Drummers play in the annual Carnival festival in Montevideo, Uruguay's capital city.
Photograph by Kobby Dagan, Dreamstime
Cattle production has long been a primary contributor to Uruguay's economy.
Photograph by Toniflap, Dreamstime
Punta del Este is one of Uruguay's main fishing ports, though fishing currently makes up only a small portion of the country's economy.
Photograph by Kseniya Ragozina, Dreamstime
A sculpture resembling a hand rises from the sand on a beach in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
Photograph by Dantok, Dreamstime
OFFICIAL NAME: Oriental Republic of Uruguay
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Constitutional republic
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: Spanish
AREA: 68,037 square miles (176,215 sqare kilometers)
Map of Uruguay
South America's second-smallest country, Uruguay is bordered by Brazil and Argentina and lies along the Atlantic Ocean. Much of the country consists of gently rolling land only a few hundred feet above sea level, along with wooded valleys. Uruguay's highest point is found atop Mount Cathedral at 1,685 feet (514 meters).
PEOPLE & CULTURE
As with neighboring Argentina, most Uruguayans have ancestors from Spain and Italy who immigrated to the country in the 19th and 20th centuries. The majority of the population is Roman Catholic, though a small community of Jews—one of the largest in South America—lives in the capital of Montevideo.
Red meat is widely consumed in Uruguay, more so than in most other countries. The country's most celebrated festival is Carnival, which takes place just before the start of Lent, a Roman Catholic holiday that traditionally involves abstaining from the consumption of meat. The main festivities take place in Montevideo and include costumes, drumming parades, and outdoor theater.
Soccer is the country's most popular sport; Uruguay is one of the global leaders when it comes to world titles. Basketball, rugby, and boxing also draw large crowds. A popular music and dance in Uruguay is the tango, which originated in Argentina.
Much of Uruguay's wildlife has disappeared as a result of competition for land with humans. However, a network of national parks and a wildlife reserve have been established to preserve existing populations of animals.
Venomous spiders and snakes are common in Uruguay. Pumas and jaguars may occasionally be spotted in remote parts of the country. More common animals include foxes, armadillos, and large rodents called capybaras.
Photograph by Asaf Eliason, Shutterstock
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
The president and vice president of Uruguay serve for five years and cannot serve two consecutive terms. All citizens over age 18 are required to vote. The two main political parties have traditionally been the Colorados (Reds) and Blancos (Whites), though a third party, called Frente Amplio, was elected to office in 2004 and has remained in power since.
Uruguay's main industry is agriculture, with the majority of the country's agricultural land dedicated to livestock production. Services such as tourism also contribute to the country's relatively high standard of living. Banking and financial services and manufacturing also make up a signficant portion of the economy and are concentrated in the capital of Montevideo.
Uruguay had long been inhabited by indigineous people who would hunt, gather, and fish on the land. Europeans discovered the country in 1516, but it was settled by the Portugese in 1680. In 1726, the Spanish took control and founded Montevideo. Few indigineous people remained.
Uruguayans would later fight to resist takeover from Argentina and Brazil. In 1828, a treaty proclaimed Uruguay as a separate state and buffer between the two countries. Uruguay's first constitution was established in 1830.
A civil war ensued between the Blancos (Whites) and the Colorados (Reds) until the mid-1800s, with the two sides eventually becoming the country's conservative and liberal political parties, respectively. The names of the parties were taken from the colors of the flags during the civil war.
Uruguay would see increased development in the late 1800s and increased immigration, both of which were aided by the introduction of a railroad to Montevideo. The country's population soared to one million by 1900, up from around 70,000 at the time of independence.
While civil war would continue to trouble the country, stability was finally achieved in 1905 when the Colorados were elected to power. Uruguay suffered the effects of the Great Depression, but had an economic boom during World War II and the Korean War, selling wool, meat, and other animal products to European countries and the U.S. However, the end of the wars brought a slump for the Uruguayan economy and further political instability that lasted into the late 1900s.
New leadership would eventually bring about economic growth and more job opportunities that continue through present day.