Fought over by Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay gained its independence in the early nineteenth century. For most of its history, it has been a major cattle-raising country and, like Argentina, celebrates its gaucho heritage. During the first half of the twentieth century, Uruguay was the most stable nation in South America, with strong social welfare programs and a relatively egalitarian social structure that made it known as "The Switzerland of South America." However, changes in world trade patterns led Uruguay into economic and political decline, produced the famous Tupamaros movement, and resulted as elsewhere in military rule. Democratic government was restored in 1985, and the rich heritage of egalitarian and social welfare policies continues to be felt.

Nearly half of Uruguay's three million inhabitants call Montevideo home. Located on Uruguay's southern coastline and separated from its more famous western neighbor in Argentina by the estuary of the world's widest river, the Rio de la Plata, Montevideo is a different world from Buenos Aires.

While it, too, is a cosmopolitan city, also of primarily Spanish and Italian heritage, there is also a significant African influence. Smaller and calmer than Buenos Aires, Montevideo nonetheless boasts the usual cultural and entertainment facilities of a major city: including historical monuments, museums, theaters, cinemas, a varied and fascinating, if somewhat under-maintained architecture, the famous Avenida 18 de Julio, as well as stunning beaches, and a unique and lively nightlife.