Uruguay: Latin America's Top Tourist Destination

Uruguay (TN)

Latin America's sexiest destination undoubtedly is Brazil, its most popular destination Mexico and its most opulent Argentina. Latin America's top tourism destination isn't any of the big three, however; instead, it's the underdog — Uruguay, which ranked No. 1 among 15 countries in the Latin Tourism Index, published this month by the Latin Business Chronicle.

According to the index, which uses several measures — including tourism as a percentage of GDP and arrivals per capita — to assess the total impact of tourism on Latin American countries, tourism arrivals per capita equaled 61.4 percent of Uruguay's population in 2009, which was the highest in Latin America. Although Uruguay placed third in tourism arrivals and second in tourism revenue, receiving 2 million tourists last year and collecting $1.3 billion — increases of 7 percent and 24.7 percent, respectively, over 2008 — its arrivals per capita were large enough to place it at the top of the index.

"No surprise to me," said Uruguay resident Lee Harrison, Latin American editor for InternationalLiving.com. "Huge numbers of visitors from Argentina and Brazil vacation in Uruguay for the beaches, the low second-home prices, and the relative safety and stability of the country as a whole. And that's not to mention the Europeans and ever-increasing numbers of North Americans who come to escape the winter."

While it ranked sixth on the index, Mexico led Latin American countries in actual number of visitors and tourism revenue; the country collected $11.3 billion in tourism receipts last year, although that number accounted for only 1.3 percent of its GDP.

"Mexico is the second-largest economy in Latin America," said Glynna Prentice, InternationalLiving.com's Mexico editor. "Tourism is hugely important to the economies of particular places in Mexico. But with sectors like oil, manufacturing and agriculture also generating huge revenues, even $11.3 billion from tourism amounts to a small part of the total economic pie in Mexico."

Other index leaders this year included the Dominican Republic, which ranked second on the index and has Latin America's highest rates of tourism receipts per GDP; Panama, which ranked the third on the index; and Colombia, which posted the largest annual gain in arrivals, which grew 10.7 percent in 2009 to 1.4 million.