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Gigantic Uruguay flag | © Jimmy Baikovicius/Flickr
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21 Things the World Could Learn From Uruguay

Picture of Milena Fajardo
Updated: 20 November 2017
Sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay often gets overlooked by the rest of the world. But if you take a closer look at this small corner of Latin America you will find out that there is plenty to learn from the Uruguayan way of life. Here are 21 things the world could learn from Uruguay.

Environmentalism

The environment is a big concern in the 21st century, with (almost) every country pledging to change aspects of their infrastructure to combat global warming. Few countries have done more than Uruguay, as 94.5 percent of its electricity and almost 50 percent of all its energy comes from renewable sources.

How to cook really, really good meat

Uruguay is a country of meat lovers, which is fortunate because they have so much of it! They have several ways of cooking their treasured staple: fried, grilled, smoked, you name it. After you try one of their trademark asados, or grilled beef, you’ll never want to go back.

Uruguayan asado
Uruguayan asado | © André Ribeiro / Flickr

Their treatment of animals

Animals in Uruguay are generally loved and respected, which is something to keep in mind if you’re travelling here. Most dogs are let loose pretty much everywhere and you will see many people walking their four-legged friends at all hours of the day. Many areas of the country are protected nature reserves because they are the natural habitats of flying, marine, and terrestrial animals.

How to be more friendly

People in Uruguay are amiable, hospitable, and warm to strangers no matter where they come from. More often than not, they are quick to go out of their way to help others and they will strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone.

To find unity through a national sport

For a country with a population of less than 3.5 million, Uruguay has produced some of the best football players in the world. Their reputation stretches back to 1924, when they won their first football world championship and then went on to host the first ever FIFA World Cup in 1930. Even their passion for local teams is palpable throughout the cities and everyone is a fan.

Estadio Centenario, Uruguay’s main football stadium
Estadio Centenario, Uruguay’s main football stadium | © Jimmy Baikovicius / Flickr

Enjoy a leisurely lifestyle

In general, people in Uruguay are easygoing and laid-back, and like nothing more than lounging on a sunny beach. Even in the capital where you’d expect people to be in a constant rush they are as relaxed and friendly as they come.

Living communally

A lot of core traditions in Uruguay are communal. Their national beverage, mate, is typically shared in a circle. When cooking barbecue, they will cut meat into small pieces and everyone shares from a common plate. Even when drinking beer, Uruguayans often buy a litre bottle and share it round a circle and only grab a second when the first one is finished.

Horse riding

Uruguay is a country of gauchos, where the free-spirited roam the gently undulating countryside. In some regions of the country, where there are vast plains and few roads, there is no better mode of transport than a horse. Many Uruguayans are skilled on horseback and can probably ride better than knights of yore.

Playing the guitar while riding a horse
Playing the guitar while riding a horse | © Bicentenario Uruguay / Flickr

Make the most out of the great outdoors

Every day the streets pulse with motion and energy; people are enjoying the sun in the park, relaxing on a balcony, rollerblading down the street, walking and running along the promenade, and even grilling on street corners. Uruguayans love the outdoors and would be the first to tell you what the weather’s going to be like for the next week.

How to put on a good street market

The street markets in Uruguay are second to none, they are sprawling and seem to last for miles. There are several weekly markets across the country that have absolutely everything under the sun. Hardly a month goes by without an exceptional feria (a specialist market) popping up unexpectedly.

Acceptance and tolerance

Since its independence, the Constitution of Uruguay upholds the rights of all citizens regardless of ethnicity, religious views, or background. These values have been passed down the generations and have created a diverse society that is tolerant and accepting of people.

Montevideo City’s sign painted to celebrate diversity
Montevideo City’s sign painted to celebrate diversity | © Jimmy Baikovicius / Flickr

Peace

On an international level, Uruguay doesn’t have much political weight to throw around, but when it does this small country has been a strong advocate for peace and diplomacy. There is much to be admired and learnt from their reserved approach to international affairs.

Social system

Uruguay has a historic legacy with innovative social policies that have taken many first world countries years to catch up with. They have free healthcare, free education, and are constantly pushing for equal rights. Most recently, they legalized same-sex marriage, abortion, and the controlled growing and selling of cannabis all in one year.

Focus on technology

In a world increasingly dominated by ever-changing technology, it is very important to stay ahead of the game. For many years Uruguay has funded various initiatives focused on computer science, creating a skilled, computer-literate population. One of their most important projects, called Plan Ceibal, ensured that every child in public school received a free laptop.

Uruguay’s Plan Ceibal
Uruguay’s Plan Ceibal | © One Laptop per Child / Flickr

Free culture

Even if you’re strapped for cash, there is a lot to see and do in Uruguay. All public museums have free entry, there are free gigs in bars and restaurants all over the country, and in the summer open festivals seem to pop up everywhere. Sometimes it’s impossible to ignore the culture teeming around every street corner.

City design

The cities of Uruguay may be small when compared to other Latin, Central, and North American cities, but that doesn’t mean they are any less interesting when it comes to urban planning. Most streets in the capital, for example, are lined with a variety of flowering trees that paint them with a new smell and colour every season.

Embrace the sweet side of life

Uruguayans definitely have a sweet tooth. Ask the next one you meet how often they’ve had an alfajor (a typical cake) or bizcochos (crusty sweet and savory pastries) for breakfast and they’ll laugh until they realise it would be impossible to count. Their lavish bakeries are a testimony to themselves, offering a multi-coloured feast for the eyes lathered in dulce de leche!

Rogel (dulce de leche cake)
Rogel (dulce de leche cake) | © Mar / Flickr

Healthy living

For a beach-loving country, Uruguayans are conscious of the harmful effects of the sun and take the necessary precautions before exposing themselves to its rays. You can find a gym around practically every corner and public areas with free-to-use exercise equipment. There is even a law that forbids restaurants from giving salt to customers unless specifically requested to prevent hypertension.

Recycling

It’s not surprising for such a green country to be as aware and committed to recycling, but the ratio of general garbage bins to bins for recycled materials is astonishing! For every trash can, there’s an adjacent recycling station and anytime you buy a beverage in a glass bottle there’s a cash incentive to return it for recycling.

Natural eating

In Uruguay, people have always preferred eating organic, natural produce. Numerous markets are set up in different corners of the cities, offering natural ingredients sent straight from the farms. Livestock can graze and wander the countryside and the chickens are free range. Many people grow their own orchards, even in the capital where there are roof-top gardens in almost every neighbourhood.

Natural fruit and vegetable market in Uruguay
Natural fruit and vegetable market in Uruguay | © Jimmy Baikovicius / Flickr

How to party

If there’s one thing that Uruguayans can do better than anyone else, it’s party! There are clubs, bars, and even restaurants that are open all night long and only get busy in the wee hours of the morning. The best thing about it is that in almost every bar you’re shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of brand new friends.