This past weekend I ventured off on a solo trip to Montevideo, Uruguay.
Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America and is quite often overlooked or forgotten about since it is dwarfed by its neighbors Brazil and Argentina. I knew very little of this country before visiting. Uruguay and Montevideo definitely packed a few good surprises and I really quite enjoyed my trip here. Uruguay is one of the most liberal, well-off, safe, and peaceful Latin countries. This is felt throughout Montevideo. I heard many people using “Tranquilo” (calm) colloquially as a response to “how are you” or just a general term. And indeed Uruguayans seem to embody a welcoming sense of calm. Everyone here is also very friendly and welcoming, and many know English but those who dont get really excited if you speak just a tad bit of Spanish. It is very safe and over all it is quite an affordable place to visit. To me it is a calmer, slightly friendlier, cheaper but just as culturally and historically rich version of Buenos Aires.
It is a place I’d recommend, and in the future I hope to explore the UNESCO city of Colonia del Sacramento (easiest way is by ferry from Buenos Aires) and one of the region’s premier beach resort cities: Punta Este.
I flew in through Sao Paulo. The only North American flight from Montevideo (the only commercial airport in Uruguay as there are no domestic flights), is to Miami operated by American Airlines. Your other options are to transfer regionally or take a 2 hour speed ferry from Buenos Aires.
Getting around Montevideo is easy. I ubered or walked everywhere. Ubers here are cheap, but just as anywhere in South America when riding in Ubers, take the front seat if you are solo. Ubers do pick up at the airport by the way!
I opted to stay in la Ciudad Vieja neighborhood (the historic district) in an Art Deco design boutique hotel called Don Boutique Hotel. I would recommend either staying in this neighborhood or in the Punta Carretas neighborhood.
- Landed in the beautifully designed Montevideo airport at around noon.
- Took an uber to Chiviteria Marcos Pocitos, Chiviteria Marcos is a chain of Chiviterias across town serving the Uruguayan National Dish: Chivito. Chiviteria Marcos was made famous by Anthony Bourdain when he visited. Chivito is as Anthony Bourdain describes, a sandwich of dreams. It contains: bacon, ham, tenderloin steak, fried egg, cheese, pickled veggies and olives, tomato, lettuce and your choice of sauces (i chose the relish mayo). It is massive, and it is delicious and filling. A must in Uruguay. While paying, the chef came by and asked how I liked it, and how long I’d be in town, he welcomed me to Uruguay and was happy that I was visiting his country!
- From there I got an uber to head to Museo Andes 1972 in the Ciudad Vieja area. This is a museum worth visiting (note: closes early at 3PM on Saturdays and closed on Sundays). It is a privately curated and run museum by a man who grew up with the victims and survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Charter flight 571 which carried an Uruguayan Rugby Team, their family and friends and crew to Santiago but crashed in the Andes. 16 of 45 souls ultimately survived after 72 days in the inhumane conditions of the Andes. The museum showcases not only the harrowing story of survival and human will, but also uses science, history, politics to explain all that happened. The mission of the museum? To educate, remember, and honor not just the survivors but the victims. It is a continually growing collection as the owner continues to receive items from family and friends of survivors and victims alike. This story is told in the famous book and now 1993 film Alive.
- After educating and inspiring myself with the story of Flight 571, I walked around old town. I popped into the Torres Garcia Museum gift store to check out the Uruguayan artist’s collection of wooden toys. Then I proceeded to Plaza de Independencia. Here you can see Palacio Salvo, a beautiful tower/ building, and the Artigas Mausoleum (which was closed when I visited but it commemorates Artigas, the general who lead Uruguay to independence). Down the street is Teatro Solis, the main theater in town. From there I meandered down Sarandi street, the main pedestrian boulevard of old town, towards my hotel.
- I checked into Don Boutique Hotel, conveniently located across from Mercado del Puerto, the historic food hall of parillas (steak grills).
- Spent the late afternoon relaxing by the hotel’s nice rooftop pool and bar.
- Was planning to have dinner at a parilla in Mercado del Puerto but this place closes at 5PM daily, but opens a 11AM, so I saved this for lunch on day 2.
- Instead I ubered to Punta Carretas for dinner at La Pulperia. A cute pink house, housing a neighborhood parilla famous and popular with both locals and tourists alike. Arrive early, even before official opening time of 7PM in order to get a seat, especially if you are with a larger group. Menus are in both English and Spanish. I ordered 3/8 Liter bottle of Tannat (Uruguayan red wine), and for food I ordered half portions of Salty Morcilla (blood sausage), Mollejas (sweetbread), Entrcot (sirloin steak cooked medium rare), and sweet Morcilla. All for $35! Staff and chef here are all very friendly, some English is spoken.
- A few blocks away from La Pulperia is Cafe Bar Tabare, a historic bar in Montevideo offering great drinks. I ordered a Chirimoya (custard apple) sour, delicious. The bartender and owner are both very friendly, engaging and super welcoming. Both speak English too.
- I then ubered back to the hotel. At check-in I was told it was Carnaval season in Uruguay and that there might be festivities all around town that evening (the main parade was the night before). Sure enough, walking through old town I stumbled upon flag waver, dancers and drummers parading through the streets (featured image). Across from the hotel is the Carnaval Museum, that has its own event space and stage. This evening as part of the festivities they hosted a string of performances, having no idea this was happening I couldnt get in. Thankfully Don Boutique Hotel has a great rooftop that offers direct views of the museum courtyard so I enjoyed the performance from above.
- Had a light breakfast at the hotel (included in my rate).
- Took an uber to Palacio Legislativo (Legislative Palace), a beautiful neo-classical building housing the Uruguayan parliament.
- From there I walked about 6 blocks to Tristan Narvaja street for the Sunday antiques and wet market called Feira de Tristan Narvaja. While I did not end up buying anything, it was quite fun to walk through the market in its early hours. Seeing many vendors still setting up shop (mostly locals selling from their own collections) and meandering with other locals shopping for groceries or whatever random thing they might need that they likely could find in the wide array of items sold at this market.
- I then decided to stroll down Avenido 18 de Julio, one of the main streets in Montevideo, towards Plaza de Independencia. it was a nice 40 minute walk back to my hotel, taking in the city’s mix of neo-classical, art-deco, Baroque and colonial architecture.
- After a short break back at the hotel, I checked out and headed for lunch across the street at Mercado del Puerto at 11AM.
- After walking around and trying to decide from the many parillas, which I’d end up eating at, I decided to eat at Cabana Veronica. Here I had another 3/8 liter bottle of Tannat, with Chorizo (sausage), Baby beef cooked medium rare with mashed potatoes, and topped it all off with Flan and Dulce de Leche. While more expensive than my dinner, it was equally delicious and still worth it and far cheaper than a steak dinner in the United States. Once again staff and chef were welcoming and friendly and happy to hear I enjoyed Uruguay and its steaks!
- It was then time to head to the airport (40 minutes away) for my mid-afternoon flight to Sao Paulo for my onwards connection back to America.
A colorfully laidback country, with delicious and cheap grass-fed steaks, tasty wine and beer, friendly people, and resilient history and culture. Definitely one I’d recommend visiting. Another great thing? Did not come across a single other American tourist, mainly European/ Chinese tourists, so it was so great! It is for sure quite an underrated destination, but well worth a visit.