7 Things you didn't know about Uruguay: a country of firsts




Uruguay, officially known as the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, is a small country in South America, bordering massive Brazil in the North and North-East and Argentina across the river on the west. This country is often overlooked by travellers in South America because of the beaches and Carnival in Brazil or the Tango in Argentina, not to mention all the great wonders of the rest of the South American countries.

We however absolutely loved this country. It has something completely different to offer travellers with its modern capital and beautiful beaches. You can feel the liberal and unconservative nature of this country in the air, and even though they might be heavy on the pocket (especially for a backpacker or budget travellers’ pocket), it is totally worth a visit!

We went on a free walking tour in the capital of Montevideo, and it was eye-opening: this country is a country of many firsts in terms of human rights and social progression.


Here is a list of 7 things you didn’t know about Uruguay:


1. First country in the world to legalise the selling and growing of Marijuana (2013)

Uruguay was the first country IN THE WORLD that legalised the selling and growing of marijuana. In December 2013, President Jose Mujica legalised cannabis for recreational use and in 2014 he legalised the growing of 2 plants at home. The formation of growing clubs as well as a state-controlled marijuana dispensary and a regulatory institute was also established. In 2017, the government authorised 16 pharmacies to sell cannabis commercially.



2. 40% of the population is non-religious

40 % of citizens are either agnostic or atheist. Surprising when you take into account that the majority of citizens in South American countries are staunch Christian or Catholic believers.


3. First country in South America to separate from the Catholic Church (1917)

Uruguay was the first country in South America who separated themselves from the Catholic Church in the Constitution of 1917. They even changed the names of Catholic/Christian holidays in the Constitution to reflect this separation! For example, Holy Week was changed to Tourism Week and Christmas is officially Family Day. As of 2008, all countries on the continent have freedom of religion and are separated from the Catholic Church.


4. First country in America’s to allow women to vote (1917)

Uruguay was the first country in the Americas that allowed women to vote, as indicated in the 1917 Constitutional Referendum. Although, the right of suffrage was only first exercised in 1927 and the first women voted in 1932.


5. First country in South America allowing women to file for divorce (1912)

In 1912, Uruguay was the first country in South America giving the right to women to file for divorce, even without specific cause (and only women could initiate divorce). Since 1907, women had the right to divorce their husbands on the grounds of cruelty.


6. First country in South America to legalise elective abortion (2012)

In 2012, Uruguay was the first country in South America that legalised elective abortion. Women can request to terminate pregnancy up to 13 weeks. Once requested, they are given a compulsory 5 day reflection period in which they can change their mind or not. This caused a divide in the country, and the continent, as it is still the only country in South America allowing termination of pregnancy that was not due to rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother. Guayana legalised elective abortion up to 8 weeks of pregnancy in 1995. Although Guayana forms part of the South American continent, it is mostly considered a Caribbean region due to strong cultural and historical ties to the Caribbean Community.


7. Gay marriage legal since 2013 and equal rights to that of heterosexual couples

Following Argentina, Uruguay legalised gay marriage in 2013 and gave homosexual married couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. Although homosexuality has been legal in the country since 1934 (already way ahead of most countries in the world), marriage was never an option until the new law in 2013. The law further allows for in-vitro fertilisation and adoption which has been legal since 2009.

The new law also allows foreign couples, homosexual or heterosexual, the opportunity to get married in Uruguay.



Clearly, Uruguay has always been a super progressive state, at the forefront of social and legal change. As a citizen of this amazing country, you have social liberty, more than basic human rights and free thinkers would thrive in this modern society.


And believe me, they have an amazingly beautiful coastline with pretty little beach towns, hot springs, and even a seal colony!



What are your thoughts on Uruguay? Do you think you could live there? Let us know in the comments.



recent posts