Uruguay, otherwise known as the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (Spanish: Republica Oriental del Uruguay) is one of the most economically developed countries in South America, with a high quality of life index and a low level of corruption.
Uruguay is ranked 37th on the Global Peace Index, which is the second-highest in Latin America (following Chile, which is 27th on the Global Peace Index).
As the majority of its military personnel are deployed as UN Peacekeepers, most of its military spending is reimbursed by the UN.
With a good record of stable democracy, a strong tradition of consensus-building and prudent economic policies, Uruguay was the only country in the Americas that did not go into recession as a result of the recent global financial crisis. It was the first nation in the world to provide every school child with a free laptop and wireless internet.
Given these conditions, it's not surprising that Uruguay is one of the safest countries to visit in South America.
Uruguay has a population of 3.5 million of which 1.8 million live in the capital Montevideo. Like all large urban centres, Montevideo has its fair share of criminals. But, in general, they rarely resort to violence in the absence of resistance.
Recently, criminals in Uruguay have conducted "express kidnappings", a method of abduction where a small ransom, that a company or family can pay is requested. Between the end of June and the beginning of August 2010, seven cases were reported.
This type of "happenstance" crime is new to Uruguay and is usually conducted by youths accosting their victims when the latter are in a parked car or about to get into a car.
A popular tourist attraction is the Ciudad Vieja (Spanish: Old City), the oldest and historically most interesting part of Montevideo. Unfortunately, the only sections continually patrolled by the police are Plaza Independencia (Independence Square), the pedestrian street Sarandi, and the Mercado del Puerto (the Harbour Market). Walking alone or in couples at night is an open invitation to enterprising muggers . Evening travel between ones residence, a restaurant or bar is safest by taxi.
When driving, it's wise to keep purses, bags briefcases or other valuables out of sight, on the floor or in the boot. When stopped at busy intersections, especially on La Rambla (The Esplanade), Montevideos riverfront road, it's advisable to keep car windows closed.
Break-ins of parked cars are common, particularly in the Carrasco neighborhood of Montevideo.
In the summer months (December to March), Uruguayans and savvy travelers flock to the many beaches along the Atlantic coastline from the border with Brazil in the north to the Rio de la Plata (the Silver River) in the south. The town of Maldonado, originally built in 1755 as a provisioning outpost, has grown as a less expensive resort than the famed peninsula of Punta del Este.
The seasonal explosion in population results in a marked increase in petty crimes and residential burglaries. Be alert.
The Pocitos neighborhood of Montevideo continues to experience armed robberies of patrons at crowded restaurants. Since most of these crimes take place very late at night, Restaurant patrons who prefer to keep their possessions and avoid indigestion are well advised to avoid late-night dining.
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Listen to this episode of the World Nomads Podcast on Uruguay and discover why it's a well-kept secret with unspoiled coastlines.