20 Most Common Tourist Scams in Uruguay

Safety at Montevideo, Punta del Este, Colonia del Sacramento, Piriapolis, Rivera, La Paloma, Paysandu, Salto
Note: If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. World Nomads Travel Insurance, backed by Lonely Planet & National Geographic, is one we recommend. Check it out before your adventure.


Casa Pueblo, Uruguay

Casa Pueblo, Uruguay


Uruguay is often less visited than other countries in Latin America but it has much to offer, such as its vibrant riverside capital Montevideo.

If you like the beach then you can head out to the Atlantic Coast and soak in the sun, sand and sea at Punta del Este, La Barra and Jose Ignacio.

Anyone looking for a little culture can also enjoy two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the form of Colonia del Sacramento as well as Paisaje Industral Fray Bentos.

However, although Uruguay is one of the safest countries in South America, there are still scams and petty crime here.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!




1. Snatch theft


How it works:

Generally, there are two versions of snatch thefts – strike and run, or distract and grab, in many possible contexts:

  • Bikes / mopeds riding past, with a pillion rider doing the snatch.
  • Snatching from behind you, then running into a getaway car to escape.
  • At restaurants, stealing unattended bags / valuables on the chair or table.
  • Hotels (El Centro, La Ciudad Vieja, El Cordón, El Parque Rodo, Pocitos, Punta Carretas) & airports, where distracted / tired tourists carry all their valuables out.
  • The beach where tourists are relaxed, or when they head to the water.
  • Nightclubs, where “prostitutes” pretend to proposition tourists by grabbing them but are really trying to steal your valuables.
  • Seats beside a train’s doors where a thief gets out just before the doors close.
  • Stealing of bags on overnight trains / buses.
  • Valuables snatched through a car / bus window.
  • Thefts around ATMs.

Some areas where you should remain vigilant in Montevideo include Plaza Independecia, Avenida 18 de Julio and La Ciudad Vieja.


What to do:

When seated / not moving:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Avoid carrying valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.

Other measures:

  • Leave valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.


2. What is the time scam

Street in Uruguay

Street in Uruguay


How it works:

If you are approached by someone on the streets asking you what is the time, take note that it is a common opening for the phone snatch scam.


What to do:

Just feign ignorance and walk away, as it is better to be safe than sorry.


3. Beach thefts

Montevideo Beach, Uruguay

Montevideo Beach, Uruguay source: departures.com


How it works:

There are a number of beach resorts in places like Punta del Este or Maldonado.

In the high season from December to March there is a strong chance of beach thefts.

This happens when thieves wait for you to go swimming and leave your valuables on the beach and then steal them.


What to do:

Do not leave any valuables unattended on the beach.

Either use a portable safe or an anti-theft bag such as the LOCTOTE Flak Sack which can be locked and attached to immovable objects.

Another way is to use TSA locks / cable locks / padlocks to secure your bag to an immovable object.


4. Fake fortune tellers and magicians

Tristan Narvaja Flea Market

Tristan Narvaja Flea Market. Source: Dan from Indiana / Flickr


How it works:

This scam often takes place in Montevideo in Tristan Narvaja Flea Market which is off La Rambla.

In the crowded market you will be approached by someone claiming to be a fortune teller or a magician.

They will then offer to read your palm or tell your fortune in some other way. Sometimes they may perform a magic trick for you without you asking.

Once they have completed the trick or the fortune reading they will expect you to pay them even though they approached you.

If you refuse they can often cause a scene.

A twist on this scam is an accomplice picking your pocket while you are distracted by the magician or fortune teller.


What to do:

If someone approaches you, particularly in areas around La Rambla and offers to do some kind of trick or reading then firmly refuse and walk away.

Should they persist then tell them that you are not carrying any money and can’t pay them for their services.


5. Buquebus City Day Tour of Montevideo


Buquebus. Source: bitacorasdeviaje.com


How it works:

Should you sign up for this tour (ferry visitors to Uruguay from Argentina), do bring your shopping bags along as this is likely to turn into a shopping trip.

The bus will quickly zoom past lots of tourist sites / attractions and will spend most of the day taking you for shopping visits.

The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when they even have a woman coming on board to sell CDs about Montevideo’s history!

They are obviously in cahoots as the driver will give her time to sell all the CDs before the bus leaves.

The tour guide also does not provide much information about the sights they pass by.

All you do can do, is to take photos of structures / monuments of which you have no idea what they represent.

While the lunch that comes as part of the day tour package is pretty good, be careful if you are asked whether you want water as you may find yourself charged with an additional $10 bill.


What to do:

Engage a licensed, reputable tours and activities operator which you can find via:

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, etc can be found here – popular tours include:
  • GetYourGuide: leading day tours platform globally – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport – most popular tours:



  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operators: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.


6. Pickpockets

Colonial del Sacramento

Colonial del Sacramento


How it works:

Pickpocketing crime generally occurs in Montevideo, and these spots are a favourite of pickpockets:

  • 18 de Julio avenue
  • La Ciudad Vieja (the Old City)
  • Plaza Independencia
  • Puerto de Montevideo (the port area)

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround you and then work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.


What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Further, make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Keep your wallet in the front pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Store large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.


7. Spilling scam

Uruguay marketplace

Uruguay marketplace. Source: heneedsfood.com


How it works:

This is a scam you can find all over the world (e.g. Bolivia, Costa Rica, Spain).

In order to pick your pocket thieves will often use crowded conditions such as marketplaces to get close to you.

They will then say you have a stain on your clothes or they will deliberately spill something on you such as juice or coffee.

As they rub the stain or spillage off your clothes they are also taking the opportunity to pick your pocket.

They may also ask you to put your bag down to make it easier to “help” you, which an accomplice will snatch while you are distracted.


What to do:

If someone spills something on you or if they point out a stain on your clothes, reject any help and quickly move to a safe spot.

While moving, check that your valuables are still secure with you.

To prevent thieves from ever having a chance of stealing from you, consider using:


8. Fake goods

Roadside stalls

Roadside stalls. Source: Dan from Indiana/ Flickr


How it works:

Uruguay has a huge problem with fake goods, which take the form of a number of items like perfume, jewelry, and electronics.

As such be very wary when shopping for items outside of licensed retailers in Uruguay.


What to do:

If the price looks too good to be true then it probably is.

Learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff, or only visit licensed, reputable shops.

You can find these by doing some online research or by asking your hotel / hostel staff.


9. Inflated tourist prices

Mercado Del Puerto

Mercado Del Puerto. Source: clairefromyvr.com


How it works:

This is prevalent in tourist markets like Mercardo del Puerta and the areas around La Rambla.

If you try to buy an item in a market it will be marked up to around double or triple the price that it would be for a local.


What to do:

Sellers deliberately markup items sold in tourist areas.

The reason for this is that they expect you not to know the price of items and they also think that you will haggle.

As such make sure that you do not accept the first price that they put forward and don’t be embarrassed about bargaining hard.

To find out what is a fair price to pay, you can do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff.


10. Overcharging restaurants

Uruguay Cuisine

Uruguay Cuisine. Source: John Walker


How it works:

The way rogue restaurants in Uruguay overcharge is not by menu tricks or receipt tricks, but by converting payment into USD at inflated rates.

If you pay by debit or credit card, watch out.


What to do:

Ideally, pay in cash.

Else, if you were to use a bank card, check what currency they are charging you in and at what exchange rates.

The best solution is still, to do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff on recommended places locals go to eat at.

Otherwise, you can also consider joining a food tour for an authentic, local food experience!

  • GetYourGuide: leading day tours platform globally – has a couple of culinary and winery tours:



11. Hostess bars

Uruguay nightlife

Uruguay nightlife. Source: solidere.com


How it works:

There have been reports of hostess bars becoming a rising problem in places such as beach areas like Punta del Este and Sarandi, Mercado del Puerta and Ciudad Vieja in Montevideo.

This scam usually targets men who are approached by a young female who uses an excuse such as wanting to practice her English in order to engage you in conversation.

She will then suggest that you go and get a drink and then try and spend the evening in your company.

At the end of the night she will make an excuse about why she has to leave and you will be handed an extremely expensive bill.

Often if you try to leave without paying or ask to only pay your portion of the bill then you will be threatened by a large bouncer.


What to do:

Do not head to a suggested bar together with a random stranger on the streets.

But if you do want to make new local friends, some questions to ponder:

  • Does the bar seem legitimate? Are there customers?
  • Is the stranger reading from a script? Evasive about things?
  • Is he / she only bringing you to a particular restaurant or bar?

Some other tricks you can use:

  • Pretend that you have company by suggesting to go another place where you have a few friends at.
  • Ask for prices before ordering. Only drink what your waiter or you have poured.
  • Take a photo together.

If you fell into the trap:

  • Pay with a credit card but call the bank to dispute your charges immediately after leaving.


12. Beggars

Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia. Source: Aaron Peterson / Flickr


How it works:

When around the Plaza Independencia, you will encounter beggars along the streets.

At night and on the weekends, they will be out in full force.

These are generally not people who need help, but scammers out to exploit your kind-heartedness.


What to do:

Avoid. If you want to help, donate to established charities instead.



1. Long taxi routes

Uruguay Taxi

Uruguay Taxi. Source: insideevs.com


How it works:

There are fewer taxi scams in Uruguay than in other places in South America but the most common is taxi drivers choosing long routes or driving through traffic jams to inflate the fare.


What to do:

In the cab, be very clear when communicating the destination you are heading to. More prominent landmarks around your destination can be mentioned.

During the ride, check your phone’s GPS to make sure you are headed in the correct direction.

Sometimes, drivers do take detours to avoid traffic jams, but that should not detract from the correct general direction.

To tell if you have been taken for a ride, you can also estimate a fair price of any route by checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel.
  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • Taxi booking apps like Easy Taxi or Uber.

If you want to seek recourse, take a photo of the car plate number and of the driver’s license to report to the cab company

Else, you may also want to consider arranging private transport. GetYourGuide (leading day tours platform globally) has 4 such options:




2. “No change” taxi drivers

Uruguay Peso

Uruguay Peso. Source: blog.continentalcurrency.ca


How it works:

A common scam in Uruguay is taxi drivers who will try to tell you that they don’t have any change.

This is particularly likely if you try to pay with anything larger than a 200 Uruguayan peso note.


What to do:

Try to keep small amounts of currency with you so that you can pay the exact fare.


3. Express kidnappings

Road in Uruguay

Road in Uruguay. Source: Mike Butler / Flickr


How it works:

‘Express kidnappings’ are less prevalent in Uruguay than in many other places in South America (e.g. Brazil, Colombia, Peru) but may still occur.

This involves scammers in remote areas flagging down your car, often by pretending that they have a problem themselves such as a flat tire.

When you stop to help they will then take the chance to ‘kidnap’ you and will take you to an ATM and make you withdraw a large amount of money in order to release you.

A twist on this scam is to make you call a family member and ask them to send money for your release via Western Union or another money transfer service.


What to do:

Avoid traveling in remote areas after dark, such as the Pocitos neighborhood as well as the Carrasco and Cerro districts in Montevideo.

If someone tries to flag you down or if you see someone in distress, do not stop. Instead, you can stop elsewhere and notify the police.

Should you choose to stop, only step out in full view of traffic and others, but even that is not recommended.

It may also be a good idea to keep a separate bank account just for traveling:

  • Do not keep too much cash in there.
  • Only carry a bank card of that account so that even if kidnapped or if the card is stolen, you would not have much to lose.


4. Car robberies


How it works:

Car robbery may take place at traffic lights in areas such as the intersections around La Rambla.

When you pull up at a red light, thieves will then smash your car windows or take advantage of an open window to snatch your valuables such as bags left on the passenger seat.

Parked cars in the Carrasco neighbourhood of Montevideo are targeted as well.


What to do:

Ensure that your car doors are locked and windows are up. Do not leave any valuables exposed in the car:

  • Hide small valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch.
  • Large valuables should be in an anti-theft bag with you / locked down in the boot (do this before driving / somewhere else, not when you are at your parking lot).
  • Use a cheap spare wallet with some cash inside which you can give up if faced with an armed robber.


5. Slashed tires

Parked cars in Uruguay

Parked cars in Uruguay. Source: Gonzalo Downey/ Flickr


How it works:

This is a relatively new scam in Uruguay.

Scammers usually target rental cars (usually identified through a sticker of the hire company) and will then slash the tires while the car is parked.

When you return to your car they will then pose as a ‘good Samaritan’ and will offer to help change your tire.

As you are distracted fixing the tire, their accomplice will steal any valuables from your car.


What to do:

If someone tries to signal a problem with your car, avoid stopping or stepping out of your car. Instead, stop a distance away.

Should there be any damage, drive to a garage to fix it, rather than allow the “good Samaritan” to help you.

Also, always make sure not to leave any valuables exposed in the car:



1. ATM scams


How it works:

Generally, ATMs can be rigged in two ways.

First, the card skimmer and pinhole camera / keypad overlay set up:

  • A card skimmer is installed over the card slot to capture your card details.
  • The pinhole camera / keypad overlay is used to capture your PIN.

Second, the card trap:

  • The card slot can be rigged with cheap tools to trap your card.
  • When your card is stuck, someone will come over and tell you that if you retype your PIN, your card will be unblocked.
  • Obviously, your card will still be stuck, but the scammer will now have seen your PIN.
  • Should you head into the bank / somewhere to seek help, the scammer will unblock your card and escape.


What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only at controlled environments such as in banks.

Scan the area for suspicious looking characters, look out for red flags of a rigged ATM and cover your PIN when typing it in.

Also, although not directly relevant, consider using a RFID blocking wallet.

That will prevent your cards’ details from being skimmed by thieves with a mobile RFID reader / scanner.


2. Bogus rental apartment scam

Street in Montevideo

Street in Montevideo


How it works:

The standard rental apartment scam goes like this:

You see an ad on a classified ads site (e.g. Craigslist) for a rental apartment on offer in the trendy area of Pocitos, Montevideo for a really good price.

The Ad claims that the owner is currently working overseas – hence why he is renting out the apartment.

During your email conversation, he will insist on only using English. However, his emails will always be worded in poor English.

He provides a form to be filled, requiring lots of detailed and personal data that he doesn’t really need to know.

Then he wants one month’s rent plus a similar deposit via a Western Union / MoneyGram transfer (this is a clear red flag as these transfers are irreversible).

Once the transfer is done, he will send the keys to you via UPS mail.


What to do:

First, only book via legitimate accommodation platforms such as:

  • Booking.com: Frommer’s tests have found the site to offer the best selection and rates amongst competing sites most of the time.
  • Homestay: if you are up for gaining genuine insights of Uruguay by staying with a local host!

Next, some due diligence to be done on individual listings:

  • Search online reviews and Google the names of the owner.
  • Call the phone number provided on the listing.
  • Grill the “landlord” by asking specific questions, such as room dimensions or something unique as seen in the photos.
  • You can even pretend something exists in the online photos and test if the “landlord” can call your bluff.
  • Search if the property has another online presence or contact number and engage that to see if they are consistent.
  • Compare photos provided vs images captured by Google Street View.
  • Test the owner by requesting for a visit from a local friend – it doesn’t have to happen, you just want to test the owner’s receptiveness.

Finally, do not pay in full upfront and do not make payment off the platform.


3. Rental apartment deposit scam

 Pocitos, Montevideo

Pocitos, Montevideo. Source: Jimmy Baikovicius / Flickr


How it works:

If you have managed to not fall for a fraudulent rental apartment ad listing, there is one more scam to watch out for.

This scam involves the rental apartment owner not returning your deposit when you return your key.

The scammer can use all kinds of excuses such as forgetting to bring the cash. However, he assures you that he will wire transfer your deposit back to you as soon as he can.

Most tourists do not put up a huge fuss, as they generally have a flight to catch after moving out.

What happens next however, is that you will receive an email detailing all the “damages” you have left behind.

As such, your deposit will be used to reimburse the “damages” and you will NOT get it back.  


What to do:

Do not hand the keys over if the owner claims not to have your deposit ready.



This is not meant to be a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:


1. Violent crime, hazards, hotspots, terrorism, civil unrest

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Uruguay

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Uruguay. Source: smartraveller.gov.au


How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: although Uruguay is safer as compared to other South American countries, armed robberies do occur, particularly in Montevideo.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: please see below
  • Terrorism: no recent history, but should not be taken for granted.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations can occur in Montevideo


What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, hotspots, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid participating in demonstrations.

Stay alert at or avoid these neigbourhoods of Montevideo which see high crime levels:

  • 40 Semanas
  • Bella Italia
  • Borro
  • Casavalle
  • Casabó
  • Cerro
  • Cerro Norte
  • Hipódromo
  • La Teja
  • Marconi
  • Malvín Norte
  • Tres Ombúes
  • Villa Española


2. Medical care

Hospital de Clinicas, Uruguay

Hospital De Clinicas, Uruguay. Source: John Meckley / Flickr


How it works:

Medical care is reasonable in Uruguay.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: zika, dengue, chikungunya, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis (river blindness), West Nile virus.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, typhoid, hepatitis, schistosomiasis.
  • Animal borne diseases: rabies.
  • Human borne diseases: HIV, tuberculosis.


What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads – our review), you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:                                                

  • All travellers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Most travellers: hepatitis A, typhoid.
  • Some travellers: hepatitis B, rabies.

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets.
  • Plug-in insecticides.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass.

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap.
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.


3. Natural disasters


How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Forest fires: December to March
  • Floods: rains throughout the year, may trigger floods, disrupt transportation and damage roads.


What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) that covers natural disasters.

Check the latest media reports, weather forecasts and sources such as the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System.

Reacting to one:

  • Forest fires: make yourself seen (e.g. spread out something large and bright), find shelter with little vegetation, stay low to avoid smoke.


4. Transport safety


How it works:

Road travel here can be hazardous due to these reasons:

  • Primary highways: speeding on Route 1 (Montevideo and Colonia), Route 2 (Rosario and Fray Bentos) and Ruta Interbalnearia (Montevideo and Punta del Este)
  • Secondary roads: unlighted, lack pavement markings, stop signs, traffic lights.
  • Poor driving standards: not signalling when changing lanes, going the wrong way on one way streets, ignoring stop signs and traffic lights
  • Difficult to navigate: winding roads and hilly terrain
  • Heavy traffic: during summer beach season (December to March) and Carnaval (mid-late February).
  • Poorly maintained vehicles.

Public transportation:

  • Public buses: can be crowded and be a target of thieves
  • Taxis: are equipped with a thick glass partition to protect the driver from crime. Hence there is a potential of sustaining an injury if there is no seat belt / if you do not wear one when the driver brakes suddenly and sends you hurtling into the partition.


What to do:


  • Check latest media reports and weather forecast.
  • Stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up

Public transportation:

  • Make sure to wear a seatbelt while in a cab.



1. Emergency numbers to call

Uruguay Policia

Uruguay Policia. Source: radionacional.com.uy


  • General emergency hotline: 911
  • Police: 911
  • Fire brigade: 911
  • Ambulance: 911

Join the community!

Get protected!

Submit a scam / share your experience

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest