Stay in Buenos Aires long enough, and you’ll often hear Uruguay dismissed by porteños as “just another Argentinean province.” Yet this small, socially progressive country, just a short ferry ride away, is a gem worth every second of your time and each of your hard earned pesos.
Ranked “first” in Latin America in democracy, peace, and lack of corruption, The Economist awarded Uruguay country of the year in 2014. Its capital city, Montevideo, the southernmost in all of the Americas, has been rated since 2005 as the Latin American city with the highest quality of life. So if you’ve been considering making a visit to this city that’s slightly off the beaten path, wait no longer — after all, the bus transfer from Colonia to Montevideo will only add about another AR $100 to your trip.
The total travel time from Buenos Aires to Montevideo ranges between three and five and a half hours. Round trip tickets can be booked through either Buquebus, Seacat Colonia, or Colonia Express. The most budget friendly trip involves taking a ferryride across the muddy waters of the widest river in the world to Colonia del Sacrento and catching a ride into town on an express bus. The two and a half hour journey will leave you at Terminal Tres Cruces — from there you can take a local bus or a taxi to your final destination, or simply proceed by foot.
Where to stay
The best way to see Montevideo, hands down, is from a local’s point of view. If you’re feeling even the tiniest bit adventurous, I would highly recommend Couchsurfing. Not only will you have a chance to experience the warmth and generosity of the Uruguayan people firsthand, but you’ll get to see the city in a way that few tourists ever will, and you won’t regret it. You’ll visit hip bars, perhaps see some live theater, share mate with your host on the rambla, and quite possibly, make friendships that will last a lifetime. For those of who aren’t quite as comfortable with relying on the generosity of strangers, another option might be AirBnb. What’s essential is that you experience Montevideo with a friend — because unlike Buenos Aires, cultural offerings are more difficult to find on your own, and if you can’t connect with the locals, your trip runs the risk of being boring.
What to do
As mentioned, the best way to see the city and experience it, is with a local as your guide. But here are a few ideas to base your trip around.
Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo (Arenal Grande 1930) is a cultural center that is actually located in the wing of the former jail ‘Miguelete’. The exhibits center around contemporary art in all of its senses, and is a great way to experience the work of lesser known Uruguayan artists. You might find a room that’s been set up to give you a view into an artist’s studio, scattered with sketches and littered with paints — or you might view snippets of films and stop-motions — even a room where you can play with the production of sounds. Admisson is free, and you don’t need to present any kind of ID. The center is open from 2 – 8 PM on Wednesdays through Saturdays, and 11 AM – 5 PM on Sundays.
Montevideo native Franny Glass is a singer-songwriter who meshes folk with pop. His music has appeared on films such as El Cuarto de Leo, and he performs somewhat regularly at local bars. Check out his Facebook page before your trip to see if there are any upcoming concerts.
The Feria de Tristán Narvaja is a must for any visitor. Inaugurated in 1909, taking a stroll around the bohemian flea market is typical way to spend a Sunday afternoon. You can buy anything from fresh fruits and vegetables, tortas fritas, and homemade pastas, to used books, souvenirs, clothes, and antiques that range from cute to funky. Located along Tristán Narvaja and the surrounding, tree-lined streets, you can also appreciate the traditional architecture of the neighborhood’s low-lying houses.
No visit to Montevideo would be complete without visiting la rambla. Unlike Buenos Aires, which has almost turned its back on the river’s coast, Montevideo’s rambla stretches 22 kilometers along the coast of the River Plate, and is the perfect place to take a walk, go for a jog, bike, or (you guessed it) share maté. During the warmer months, you can even go to the beach — and while bathing is not always recommended, it’s one hell of place to get a tan.