Sometimes you manage to go to a place before the crowds discover it. It is like you have discovered gold. You can feel when a city is on the cusp of becoming super popular. That is exactly what I found with Montevideo.
Montevideo, capital of Uruguay, is a sweet, little liberal city. If you are in Buenos Aires I recommend you make the trip across Rio de La Plata to Montevideo. Here’s why…
It is socially liberal and safe
South America sometimes gets a bad rap for being Catholic and therefore socially conservative. Uruguay flies in the face of those assumptions.
In 2013 the Economist named Uruguay as its country of the year. It has legalised gay marriage and marijuana.
I don’t know what it is but you can tell when a city is free and liberal rather than under totalitarian rule. I felt safe and I felt wecolme. We had no problems walking home in the dark and everyone was wonderfully friendly.
Montevideo is going through a bit of revitalisation. Yes, many of the buildings are rough but there are plenty of examples of investment in the old buildings. We spent most of our time in the old district near the port. We stayed in a charming renovated Art Deco hotel, Don Boutique (stay there – it’s lovely and was one of the cheapest hotels we stayed in during our 5 week trip). There are plenty of squares/plazas and pedestrian-only streets to wander and take in the history.
Wine is cheap!
Across the road from Don Boutique is Mercado del Puerto. This is a fairly large market of mostly BBQ (parilla). This was well worth a look and as long as you’re not a vegetarian. But I wouldn’t eat there again. The steak was excellent value if you only consider the price per kg. It was fatty, over cooked and underwhelming. As we ventured away from the port area and beyond the plaza we discovered cafes and bars that would have been more to our liking.
We had lots of fun drinking. Down by the water we came across Cafe La Ronda. This is a rustic, tiny bar with plenty of tables out the front. We joined the after work crowd who were enjoying beers and pizzas. The pizzas looked and smelt pretty good. We just drank wine which was cheaper than coffee. Here we watched the sunset and congratulated ourselves for giving Montevideo a go but wishing we had scheduled more than one night.
When we got back to the hotel we decided to check out the roof top bar. It was quiet with just one other table enjoying cheap (but decent!) Brazilian bubbles. Eventually we got talking to the other table. It was the owner of the hotel and some mates including a rugby-mad South African expat. We had a hell of a lot of fun that night and it cemented our view that we must come back to Uruguay, spend more time exploring Montevideo, and go to the coast.
Getting to Montevideo
We caught the Buquebas fast ferry from Buenos Aires. It took just over 2 hours. We travelled in economy and it was comfortable enough. Just beware when booking to go through the Uruguay Buquebas website. We found that it was a lot cheaper than the Argentina website.
When people ask me about highlights from our South America I always talk about Montevideo. It was a fantastic find and I can’t wait to go back.