Montevideo, Uruguay - Stein Travel

Montevideo




    • 16+ years

    • 12-15 years

    • 2-11 years

    • 0-23 months


Welcome to Montevideo

From the air the city of Montevideo, capital of Uruguay, sprawls as a grey morass across the wide Rio Plata estuary where two vast rivers, the Parana and Uruguay, enter the Atlantic, often churning the sea with a coffee-coloured silt.

Water is the reason for Montevideo's existence, and the means of its livelihood, with an extremely busy working harbour where cargo ships constantly come and go and cranes reach into the sky.

The site was originally a native Indian settlement 'discovered' by a Portuguese explorer in 1516. A colony was not established until about a century later, and was eventually taken over by the Spanish who stormed the Portuguese fort in 1724. The Spanish formally founded the city in 1726, and in 1828 Montevideo became the capital of an independent Uruguay. The city's more recent history has seen it besieged by Argentinean dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas on two occasions, and endure the Battle of the River Plate between German and British naval ships at the start of World War II.

Today Montevideo is one of Latin America's most vibrant cities, popular with holidaymakers because of its miles of beaches and its shabby sophistication. One traveller has aptly described the city as feeling like 'Boston with a touch of Lisbon'.

Visitors and locals can browse the enticing Mercado de los Artesanos for leather goods, hand-knitted sweaters and other tempting crafts; stroll the Rambla along the waterfront where there are superb views and there is always a whole lot of activity; dine on mouth-watering grilled steaks or perfect paella in the restaurants of Mercado del Puerto; and end the day with a tantalising tango at one of the numerous night-clubs.


Climate

Montevideo's climate is mild and temperate with an average temperature of 55°F (13°C). During the height of summer (January) Montevideo temperatures usually hover around 82°F (28°C), while winters are much cooler and tend to be wet. Autumn is the wettest period.

Getting Around

It is easy and cheap to travel around Montevideo on buses, which run all over the city until around 11pm daily. Tickets are bought directly from the driver or conductor, who can also advise on routes and destinations. Locals are friendly and willing to help advise on bus routes to access the various sights and attractions; a Spanish phrase book is useful for this purpose. Taxis are plentiful in the city. They are metered and can be expensive, particularly if you are transporting luggage (there is a surcharge).

Language
The official language is Spanish.
Money

The official currency of Uruguay is the Uruguayan Peso (UYU), but US Dollars are also accepted by some tourist businesses, retailers and taxi drivers. The peso is divided into 100 centécimos. Currency can be exchanged at banks and Money Exchange Shops, which both offer similar exchange rates. Exchange rates tend to fluctuate frequently. There are plenty of ATMs available in shopping centres and attached to banks in commercial areas, but not all cards are accepted. Credit cards, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club, are widely accepted by shops and restaurants. Travellers cheques are easiest to exchange if in US Dollars.

Time
GMT -3 (GMT -2 from October to March).

Montevideo's ancient city is a fascinating and vibrant district of old buildings and cobble streets. Musicians and dancers gather here on weekend for impromptu performances, while artists have turned many of the decaying ground floor apartments into studios and galleries. The old iron gates and street lamps are very photogenic. There is a wonderful juxtaposition of old and new here, making the Ancient City the purest embodiment of Montevideo's evolution.

A must-see for any visitor to Uruguay is the historic town of Colonia del Sacramento, the country's oldest settlement and a celebrated UNESCO World Heritage site. It is situated on the River Plate, almost opposite Buenos Aires in Argentina from where most visitors ferry across on day trips. Dating from 1680 the quaint and quirky town is riddled with narrow cobbled streets lined with brightly coloured houses, vibey bars, excellent restaurants and art and craft shops. Colonia is about two hours by road from Montevideo. Local operators offer day trips.

Built between 1929 and 1930, to commemorate the centenary of Uruguay's first constitution, the Estadio Centenario also played host to the first-ever FIFA World Cup final (which Uruguay won 4-2, against Argentina). Listed by FIFA as one of the world's 'Classic Stadia', the Estadio Centenario has become something of a Mecca for football fans, with thousands of tourists visiting each year to attend a game, or just to visit the fascinating Museo del Fútbol(Football Museum), housed within the stadium itself. Visitors to Montevideo should do everything they can to attend an Atlético Peñarol home game at the Estadio Centenario - football, as the cliché goes, is a way of life in Uruguay - and watching a game in the midst of 90,000 passionate locals is an amazing cultural experience, that is sure to be cherished for the rest of one's life.

Estancias, or ranch-houses, are a new and exciting addition to the gamut of tourist attractions in Uruguay. Tourists from all over the world are invited to visit these establishments - invariably, cattle ranches located in the pampas(grasslands) of South America - and to experience the gaucho(cowboy) way of life, through a series of fun outdoor activities, such as horse riding, star-gazing, guided walking tours of the country, visits to dairies and tanneries, and much more. One of the biggest drawcards of these sometimes-rustic, sometimes-grandiloquent lodges, is the home-cooked food that's typically on offer: you haven't tried asado(Uruguay's national dish) until you've had it prepared in a cocina de estancia(farmhouse kitchen). The pick of the bunch (not least of all because it's got an English website), is San Pedro de Timote, located about 14km from the beautiful city of Cerro Colorado.

The impressive neo-classical Legislative Palace, built in the early 20th century, features four architecturally breathtaking facades oriented towards the four cardinal points, each decorated with bronze sculptures in turn representing Law, Justice, Science and Labour. It is particularly attractive when floodlight at night. The interior is just as awe-inspiring, housing some significant works of art, and guided tours are offered in English and Spanish.

Montevideo's historic port market is a lively affair, which takes place under a vast wrought-iron structure reminiscent of old European railway stations. Since 1868 it has been a hive of trading activity, and today is also the venue for some of the city's finest seafood eateries and steakhouses. Full of colour and life, it is a great place for people-watching, exploring the labyrinthine alleys crammed with stalls, watching buskers and entertainers, and generally imbibing the atmosphere of the city. The market is only open in the mornings, and is at its most lively on Saturdays.

The Museo Historico Nacional is a good place to begin an exploration of Montevideo for those interested in the city's past. It is housed in a conglomeration of several old houses in the Old City, all once dwelt in by national heroes. The main section, for example, topped by a distinctive octagonal cupola, was once the home of Fructuoso Rivera, the country's first president. The museum's collection traces the history of Uruguay from before its colonisation by Europeans up to the mid-20th century.

Montevideo's showpiece plaza contains some of the city's most impressive architecture, including its best-known landmark, the massive Italianate edifice of the Palacio Salvo, designed by an Italian architect living in Buenos Aires, Mario Palanti. The building, finished in 1925, was originally intended as a hotel, but now comprises residential apartments and offices. For many decades it was the tallest building in South America, and is built on the site where Gerardo Matos Rodriguez is credited with writing the first tango in 1917. The Plaza also contains a statue of Uruguay's national hero, General Artigas.


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