Geography of Uruguay

Facts About the South American Nation

Pocitos beach, Montevideo, Uruguay
Pocitos beach, Montevideo, Uruguay.


ElOjoTorpe / Getty Images

Uruguay is a country located in South America that shares its borders with Argentina and Brazil. The country is the second smallest in South America, after Suriname, with a land area of 68,037 square miles (176,215 sq km). Uruguay has a population of 3.3 million people. About 1.4 million of Uruguay's citizens live within its capital of Montevideo and its surrounding areas. Uruguay is known as being one of South America's most economically developed nations.

Fast Facts: Uruguay

  • Official Name: Oriental Republic of Uruguay
  • Capital: Montevideo
  • Population: 3,369,299 (2018)
  • Official Language: Spanish
  • Currency: Uruguayan pesos (UYU)
  • Form of Government: Presidential republic
  • Climate: Warm temperate; freezing temperatures almost unknown
  • Total Area: 68,037 square miles (176,215 square kilometers)
  • Highest Point: Cerro Catedral at 1,686 feet (514 meters)
  • Lowest Point: Atlantic Ocean at 0 feet (0 meters)


Prior to European arrival, the only inhabitants of Uruguay were the Charrua Indigenous peoples. In 1516, the Spanish landed on Uruguay's coast but the region was not settled until the 16th and 17th centuries due to hostilities with the Charrua and a lack of silver and gold. When Spain did begin to colonize the area, it introduced cattle, which later increased the area's wealth.

In the early 18th century, the Spanish founded Montevideo as a military outpost. Throughout the 19th century, Uruguay was involved in several conflicts with the British, Spanish, and Portuguese. In 1811, Jose Gervasio Artigas launched a revolt against Spain and became the country's national hero. In 1821, the region was annexed to Brazil by Portugal, but in 1825, after several revolts, it declared its independence from Brazil. It did decide, however, to maintain a regional federation with Argentina.

In 1828 after a three-year war with Brazil, the Treaty of Montevideo declared Uruguay as an independent nation. In 1830, the new country adopted its first constitution and throughout the rest of the 19th century, Uruguay's economy and government had various shifts. In addition, immigration, mainly from Europe, increased.

From 1903 to 1907 and 1911 to 1915, President Jose Batlle y Ordoñez established political, social, and economic reforms, However, by 1966, Uruguay was suffering from instability in these areas and underwent a constitutional amendment. A new constitution was then adopted in 1967 and by 1973, a military regime was put in place to run the government. This led to human rights abuses and in 1980, the military government was overthrown. In 1984, national elections were held and the country again began to improve politically, economically, and socially.

Today, due to several more reforms and various elections throughout the late 1980s and into the 1990s and 2000s, Uruguay has one of the strongest economies in South America and a very high quality of life.


Uruguay, officially called the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, is a constitutional republic with a chief of state and a head of government. Both of these positions are filled by Uruguay's president. Uruguay also has a bicameral legislative assembly called the General Assembly that is made up of the Chamber of Senators and the Chamber of Representatives. The judicial branch is made up of the Supreme Court. Uruguay is also divided into 19 departments for local administration.

Economics and Land Use

Uruguay's economy is considered very strong and is consistently one of the fastest-growing in South America. It is dominated by an "export-oriented agricultural sector," according to the CIA World Factbook. The major agricultural products produced in Uruguay are rice, wheat, soybeans, barley, livestock, beef, fish, and forestry. Other industries include food processing, electrical machinery, transportation equipment, petroleum products, textiles, chemicals, and beverages. Uruguay's workforce is also well-educated and its government spends a large part of its revenue on social welfare programs.

Geography and Climate

Uruguay is located in southern South America, with borders on the South Atlantic Ocean, Argentina, and Brazil. It is a relatively small country with a topography consisting mostly of rolling plains and low hills. Its coastal regions are made up of fertile lowlands. The country is also home to many rivers, and the Uruguay River and the Rio de la Plata are some of its largest. Uruguay's climate is warm and temperate, and there are ​rarely, if ever, freezing temperatures in the country.

More Facts About Uruguay

  • 84% of Uruguay's terrain is agricultural.
  • 88% of Uruguay's population is estimated to be of European descent.
  • Uruguay's literacy rate is 98%.
  • Uruguay's official language is Spanish.


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Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Uruguay." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Briney, Amanda. (2021, February 16). Geography of Uruguay. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Uruguay." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).