Welcome to Uruguay
Again, I didn’t know what to expect from Uruguay before I would arrive there. But this small country has a lot to offer, especially some of the people I have met there, already deserve a special place in my heart.
Step by step I will introduce you to Uruguay and why you should visit it. It’s going to be a mix of my personal experiences and an
Uruguay travel guide.
After Paraguay I have been to Buenos Aires for a week, and then I decided to go to Uruguay. It isn’t that difficult to cross over to Uruguay with a ferry or a bus.
There are several options how to get from Buenos Aires to Uruguay.
Whether you take the ferry with Buquebus, Seacat or Colonia Express .
The first two companies have similar prices.
Or you can take the bus with a company called Pullmann, which I did.
So, the bus from Buenos Aires to Montevideo costs 830 Argentinian Pesos (48$).
I share with you now one thing I dislike most about Argentina:
The transportation to get around in Argentina is very expensive, despite from all the other expensive stuff over here. But nevertheless, I have to admit the bus was more than comfortable and I got dinner.
I don’t know if everyone needs dinner when you are boarding the bus at 11 pm, but at least no worries about starving guys.
Montevideo – The Capital
My stay in Montevideo started great, my host and nowadays friend Juan picked me up from the bus terminal.
As you know it almost became an obligation for me to have free walking tours in the cities I am going to. The weather in September in Montevideo is welcoming me and the first days couldn’t be better than walking around and getting lost somewhere. Don’t worry about the safety here, in Montevideo I felt quite comfortable running around with my mobile phone in the hand, quite uncommon for South America so far.
If I had to compare the capital to another place in the world I would say it feels like Eastern Europe. Some of the buildings and monuments are terrific, others have more or less a nice appearance.
From Plaza Independencia you can reach the most important museums and buildings. One museum I highly recommend is Museo Andes 1972.
When I was young I heard this unbelievable story about “The miracle of the Andes”. To make it short for everyone:
In October 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed in the Andes in an extreme snowpack while having 45 people on board. More than a quarter of the passengers died, and several others quickly succumbed to the coldness. For the rest of the group it was a fight for survival. Suffering at one of the coldest parts of the world and after more than 2 months of the crash 16 of them were rescued. The scariest fact I still remember until today: To survival under those unbearable conditions and running out of food at over 3600 metres (11811 ft) they started to eat the bodies of the dead passengers, which were preserved in the snow.
Therefore, it was a must-visit museum for me in Montevideo.
And for everyone who loves football, don’t miss the visit of
Museo del Fútbol .
I know Brazil and Argentina are cultivating a “friendly” rivalry due to football. But no other country so far in South America could convince me that they are worshipping football almost like a religion as Uruguay does.
There are very important things I have learned from my guide Juan Pablo during the Free Walking Tour with Curioso Free Tour about Uruguay:
Definitely, Uruguay has one of the world’s highest meat consumptions.
Uruguayans LOVE football. Seriously, again, I wouldn’t be understating when I say it’s like a religion for them. I didn’t meet any Uruguayan guy so far, who is not crazy about football. And they are more than proud that they won the World Cup twice. And guess who they defeated?
Their two big lovely neighbours.
In the first world cup ever in 1930 they defeated their host Argentina.
And later in 1950, they won against the host country, again.
The country was no less than Brazil. Believe me, Uruguayans are so proud of it. If you tell them one of these facts I just have written down, you can easily win their hearts.
What else to do in Montevideo ?
Casa Rivera was the house of Fructuoso Rivera, the first president of Uruguay. Not only is the building exceptional due to its classicists architecture, but also a great opportunity to track Uruguayan’s history to Independence from the old documents and paintings.
(everything in Spanish though)
If you want to understand the Gaucho culture better, you can pay a visit to Museo del Gaucho for free.
For theater I would definitely visit Uruguay’s most important theatre – Teatro Solís, right next to the Plaza Independencia.
Guess what? Montevideo is a city next to Rio de la Plata, so if you like coastal walks or at least walk along the promenade, you should definitely visit the Rambla in Montevideo and take a long walk to relax the day.
If not walking, how about biking? The guys from Orange Bike, who are based in old town are renting good bikes.
There is one football stadium called Estadio Centenario, I didn’t go there by myself but my friend, Guilherme highly recommend everyone who is just a little bit interested in football to visit the stadium.
Marijuana, Mate and Carnival
Uruguay is the first country in the world who has completely legalize marijuana in December 2013. The locals can buy in the pharmacies 40 grams of weed per month and plant their own marijuana plants (up to six plants).
Everywhere you can smoke it is legal to smoke marijuana, too.
Therefore, please don’t be surprise when people smoke weed on the stairs of the parliament, in which they passed the laws.
Foreigners are allowed to smoke, but not to buy.
Another fact which is also very interesting: Who thought only Rio de Janeiro is famous for carnival? Montevideo will prove that you are totally wrong. Every year they celebrate the Uruguayan Carnival from mid January to late February. The carnival in Montevideo can last up to 40 days and is more or less a dance parade with candombe drums and murga (a musical theatre during carnival). It is included with some series of cultural events like dance parades in the streets and street stages called “tablados”. The artists of murga are competing in an artistic contest in the “Teatro de Verano” (Summer Theatre) in Montevideo. It is different from the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, but totally worth a visit!
If I have to describe Uruguayans I would say three things:
Asado, football and yerba mate.
So Paraguay has its Terere. Whereas Argentina and Uruguay have its mate, a caffeine infused drink. You know – Terere as hot version
(pst, I still like Terere more).
Compared with Argentina where people drink Mate at home, you must be blind not to see a Uruguayan running around with a mate cup and thermos flask. Like football, the people here are crazy about mate and it’s true when I say it’s one of the most important cultural parts in Uruguay.
Food and Recommendations
Bad news for all vegetarians. As you read in beforehand, Uruguayans love meat. So here are the typical food plus mine and Curioso Tour’s recommendations where you can eat in Montevideo.
No matter if you are in Argentina or Uruguay, everyone is craving for Asado. Like in Paraguay, the South American version of barbeque.
You can’t escape from parrilas and asados.
Among tourists the Mercado del Puerto is very popular to go and eat Asado. But way too touristy. One of my friend told me El Rasto is a good option to east Asado.
A less touristy market would be Mercado Agrícola de Montevideo, an indoor market with all kind of food including electronics and clothes. This is my personal recommendation rather than Mercado del Puerto.
Ready to get fat and want to know how? The answer is Chivito.
It is a national dish of Uruguay and kind of steak sandwich with a slice of beef steak (churrasco), eggs, cheese, salad, tomatoes, mayonnaise, olives, cucumber, bacon and ham – often accompanied by French fries.
There you go, it’s not that difficult to gain weight in Uruguay I guess.
Just wondering now, that many people here are quite skinny.
Where to go? Bar Bass in Pocitos, Manchester or Cafe Ramona in Centro.
Uruguay is similar to Argentina, but please don’t forget they are still two different countries. This is very important to not offend the locals.
So the Italian influence in the country like in Argentina was predictable.
The Uruguayan answer to the Italian gnocchi is called Ñoqui, with a great salsa sauce and you get seduced by a simple dish.
Grappamiel: A popular alcohol beverage in Uruguay which contains grappa and spirits sweetened with honey.
Chajá: Like a sponge cake with peaches, whipped cream and meringue.
Bars, Pubs and Cafes in Montevideo
Craft beer is totally beloved by the Uruguayans, they have plenty of places where to go. One night I was checking out Bar Bremen (German owner) with some friends, but this places can be recommended too:
MVD Brew House (very, very crowded!!) and Brauer Bierhaus. In general craft beers can be founded in the area of Pocitos.
And Pubs like Jackson Bar or Bar Lola are around Parque Rodo.
If you prefer bars instead of pubs, I suggest you to go to Bar Bass in Pocitos. Or La Ronda in Ciudadela, although full with young people.
There are plenty of them around Parque Rodo and Pocitos.
For burgers you can consider visiting Food And Love.
And how about a coffee shop from 1877?
There is a coffee place with the name Cafe Brasilero with historical photos on the wall, another great option to eat lunch.
Brief History of Uruguay
I guess to understand better a country, you should know somewhat about the history. I would like to introduce you briefly to Uruguay’s history.
A Spanish guy (who else?) was the first European to ‘discover’ Uruguay in 1516. In the following due to the lack of mineral wealth, Uruguay was kind of unimportant amongst Spanish and Portuguese imperialists. However, later Montevideo was founded in the early 18th century by the Spanish crown.
Like every nation in the earliest 19th century, Uruguay started to have a national consciousness. So what do you do?
Led by José Gervasio Artigas, their national hero they started to rebel against the Spanish rule.
Finally, after bitter battles and stiff negotiations Uruguay became independent in August 1825. However, Uruguay’s first constitution was adapted on July 18, 1830.
By the way their big and main Avenida is called Avenida 18 de Julio, instead of Avenida 25 de Agosto.
Peace didn’t remain long, starting from 1839 the conservative Blancos (Whites) and liberal Colorados (Reds) fought in the “Guerra Grande”, until the Colorados took the control over the country in 1852.
If you have read my Paraguay post, Uruguay later joined Brazil and Argentina in the “Triple Alliance” against Paraguay.
After all the battles in the late 19th century, many immigrants from Europe came over to Uruguay and the economy started to boom due to sheep and cattle farming.
President Batlle made new reforms, hence secondary schools were established in every city (1906), women were allowed to divorce (1907) and the telephone network nationalized (1915). Soon Uruguay became a welfare state and in 1930s women were given the right to vote.
During the Second World War Uruguay was the Switzerland of South America and remained more or less neutral.
After the war Uruguay’s economy suffered and in 1973 the military seized power in a coup, the following military dictatorship ruled for 12 years. Around 180 Uruguayans are known to have been killed during the dictatorship and others have been referred to be “disappeared”.
In the early 1980s there were heaps of protests against the regime because Uruguay was in an economic crisis.
In 1985 the dictatorship ended and the nation’s welfare returned until the early 2000s. Nowadays, the economy starts to grow again.
But as you know economy is like a roller coaster, sometimes you go down and sometimes you go up. Just how life is.
Punta del Este
Now I introduce you shortly to South America’s version of Monaco!
Let’s have a round of applause for Punta del Este, a city and resort on the Atlantic Coast 140 kilometres (87 miles) east of Montevideo.
So do you want to show off your trained body, eating and shopping luxury stuff during Summer in South America?
Again, the name is Punta del Este.
Out of the high season it feels like a ghost town.
A bus from Montevideo to Punta del Este costs 295 Uruguayan Pesos (10$) and takes around 2 hours.
Nevertheless I enjoyed walking at the rambla in Punta del Este.
I love the vibe of the city and enjoyed watching sea lions.
It is expensive, a place of the beautiful and rich. I don’t even want to think about the crowds and all the celebrities in the summer time.
But believe me there is a reason why it is so popular.
I love the ocean, the sea and everything which is related to water and just to get some ocean breeze in my hair makes my day.
Therefore I can recommend Punta del Este, good news for surfers.
Yes, you can surf there!
If you don’t know if you are in Punta del Este or not.
There is one famous sculpture that has become the symbol of the city, which is made by the Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal called La Mano (The hand), it depicts human fingers emerging from sand right at Brava Beach.
Talking about beaches. Starting with Playa Brava where La Mano is located you can go down south to Playa El Emir and Playa de los Ingleses.
You can head to the Puerto, a marina where you can watch sea lions and seagulls.
You can shop ’til you drop in Calle 22 and Avenida Juan Gorlero.
A Major & General Problem
I saw some plastic bags at the waterside of the port and was asking for a stick to pull them out. If you are there, please do me a favour and do the same. Just to raise awareness. The people told me there is someone who cleans the port everyday, but I didn’t want to wait for someone in case one of the seagulls is eating them.
I was concerned one of the seagulls would eat those plastic bags.
In general all the plastic bags rubbish is a serious problems for the ocean.
Have you ever heard of the Great Pacific garbage patch or Pacific trash vortex? The size of it is bigger than Texas!! and it’s located in the central North Pacific Ocean.
I do love blogging and with the influence I have
(even though in a minor part), I also want to raise awareness for the climate change and environmental issues.
I try to avoid plastic bags as much as I can and I would rather carry my groceries than taking a plastic bag.
Please consider small changes are worth it.
And to all my friends in Taiwan, I know how much plastic bags are randomly used for the night markets.
You can try to bring your own lunch box and say no to plastic bags.
I used to work in a sea turtle conservation in Bali and it is horrible to see sea turtles choking from plastic bags due to their confusion with jelly fishes.
If you have any environmental projects going on, you can contact me anytime. I would love to read the actions you do, whether in an NGO or in your daily life. I am looking forward to any stories, which can make our world a better place!
Just imagine your summer-house at a cliff next to the Atlantic Coast, and you get tangerine sunrises and sunsets everyday for breakfast and dinner?
Just imagine your house is like an architectural masterpiece and it’s all year-long warm and cozy? You can’t? Let’s go to the former summer residence of the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró called Casapueblo.
Just 13 kilometres (8 miles) from Punta del Este.
Nowadays it houses a museum, a beautiful art gallery, a cafeteria and a hotel. Entrance fee is 240 Uruguayan Pesos (8,30$).
I suggest you better pay in Argentinian Pesos, it is cheaper this way.
Exactly 140 Argentinian Pesos.
In the museum some of his paintings are sold and in a movie room you can see the travels and life stories of Uncle Carlos.
I love his house and art, which gives you a feeling of a breezy summer day on a balcony next to the ocean. If he would be my uncle I would try to convince him to inherit me the house, so I can host all people from around the world to join me watching a tangerine sunset everyday.
My suggestion is you go there by sunset. It has been such a long time since I enjoyed intensively a sunset with almost no one around me.
Juan, if you read this – thank you so much for having me around and staying with you was a wonderful experience. You will be forever my first Uruguayan friend and I appreciate very much your hospitality and friendship. And our night outs and of course the incredible concert we went to!
You might know or not, even though I am traveling alone I never feel alone. I have written about it in 10 insights after 2 years of traveling.
So on this trip to Uruguay I met a friendly Chilean guy called Carlos and his German friend Felix. Both wonderful peeps.
By the way – See you in Chile, Carlos!
And traveling is not the same if you don’t meet wonderful people who share laughter and some drinks with you.
Some of my best memories are with amazing folks: Whether at night sitting at the beach and gazing the stars together or going on an unforgettable road trip.
I bought my ticket from Punta del este to Puertozuelo
(74 Uruguayan Pesos or 2,50$) and while I was purchasing it, I met a guy from Brazil called Guilherme.
Once you arrived in Puertozuelo you have to walk 2 more kilometres (1,24 miles) to Casapueblo.
When we waited for the bus, I told him directly that my Portuguese is much better than my Spanish at the moment. And in the next moment he revealed himself to be from Santa Catarina, Brazil.
The rest is history. Just kidding, I made friends with him immediately and we spent the rest of the day together.
Thank you, Guilherme to spend a wonderful day with me and watching one of the most beautiful sunsets together. Without your company it would have been only half as great as it actually was.
Hitchhiking in Uruguay
As a self-confessed fan of hitchhiking, I had to give hitchhiking a try in South America. I have been already now 3 months in South America and I never hitchhiked until I came to Uruguay.
As Guilherme was a little bit sceptical, I convinced him at the end to hitchhike with me back to Montevideo.
I can’t really confirm we stand on the road and put our thumbs up or anything like that. But what we did: After sunset we approached the first car we saw and asked the couple inside, if they could take us back to the main road in order to get higher chances to hitchhike back to Montevideo.
Guys, what I have noticed is that either Uruguayans are very grumpy or super duper extra friendly.
Their friendliness can be seriously over the top.
We were lucky, without hesitation they drove us back to the road. But instead of dropping us off at the road they drove us further, so they could drop us off at a bus station. But after 30 minutes we saw they passed by their hometown. As we were sitting in the back, we looked to each other totally confused. Afterwards, they stated they would drive us back to our hostel in Montevideo.
I couldn’t believe my ears at that moment. My last experiences where my driver drove me back home were in Taiwan.
Both of us were overwhelmed and couldn’t believe our luck.
The thing is we don’t speak Spanish and they neither speak English nor Portuguese.
If you lost your hope to humanity, I hope with this story of mine I could restore your faith for humanity again.
At this point I want to say a BIG THANK YOU to Paulo and Majo, you are a wonderful couple!
Friendliness and Altruism in Daily Lives
You know, everywhere you can see collateral beauty and friendliness is happening all around us. It’s even happening right in front of our doors, when the neighbour is greeting you with a “Good Day” or when someone is holding the door for you. In the frantic daily lives we forget easily the small and greater things which is already happening around us.
I don’t need to hitchhike to confirm myself of the friendliness of other people. It starts with a smile of an old lady in a bus or from someone who wishes you a good day. I decided for myself in my daily life to give a reason for someone to smile. Even though the person wouldn’t smile back, at least I tried. And if this person won’t smile the next one might.
I mean why not? It doesn’t cost us anything, right?
But I always feel enriched if I am the reason for someone to smile today.
Last Stop : Colonia del Sacramento
According to the legend there is a picturesque city in southwestern Uruguay enshrined as a UNESCO world heritage site with the infamous name Colonia del Sacramento.
Right at the east bank of Río de La Plata the city is known for its narrow cobblestoned Barrio Histórico with a riverfront for a spectacular sunset, where Uruguayans applaud to the sunset.
The city and the 19th-century Colonia del Sacramento Lighthouse, are transferring you back into the last century.
Nearby lies the Portón de Campo, remnants from the old city walls.
The bus ticket from Montevideo to Colonia costs exactly 363 Uruguayan Pesos (13$), September 2017.
Even the Argentines can’t resist Colonia’s charm and beauty, on weekends and especially during summer you are bumping more into Argentines than Uruguayans. It’s better to book in advanced in the high season. If you want to visit the museums, you have to buy at Museo Municipal a ticket for 50 Uruguayan Pesos in order to visit 5 museums
(all in walking distance).
I can recommend two museums: Museo Municipal and Museo Portugués. Don’t miss (okay, you can’t miss it) Calle de los Susprios, a beautiful historical street.
To see more from the city, you should consider renting a bike.
Therefore, I can recommend the bikes from TotalRent (+59894541911).
It is a great way to explore Colonia’s Rambla, Plaza de Toros or the Hippodrome.
You will be in any case convinced by the beauty of the city once you will visit this Unesco World Heritage.
Until next time, Uruguay!
Somehow my bucket list gets longer instead of shorter.
Most places I have been to so far, I got a strong urge to return.
I hope with this post I could help you a little bit to travel Uruguay.
And thanks for everyone who read this immense blog post
(which might be my longest one so far).
All of my off beaten paths from the Gringo Trail have been fantastic.
You have to decide whether to go to Uruguay on your South American trip or not. In my opinion, you shouldn’t miss it. Even though if you would travel only a week in Uruguay, it is still worth it. Good luck!