Uruguay: Natural Landscape

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Uruguay: Natural Landscape

Wed, 08/31/2022 - 15:51
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Uruguay is located in the Southern Cone of South America on the southeastern Atlantic coast. Much of the country is a gently rolling plain that represents a transition from the almost featureless Argentine pampas in the west to the hilly uplands of southern Brazil in the east.

The Natural Landscape of Uruguay

Uruguay is on the southeastern Atlantic coast in the Southern Cone of South America. The wedge-shaped country is between Brazil to the north and east and Argentina to the west.

With an area of 176,215 sq km (68,037 sq mi), including 2,600 sq km (1,004 sq mi) of water, Uruguay is the second-smallest nation in South America after Suriname and the third-smallest territory after French Guiana. The country has 660 km (410 mi) of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean.

The Uruguay River serves as the country's entire western boundary with Argentina. The limitation with Brazil is located in the north and east, where the Jaguarão or Yaguarón River forms the border with the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.


Uruguay ranks 83rd in the world on the Global Biodiversity Index, with an estimated 409 bird species, 50 amphibian species, 725 fish species, 107 mammal species, 79 reptile species, and 2,911 vascular plant species.


Uruguay enjoys a relatively uniform climate nationwide and is located entirely within the temperate zone. In most of Uruguay, spring is usually damp, cool, and windy; summers are warm; autumns are mild; and winters are chilly and uncomfortably damp. Even though seasonal variations are pronounced, extremes in temperature are rare.

Map of the continent of South America

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

Natural Geography of Uruguay


The relief features of Uruguay are not well defined. Much of the countryside consists of a gently rolling plain that represents a transition from the almost featureless Argentine pampas in the west to the hilly uplands of southern Brazil in the east.

Flat plains flank the country on its southern, eastern, and western perimeters. The Atlantic coastal plain is sandy and marshy, often hosting lagoons and shallow tidal lakes. The shore areas (littorals) of the Río de la Plata and the Uruguay River are somewhat broader and merge gradually into the hilly interior.

The remaining three-quarters of the country is a rolling plateau marked by ranges of low hills that become more prominent in the north as they merge into the highlands of southern Brazil. However, elevations in these hilly areas seldom exceed 200 m (650 ft) asl.

Uruguay has no mountain ranges. The Grande Range is a hill range that extends southward from the Brazilian border, almost to the Atlantic seaboard in the south. Here it is bisected by the Sierra Carape hill range. Cerro Catedral, the highest point in the country at an elevation of 514 m (1,686 ft), is located here.

The Cuchilla de Haedo (Haedo Range) is a low range of hills in the north-northwest of Uruguay. The Bioma Pampa-Quebradas del Norte Biosphere Reserve is located on its east side. It comprises a mosaic of different ecosystems, including a primary forest with a subtropical jungle.

Streams and rivers sculpt the countryside, consisting of four river basins, or deltas: the Río de la Plata Basin, the Uruguay River, and the major internal river, the Río Negro.

Several lagoons are found along the country's Atlantic coast. These lagoons, which are half-freshwater and half-saltwater, are often separated from the ocean by just a thin strip of sand; and are home to much of the country's wildlife. In addition, the Bañados del Este y Franja Costera wetland and Biosphere Reserve are located in the east.

Topographical map of Uruguay

Topographical map of Uruguay

Geographic Regions

The country may be divided into four general regions based on social, economic, and geographical factors:

  • Atlantic Coast / Bañados del Este

  • Río de la Plata

  • Central Interior

  • Northern Interior

Atlantic Coast / Bañados del Este

The Atlantic Coast region stretches east of Montevideo and south of the country. A string of small seaside towns is located here, including the major resort of Punta del Este.

The inland portion includes many small farms and truck gardens that grow vegetables and produce for the larger cities and resorts.

Located in southeast Uruguay, Bañados del Este harbors a remarkable complex of ecosystems, including white sand beaches, dunes, and lagoons along the Atlantic coast. This variety of habitats is home to a rich diversity of wildlife and remains almost intact on land and at sea.

Río de la Plata

The Greater Montevideo region holds over one-half of Uruguay's population. It is known for its well-preserved historical sites and colonial towns like Colonia del Sacramento.

The agricultural and dairying area stretches west along the Río de la Plata from Montevideo.

The littoral or coastal zone is to the north along the Uruguay River, a somewhat more developed region than the interior. Here soils are alluvial and more fertile, favoring crop production and modest-sized farms.

Central Interior

The Central Interior region features rolling hills and pastures, which account for most of the productive land. Sheep rearing on medium-sized farms is concentrated in the west and south.

Northern Interior

The Northern Interior region is a land of ranches, cattle, and horses. Large cattle ranches (estancias) are concentrated in the north and east. Citrus growing is found in the west.

Map depicting the geographic regions of Uruguay

Map depicting the general regions of Uruguay

Islands and Archipelagos

Uruguay is a country with a relatively short coastline and no major archipelagos. However, it does have a few islands and islets along its coast. Here are some of the notable islands in Uruguay:

  • Isla de Flores: Located in the Uruguay River, near the city of Paysandú, this island is known for its historical significance and natural beauty.

  • Isla de Lobos: Situated in the Atlantic Ocean, this small island is known for its large colony of South American sea lions. It's a protected area and can be visited via authorized boat tours.

  • Isla de las Gaviotas: Found near Punta del Este, this island is known for its birdlife and is often visited for birdwatching.

  • Isla Gorriti: Located off the coast of Punta del Este, Isla Gorriti is a popular tourist destination. It features sandy beaches and recreational facilities.

  • Isla Timoteo Domínguez: Situated in the Uruguay River near Fray Bentos, this island is known for its history and is accessible by boat.

  • Isla Rasa: This small island is located near the city of Carmelo and is known for its natural beauty.

  • Islote de Colastiné: A small islet in the Uruguay River, located near the city of Paysandú.

  • Islas de Torres: A group of small islands in the Río Negro, near the city of Mercedes.

Bodies of Water

Uruguay has limited bodies of water due to its compact size and geographical features. While Uruguay's bodies of water may not be as extensive as some of its neighboring countries, they still play essential roles in its geography, economy, and cultural identity.

The Río de la Plata and the Atlantic coastline provide essential connections to the sea, facilitating trade and tourism. At the same time, the Uruguay River and the freshwater lagoons contribute to regional biodiversity and water resources.

See more: Water Bodies of Uruguay

Natural Regions

Ecological Regions

The country's entire land area is part of the Uruguayan savanna, also known as the Brazilian-Uruguayan savanna, a subtropical grassland and savanna ecoregion.

The Uruguayan savanna is critically endangered. There are only a few small isolated patches of intact habitat remaining. The whole ecoregion has been severely altered by cattle ranching, one of the main pillars of the national economy in Uruguay.

Administrative Divisions

Uruguay is divided into 19 administrative departments, each with its capital city. Each department has a legislature and chief executive.

See more: Cultural Landscape of Uruguay

CIA map of Uruguay

CIA map of Uruguay