I have tried to visit Uruguay ever since I started travelling to southern South American but wanted to be more than just a 'day tripper' on the Buenos Aires to Colonia ferry. This trip the stars aligned themselves and I spent half my vacation (6 days) in Montevideo. As my description states, what a beautiful, underrated and underexposed city! I cannot understand why it is not more popular with foreign tourists, but perhaps that will change with more cruise ships coming into port.
Here's some of the highlights:
1. Apartment and location. Montevideo is not blessed with a plethora of short-term rental apartment agencies, but after some searching I found a studio listing through AirBnb. This was a good option as payment is via credit card so I did not have to have a big 'wad' of currency to pay the rent and the security deposit. I decided to stay in the neighborhood of Pocitos, and I'm glad I did. It is a beautiful area, with plenty of restaurants, banks, grocery stores and (my favorite) bakeries. It was a 2-block walk to the waterfront. The studio was small but adequate for my stay. The representative, Jacqueline, was a gem. She was there at the appointed meeting time with the keys, showed me the 'operations' of the apartment and gave me a brief walking tour of the neighborhood. Best of all, she provided a city map from the tourist office and marked where to catch the local buses to go to the Ciudad Vieja. I know there have been some postings related to crime (primarily in the historic center) but I did not have any safety concerns in this neighborhood.
2. Saturday lunch at Mercado del Puerto. I'd say the locals overwhelmingly outnumbered the tourists on this weekend day. And boy, do Montevideanos know how to enjoy the weekend....I saw more 'tragitos' of Johnny Walker whiskey being consumed than champagne at a New Years Eve party! Anyway, had a great 'pamplona de cerdo' washed down with a "Patricia' beer. I chose Restaurant Veronica and sat at the counter which I recommend; you get a great view of all the action!
3. Taking public buses. Easy, cheap, and you can buy your ticket using bills (small ones appreciated), not just coins. There are even modern air-conditioned buses that don't spew out that awful diesel fuel. Fellow passengers are so helpful. One saw me intently studying my map, asked me my destination and gave me the heads up when to get off.
4. Live performance at Teatro Solis. Wrote a whole posting on this. Beautiful historic theatre with great acoustics.
5. Day trip to Punta del Este. Took a late morning bus from Montevideo, hung out for a few hours on Playa Mansa and then had a great fish lunch at a restaurant called Virazon recommended by DE Punta Lugano. After lunch walked around the town and to the other side of the penninsula to see the 'surfer dude' side of the ocean. Much rougher water that side. The town was pretty quiet as it wasn't high tourist season. I can imagine how crazy it gets in January though!
6. Tasting as much Tannat as possible. Alas, Uruguay exports very little of their wine and what is exported is pricey. It was great to set up my own 'tastings' from, bottles purchased at the neighborhood supermarket. I do regret not getting in a visit to a winery, but I have to save something for the next trip :-)
7. Having a delicious lunch in the home of new Montevideano friends and later strolling to Parque Rodo's feria to buy a few knockoff Forlan t-shirts for my futbol friends back home.
8. Finding my favorite breakfast cafe called La Fontana which faced the waterfront at "Rambla Republica del Peru". Spent at least 2 hrs. over morning coffee and medialunas watching all the joggers, strollers, dog walkers and cyclists in action and trying to decipher the news in the daily paper El Pais. The medialunas in Montevideo are great, and I think better than Buenos Aires (they use more butter!). But I won't tell my Argentine friends that!
9. Walking, walking, walking along the miles/kilometers of Las Ramblas. I'm not an exercise fanatic, but I do like to get in some physical activity so I can justify eating another dulce de leche-laden dessert! One day after a particularly long and hot walk I treated myself to lunch at Che Montevideo, a restaurant right on the waterfront with great outdoor seating.
Last but not least, the kindness and warmth of the people of this great city. Everybody from the doorman to the bus driver to the taxi driver to the waiters to the dog owners whose canines I admired could not have been more generous (AND patient with my mangled Castellano!)
Finally, a big THANK YOU to DE experts and other TA posters who made my trip easier and more enjoyable. Punta Lugano gave me tips on everything from the Uruguayan economy to the availability of tonic water! And thanks to MarnieDC I was able to find the website on local buses. You posters are better than ANY travel guidebook!
I will *definitely* be back to visit this great city and other parts of the country....February 2014 can't come soon enough!