The Very Loyal and Reconquering City of San Felipe y Santiago
Country 101 in the list so far, Uruguay. Although not for a wider tour, but merely sticking to its capital city, Montevideo. After all, this was not just only temptation for being that near Buenos Aires, it was as long overdue as visiting Argentine. It was always meant to be this way whenever coming to this part of the world: visit the two countries. Both capitals do complement each other and share a lot in common. One can easily take a speedboat at one or the other and reach the opposite counterpart in 2 hours, or get on a short flight across the Rio de la Plata. We opted for the second option, and while we departed Argentina the following day after a trip to Salta, we would return in 2 days to continue the tour with Cordoba next in line.
Montevideo is the southernmost capital city in South America. Founded in 1724 by the Spanish soldier Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, its boundaries remained mostly intact until the late 19th century when the fort at the eastern edge of the old town was dismantled and built in place the Independence Square; the heart of the city ever since, dividing Ciudad Vieja (the old town) at the west with the Centro district at the east. Both areas are the main tourist spots, easy to navigate with such a great urban plan of perfect avenues and streets in an orthogonal grid where distances are not too large between sights.
As an important tip, this is not the kind of city you come if you are having great expectations in enjoying some colonial flair and old architecture. For that you head elsewhere, noteworthy the former Portuguese post of Colonia del Sacramento west of the capital and literally right across the river opposite Buenos Aires. Still, there are lots to enjoy in Montevideo to keep you busy an entire day, adding longer should you want to enjoy some of the fine beaches along the southeast coast, even the short ride to the “Saint-Tropez of South America”, the upscale Punta del Este, farther to the east. On the bright side, Uruguay ranks number one of the safest countries in South America. Don’t judge some districts or streets as dangerous places; just because they are in a state of disrepair does not mean they are unsafe.
Trouville and Pocitos districts, both next to each other and located southeast from Centro are the most desirable to live, being also the most fashionable and expensive, aligned by the fine upscale Pocitos Beach. The 22 kilometres long Rambla delimits the entire perimeter of the city by the Rio de la Plata, receiving different names along its route, it is the longest urban continuous promenade in the world and one of the major draws of Montevideo, to the point of having been submitted to the UNESCO as a proposed World Heritage Site to be.
Uruguayans, like their Argentinian brothers, are specialists in the art of grilling meats. Eating a parrillada is one of the best treats you can have, obviously if you like meat. The steaks cooked to perfection, generally medium-rare unless you tell them to cook it longer for you, melt in your mouth, accompanied by some freshly made fries and vegetables. Now if I can offer you the best ever recommendation for one of the best places in Montevideo for an awesome steak (biffe de lomo), then don’t think twice and search around, the Bistro Victoria inside the Radisson Victoria Plaza was stunning, more even considering the prices were the same as in a restaurant elsewhere in the city centre.
Next in line, a truly national dish is the Chivito, this is a sandwich made of beef, bacon, ham, hard boiled or fried egg, olives, mozzarella, tomatoes, and mayonnaise, served with fries on the side whenever it is not for take away. It is a bomb believe me, but you must try at least one when in Uruguay. Some of the most popular and highly ranked places are El Tinkal next to La Rambla, in the district of Palermo (Calle Dr Emilio Frugoni 853), Marcos and Lo de Pepe both in the district of Trouville, one in Avenida Sarmiento the other in Bulevar Espana, 2 minutes one from the other. Then pizza, pasta or a milanesa (breaded and fried thin slice of beef or chicken) are all very common not only in Uruguay and Agentina, but across South America, and so are the churros con chocolate, a very Spanish tradition.
For more information about Montevideo visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Uruguay’s currency is the Peso ($U, UYU). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Montevideo
- Fortaleza del Cerro Or also known as the Fort General Artigas, is the only one of its kind to have survived almost intact since the colonial times. Located northwest of the city, overlooking the bay, was the last fort built by the Spanish in the country, from 1809 and completed in 1839.
- Ciudad Vieja The old town, located at the western mouth of land into the Rio de la Plata, creating the bay all along the north side, is the heart of the original Spanish colonial settlement and home to the oldest surviving buildings.
-Rambla Although not an unique place from the Old Town itself, it does cross it along the entire shores of Rio de la Plata. It is the longest continuous sidewalk in the world at over 22 kilometres, and receives different names in its route. The farther east you go, the nicer it gets with the upscale neighbourhoods and beaches.
-Zabala Square Created after the demolition of a small fort that here stood until 1878, hence the unusual shape off the orthogonal grid of streets. It takes the name from the city’s founder, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala from Durango, Spain.
-Monument to Bruno Mauricio de Zabala In the centre of the gardens.
-Taranco Palace Designed in 1910 by French architect Charles Girault, who also designed the Arc de Triomphe and Petit Palace in Paris, or the Arc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels. It is home to the Museum of Decorative Arts.
-Rincon Street Directly linking Zabala to Constitution Square, filled with historic museums and elegant buildings.
-Fructuoso Rivera House Nowadays the National History Museum.
-Scotiabank Across the street opposite the museum. In colonial neo-baroque style.
-Sarandi Street The main pedestrian shopping thoroughfare, with beautiful building along its way especially in the section running parallel to Zabala and towards Independence Square. Lots of restaurants, bars, cafes with terraces and shops.
-Constitution Square Or Plaza Matriz, is the oldest in Montevideo, heart of the colony since its foundation.
-Cathedral Along the west side of the square. Built in place of the 1740’s older smaller structure, was consecrated in 1804, designed in neo-classical style.
-Cabildo At the eastern side of the square, facing the Cathedral. Once of the oldest buildings still standing, was the government office of the Spanish colony of the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata.
- Centro The next district east of the Old Town, home to the major avenues, transit hubs, hotels and retail areas.
-Independence Square The largest and most neuralgic in the entire city. It divides the old town at the west with the elegant extension to the east and beyond. The principal sights in Montevideo are within walking distance from this point.
-Citadel’s Gate Marking the western side, the solely remain surviving of the colonial fort that once stood until its demolition in 1829 to make way for the square.
-Mausoleum of General Artigas At the centre of the square and gardens. He was one of the principal heroes of the Independence of Uruguay, and here you can find his resting remains guarded in an urn that can be visited on the weekends.
-Salvo Palace One of the most precious buildings and icon of the city. Designed by Italian architect Mario Palanti in 1928, resident of Buenos Aires who also designed the sister building there, the Palacio Barolo. At 100 meters high, it is still one of the tallest constructions in the country. It was built at the same spot where the Confiteria La Giralda once stood, the very same place where Gerardo Matos Rodríguez wrote in 1917 the most famous tango in the world, La Cumparsita. Nowadays, a small museum about the history of the tango is open to the public.
-Estevez Palace Built in 1873 in neo-colonial style, was the official working place of the president, nowadays the museum about the history of the Uruguayan presidents.
-Solis Theatre At the southwest corner, was designed by the Italian architect Carlos Zucchi in 1856 who also designed the main facade of Buenos Aires Cathedral. It remains as the largest and most prestigious in the country.
-Avenida 18 de Julio The major shopping thoroughfare crossing the entire city linking the Independence Square at the west with the Monument to the Constitution at the intersection with Boulevard General Artigas.
-Lapido Building One of the most prominent art-deco structures in Montevideo, built in 1933.
-Juan Pedro Fabini Square The next large square, and node of major roads where Avenida Libertador Juan Antonio Lavalleja heads northeast towards the Legislative Square far ahead, home to the Legislative Palace; one of the grandest neo-classical constructions in Uruguay completed in 1925 to commemorate the 100th anniversary since the independence.
-Cagancha Square A block and a half ahead after Fabini Square along 18 de Julio. Home to some nice neoclassical structures such as the Courts of Justice along the south side and the Ateneo along the north with a very nice park in the middle with the Peace Column at its centre.
-Intendencia The City Hall and square, three blocks ahead continuing along 18 de Julio Avenue, has a great viewing point at its roof offering the best views of the city, coupled with several museums in its basement.
- Punta Carretas Southeast from Centro district, it is delimited by the Rio de la Plata and the Rambla along the west, south and east sides. It is one of the most desirable neighbourhoods to live, with quite a high level of life and expensive restaurants, bar and nightlife.
-Punta Brava Lighthouse Dating from 1876 it is the oldest lighthouse still in operation in Montevideo.
- Trouville and Pocitos Districts East of Punta Carretas, the most upscale in the city.
-Pocitos Beach Perhaps the nicest for the buildings along the Rambla Republica del Peru, yet not the best in quality of water. For that you will need to go farther east to Carrasco and beyond, Ciudad de la Costa.
Carrasco International Airport is the main gateway of the country to the world. While it is true there are not that many direct routes other than all over the Americas and some European destinations such as Madrid, it is definitely highly convenient considering how enormous distances can be in South America. It is located some 15 kilometres east, and has a good bus connection towards different areas and districts of the city. Most buses head past the main bus terminal Tres Cruces, along the Boulevard General Artigas, taking approximately 30 minutes and costing 56 UYU.
The ferry link between Montevideo and Buenos Aires is the most popular way for travelling between both cities. From downtown to downtown is around 2 hours, while other ports as possible between these countries, depending where is that you intend to go.
Coming overland is the preferred choice for people spending months travelling through South America. National and international buses do cover pretty much the main cities around the neighbouring countries. Argentina, Paraguay and Southern Brazil all straightforward in really great and comfortable sleeper buses.
Once in the city, you need to know of the several districts composing the urban area, some of which quite far away. This applies to some of the tourist areas home to several large hotels such as Punta Carretas, Trouville, Pocitos at the south east; and beyond the beaches of Buceo, Malvin, Honda, Verde and the enormous Carrascoso – Ciudad de la Costa. For any of these places you will need to take one of the many public buses serving the city. There is no other option unfortunately; it does really lack of other means such as metro or trams, however, moving between the Ciudad Vieja and Centro is best enjoyed on foot. Distances are not too big but most of the sights are scattered across these districts.
As the capital and largest city of the country, it is the biggest showcase to the world, hence an important destination not only in tourism but in business too. It is also one of the most stable, secure and wealthy in South America, strong economy and currency; yet considering it is one of the smallest capitals of South America, the choice of hotels is just about right. Do not expect a wide selection nor competition, but a fair and good choice, though at a higher price than other countries in the continent. The best as usual, would be to start your search by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo or Ebookers.
We found the best option for this trip to be the Radisson Victoria Plaza. At the very heart of the city in Independence Square, corner with Calle Florida. Spread across two towers, both offering nice views above the city and with great facilities such the very large indoor heated pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam rooms; well designed large rooms, very comfortable and quiet as well, it was over our expectations. Very friendly and helpful staff in all departments, and a good breakfast. But overall, the location is unbeatable! Almost opposite the Palacio Salvo, one of the most important sights, and anything from culture, shopping, restaurants, bars and nightlife at walking distance.