prime beef exporter and consumer, Uruguayans take barbecues just as seriously as their Argentine neighbors. Expect to eat enormous amounts of tasty meat! Uruguay's Carnaval is also great fun! The two-month celebration, which starts mid-January, is largely based on candombe, dance and rhythms devised by African slaves in the 19th century. Drumming and energetic dancing are at the heart of every street party, a more grassroots affair than its Brazilian cousin. Visit Colonia del Sacramento and its Havana-esque ambiance that will take you back to the 1680's when it was founded by the Portuguese. This sleepy riverside town is one of Uruguay's oldest and has managed to preserve its 17th-century convent, lighthouse and drawbridge in the UNESCO-protected Barrio Historico. Another of the many laid-back town of Uruguay is Carmelo, which takes relaxing to a heightened level of chic. Located upriver and surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, visitors are entertained by water sports, golf, horse racing and polo.
When is the best time to visit Chile and Uruguay?
However, if you are planning to hike through Patagonia and visit the natural wonders, then prioritize mid-seasons. Either go around September to November or from March to May. Both are low seasons, but the spring landscape, September to November, is the nicest of the two. If you do not handle the cold very well, avoid going to Patagonia before mid-October and after April. On the other hand if you love the snow, winter landscapes, skiing and travelling during low season with few tourists and lower prices, you should definitely visit Patagonia during end of autumn or beginning of spring. While you will get all the advantages of travelling during low season, you will also be able to enjoy a sunny weather, still quite cold but manageable. While a few activities (hikes, excursions) will begin to close (end of autumn) or still be closed (towards spring), you will definitely be able to do most of the essential activities and to fully enjoy some of them as you might find that you have a hiking path all to yourself! The differences in prices between low and high season are not tremendous but you will probably be able to save some money on deals with accommodation and a few other fees.
The best time to travel to Uruguay, especially if you plan to visit its coastal areas, is during its summer months between November and February (summer in the southern hemisphere). While, travel is possible year-round, many of the beach resorts are closed for much of the year as soon as summer slips into autumn. If you decide to travel outside of summer, focus your trip on more cultural sites and cities. January and February are the warmest and driest time of the year to visit Uruguay so make sure to book very early to get the best choice of hotels on the beach without paying an astronomical amount. By March, most of the crowd has left Uruguay's beaches and much of the coastal infrastructure remains open, giving travellers access to vast quiet stretches of sand and ocean. Although autumn has started, the sea around Uruguay is generally at its warmest in April and May, making this a good time to visit the beaches and go snorkeling offshore. There are very few visitors in winter, from June to September, which doesn't necessarily make it a bad times to travel; particularly if the focus of a trip is more cultural or if you want to spot southern right whales. Visiting Montevideo and some of the small surrounding towns can be enjoyable experiences year-round. As Spring arrives towards the end of October, so does visitors on some of the country's beaches. Visiting Uruguay in November is particularly lovely. Montevideo is pleasantly warm and the beaches are quieter than in December, when holidaying Brazilians and Argentinians fill up Uruguay's beaches and hotel prices shoot up; particularly over Christmas and New Year.
Why is Chile more expensive than Uruguay?Foreigners often have a misconception about all of South America being cheap. This is not the case of Chile. Especially when coming from other nearby countries, Chilean prices will come quite as a shock due to the high cost of living in the country. Its political and economic stability means that it is one of the most expensive South American countries and Chile continues to boast one of the highest ratios of executive salary rates to cost of living.
Traveling between December and March means traveling in high season in Chile. Like in most developed countries, the locals also travel during high season, which means hotels and hostels are heavily booked in advance and prices rise, especially in popular destinations like the Lake District or Patagonia.
The trendy resorts on the Uruguayan Atlantic coast, such as Punta del Este and Jose Ignacio are stunning, but the prices are extremely high. These destinations are usually visited by the local and international celebrities who vacation there, and not backpackers on a tight budget. Make no mistake, prices in Uruguay are close to 'Western' prices and you should budget accordingly.
What are the most expensive and cheapest cities and regions in Chile and Uruguay?
Uruguay's capital city Montevideo and Atlantic coast beach towns Punta del Este, Atlantida, Piriapolis and La Paloma are relatively expensive due to a high cost of living and tourism. Inland locations are cheaper, but not necessarily where most international visitors would visit. Salto, located in northwest Uruguay, is an exception, as it is an affordable large city, with enough attractions in and around the city to make your travel interesting.
How you can save money when visiting Chile and Uruguay?Cooking in your hostel's kitchen is one of the best ways to keep your travel costs down, to meet fellow travellers and supermarkets are also great places to go to see what the local people eat. Another good self-cook method is to make your own picnic for lunch, especially if you plan to spend the day outdoors, perhaps trekking in one of the many national parks.
Don't fly domestically, as a two-hour flight can be quite expensive. Unless you are in a rush, consider taking the bus to your next destination. While not very common in the north of the country, if you're in Patagonia, you'll see many locals and tourists alike hitchhiking, as long-distance buses in that part of the country can be on the expensive side and infrequent. An inexpensive way to get around and also out of the cities is to rent bicycles from your hostel or rental shops, usually for no more than USD$10 a day. Hiking is free, and throughout the country you'll find plenty of opportunities to enjoy this and other free outdoor activities since Argentina and Chile are blessed with many city parks and nature reserves where you can spend the day wandering around and relaxing. As you start to travel south to Patagonia, accommodation costs get higher. Hostels are often USD$17 USD or more a night as opposed to as cheap as USD$6 a night in Buenos Aires for example. Look for camping opportunities as often as possible. When you aren't in the national parks, many hostels will let you pitch your tent for a small fee.
In Uruguay, save money on your food budget by shopping in the supermarkets. Also, water is sometimes as expensive as beer, or beer is often as cheap as water. In Uruguay, it pays to shop around as prices for items vary greatly. Prices can vary greatly from store to store even if they are right next to each other.
Cash is King. You will get the best deals if you are carrying US dollars. Prices can easily be negotiated when a Uruguayan shop owner knows you are dealing with US dollars.
Don't use your hotel's laundry service. The cost can easily work out to USD$35, which is sometimes as much as the actual hotel room itself. Check with the concierge before you send your laundry away or you might be in for a costly surprise.
Tips and gratuities aren't usually included in your food bill and an average tip should be about ten percent of the food bill. However if you give them a little more, even an insignificant amount to you, which probably means a lot to the people who work in Uruguay, you will make a local friend which will save you plenty of money and time when trying to figure out local customs, as well as finding reasonably priced accommodations and other special deals.