Based on my experience of Uruguay, its scenery and its people, I encourage fellow travellers to consider discovering Uruguay by car. Yes, the route between Colonia and Punta del Este is easily covered by public transport. But, as always, travelling by car gives you flexibility to look beyond the popular tourist route, and at your own pace. A self-drive tour allows you to explore further inland and discover unique places that can often only be found off the beaten track.
However, before you get planning, it’s worth bearing in mind a few points about driving in Uruguay.
The Colonia to Punta del Este route
The main toll roads connecting Colonia del Sacramento with Montevideo and then Punta del Este are in good condition. Speed limit here goes up to a whopping 110 km/h, and unlike the rest of the country, there are hard shoulders but also traffic lights. These are the busies routes in Uruguay, so expect traffic and some rowdy driving. The Uruguayan driving style is very laid back compared to some of the Argentinean tourists who speed up and down the coast road.
The same applies to the capital, Montevideo. Roads in and around Montevideo are in good condition. There is lots of traffic, roundabouts and traffic lights. Parking is chargeable (except Sundays). Nonetheless, compared to other capitals, driving in Montevideo is easy.
Outside Montevideo and away from the common tourist route, road conditions in Uruguay are pretty poor for Western standards. While the main road network is tarmacked and in decent condition, most minor, side and access roads are gravel. Potholes of all sizes are the norm and it’s not uncommon for main roads to be half tarmac half gravel.
Bear this in mind when planning your route, as you might be moving slower than expected, depending on road conditions.
Despite the patchy road conditions, driving is easy. There’s very little traffic anywhere, drivers share the roads mainly with scooters, gauchos and animals. People on the road are relaxed and friendly, and there are hardly any traffic lights.
Beware the speed bumps!
As seen in other South American countries, there are some hefty speed bumps. In Uruguay they are called Lomades and are usually in and around towns and villages.
More often than not they are announced by warning signs, but not always. Be very careful and take them as slowly as possible, they can be deadly for your car.
Tolls are frequent, especially along the main Colonia – Punta del Este route, but relatively inexpensive. Each stretch of toll road costs around 90 pesos for a standard car. For example, there are three toll gates between Colonia and Florida at 90 pesos each. The same applies to the route between Rocha to Montevideo.
Parking in Uruguay is usually free, except in Montevideo. Parking is free everywhere on Sundays.
The Uruguayans love a one way street, even in little places. It’s a clever way of making on-street parking even in narrow roads possible, without disturbing the traffic flow. Most Uruguayan towns are organised in a block system, with alternating one-way streets. The street signs indicate direction of travel. Confusing at first, but once you get your head around it,it’s actually quite effective.
International car hire brands, as well as local providers, are present all over Uruguay, especially the main towns and resorts. The car hire hub in Colonia is just right of the ferry port near the old town.
Foreign tourists don’t pay tax on car hire in Uruguay, so you save 20% if paying with a foreign credit/debit card. This discount also applies to hotel and restaurants and tends to be deducted automatically when the payment goes through.
Finally, when travelling overseas in non English-speaking countries I always recommend bringing an International Driving Permit, issued by the AA or the Post Office. And if you require any specific extras, like a car seat, it’s worth booking ahead to make sure they’ve got one available.
Fancy a roadtrip? Read about our itinerary here.