Where is it?
The city of Montevideo [mon-teh-veeh-DAY-oh] is the capital of Uruguay and is located on the eastern bank of the River Plate. It was declared the 2013 Latin American Culture Capital. The official language is Spanish. This placid city is one of the travel destinations on the rise for 2013 according to TripAdvisor.
How to get there
Many airlines fly to Montevideo. American Airlines has direct flights from Miami and Iberia flies direct from Madrid.
From Buenos Aires, located across the River Plate, there are daily flights and ferry crossings either directly to Montevideo or to Colonia. The trip from Colonia includes a bus ride (included in the ferry ticket).
When to go
All year round. Winters are relatively mild. However, it can get hot and humid in the summer.
What to expect
A slow-paced, beta city where locals are friendly and polite.
How to get around
It is a pedestrian-friendly city with a good public bus network. Taxis are affordable and available.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Esplendor Montevideo, a centrally located boutique hotel (Soriano 868). There are many other accommodation options, of course.
What to buy
Uruguay’s flagship wine is tannat, a red that goes down a treat with the local beef. The national drink, however, is mate (MAH-tay). Artisans sell hand-crafted mate cups at arts and crafts fairs dotted around the city. I bought two beautiful watercolours by a local artist depicting candombe scenes.
What to eat and drink
Uruguay is famous for its chivito sandwich. Try it at least once. It is served everywhere but the most traditional place is La Pasiva, a local restaurant chain. Beef is very good in Uruguay. Head to Mercado del Puerto and take a seat at the bar of any parrilla (Parrilla is Spanish for both steakhouse and grill) inside the market or at Las Martas across the street. Start with a chorizo (pork sausage) and a provoleta (a slice of grilled provolone cheese). If you’re feeling adventurous, go for a morcilla (black pudding) and a choto (grilled chitterlings.)
Follow with a juicy, tender spot of beef washed down with a glass or two of tannat. Finish your meal with flan casero con dulce de leche y crema (crème caramel with dulce de leche and whipped cream) or a postre Massini (like a fresh cream pie with caramelized sugar on top). Have the paramedics’ number handy in case you go into a food-induced coma. At the Mercado del Puerto order a “medio y medio”, white wine and sparkling wine in equal proportions, the beverage of choice of port workers.
What to see and do
Wander along the streets of Ciudad Vieja (Old Town). This area used to be walled and is the oldest part of the city. The wall was pulled down between 1879 and 1891; only the gate remains and is located at one end of Plaza Independencia. Take in the architecture and the fine examples of street art.
Plaza Independencia marks the boundary between Ciudad Vieja and modern Montevideo. The monument in the middle is that of José Gervasio de Artigas, Uruguay’s independence hero. On one side of the square are the Presidential Offices, a non-descript modern building with two grenadiers standing guard (we caught the changing of the guard at 6 pm by pure chance) and other government buildings. The famous Palacio Salvo is on the 18 de Julio Avenue end. Finished in 1928, it was, at one point, the tallest building in South America.
Peatonal Sarandi is a pedestrian thoroughfare that runs from Plaza Independencia down to the river. There are shops, restaurants and artisans along the way. The cathedral, Iglesia Matriz, is located across from the Plaza Matriz.
The Mercado del Puerto (Port’s Market – Rambla 25 de Agosto de 1825) was built in 1868. Its iron structure was cast at the Union Foundry in Liverpool and shipped to Uruguay. There are many parrillas and shops inside.
The ramblas (riverfront walks) are a pleasant area to walk, breath fresh air and enjoy different views of the city and the river.
In some places, the white sand beach is quite wide, as in Punta Gorda, Playa Malvin or Carrasco. Locals take full advantage of the beach in the warmer months. Carrasco is an upscale neighbourhood that also offers fine dining.