Traveling to Uruguay during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

Editor’s Note — Coronavirus cases are in flux across the globe. Health officials caution that staying home is the best way to stem transmission until you’re fully vaccinated. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on December 31.

(CNN) — If you’re planning a trip to Uruguay, here’s what you’ll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the global coronavirus pandemic.

The basics

Uruguay successfully kept a lid on Covid-19 cases at the start of the pandemic, but the second wave and its variants have hit hard. The small country has had one of the highest death rates per capita in the world in recent months, though numbers are now decreasing. On November 1, Uruguay reopened its borders to international visitors for the first time since March 2020.

What’s on offer

Often overlooked by travelers in favor of neighboring Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay is one of South America’s loveliest countries. Montevideo, the coastal capital on the River Plate, is perfect for strolling, while the wild Atlantic coast has some of South America’s most impressive beaches. And then there’s the wine — Uruguay’s tannat grape has been much maligned in the past but is having a resurgence of popularity. A new crop of modern vineyards around Jose Ignacio means this is swift becoming one of the fanciest wine regions in South America.

Who can go

After locking down and closing the borders early in the pandemic, Uruguay reopened its borders to tourists on November 1, with 3,016 arriving on the first day before 6 p.m. It follows the partial relaxing of restrictions on September 1, when foreigners who own homes in Uruguay were allowed entry. Visitors must be fully vaccinated and present a negative PCR test.

What are the restrictions?

Arrivals must have been fully vaccinated within the past nine months, completing the cycle more than 14 days before arrival. They must present official certification from the country from which they come.

Alternatively, they must show proof of having recovered from Covid within the previous 90 days, but more than 20 days ago.

Under-18s may also enter, but do not need proof of vaccination.

All arrivals over six years old must present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. They must also have travel insurance to cover them for Covid-19, and must fill in a passenger locator form within 48 hours before travel.

Seven days after taking the pre-flight test, all arrivals must take another PCR test (there is no need to self-isolate during this time). Alternatively, they can quarantine for 14 days from arrival, and skip the day seven test. Under-18s do not have to take this second PCR test.

Children under six do not need to take any tests.

What’s the Covid situation?

Uruguay has registered a total of 411,658 as of December 31. Although that doesn’t sound as much as other countries, at the start of March there had been just 60,000 cases over the whole pandemic. Deaths have rocketed, from a total of 928 at the end of March to 6,169 as of December 31. However, both infections and deaths have slowed right down, and the Omicron variant does not seem to have taken hold yet. Although Uruguay had one of the highest death rates per capita in the world over its winter (the northern hemisphere summer), case numbers are now stabilizing.

The rise was initially blamed by some experts on domestic tourism, which many had hoped would help save the beleaguered economy at a time when foreign visitors are not permitted — but it appears it was the Brazilian variant doing the damage. It meant that Uruguay went from a low-risk country welcomed by most others in the world, to being banned even by Sweden and the UK, which had notoriously high death rates.

As of December 31, over 77% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the country has purchased 500,000 Pfizer vaccines for tourists who want a third dose while on holiday.

What can visitors expect?

Although there’s no official lockdownPresident Luis Lacalle Pou has opted for what he calls “responsible liberty” Uruguay has mandated the use of masks and social distancing. Many bars and restaurants remain shut until further notice, although some are offering delivery. Police patrol markets to ensure that the rules are being followed, and those under 65 are asked not to shop between 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. so that older people can do so safely.

The mayor of Maldonado, home to some of the country’s best beaches, has told local media that he is discouraging tourism, and that if he could block the roads from Montevideo to his area, he would. Two natural parks in the area have been closed, though others remain open.

Useful links

Our recent coverage

Uruguay is home to one of the world’s most exciting up-and-coming wine scenes. Read about one of the country’s most exciting vineyards.

Joe Minihane and Julia Buckley contributed to this report

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