Montevideo

Plaza Independencia with Palacio Salvo and Artigas statue

Montevideo is the pleasant capital city of Uruguay. It is on the east bank of the Rio de la Plata. The city is home to well over a third of the Uruguayan population and the cultural and political center of the country.

Understand

History

There are several theories about the origins of the city's name. The "monte" part is generally considered to be the hill where the Cerro fort is located. According to one theory the hill was named "Monte-VI-D-E-O(este)", which translates to Mountain six (VI in Roman numerals) From East to West. Another popular theory is that a member of Ferdinand Magellan's world circumnavigation would have shouted "Monte vide eu!", which translates to "I see a mountain!" when seeing the hill - however the circumnavigation happened two centuries before the foundation of the city so it might well have been another mountain he saw.

Construction of the Cerro fort was started by the Portuguese in 1723, at that time called Montevieu fort. The following year the Spanish started building the city of Montevideo on the opposite side of the bay where currently Ciudad Vieja is located and occupied and colonized the rest of the region. During its almost 300 years of existence, Montevideo has been part of the Spanish and Portuguese empires, occupied by the British for a few months in 1807 and afterwards a part of Brazil and today's Argentina before finally becoming the capital of the newly-founded Republic of Uruguay in 1828.

The unrest of the mid-19th century, including an eight-year siege, was followed by a time of prosperity, and the region was a popular destination for European immigrants. The pompous villas and parks that can be seen for example in the Prado district date from this period. In the 1950's, an economic collapse led to the emergence of a left-wing guerrilla movement, followed by a military dictatorship lasting until 1985, when democracy was restored. Today, Uruguay is run by the democratic socialist party of the former guerrillas, and it is one of the safest Latin American countries with the GDP per capita being among the highest.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 28.4 27.5 25.5 22.0 18.6 15.1 15.0 16.2 18.0 20.5 23.7 26.5
Nightly lows (°C) 18.0 17.9 16.2 12.9 10.2 7.7 7.2 7.8 9.1 11.5 14.2 16.3
Precipitation (mm) 86.8 101.5 104.6 85.5 89.0 83.1 86.4 88.2 93.9 108.5 89.3 84.4

Since Montevideo is south of the Equator, it is summer there when it's winter in the Northern Hemisphere and vice versa. Montevideo is in the subtropics, so while there are months when a t-shirt is not enough, temperatures seldom drop below freezing. In the summer months, temperatures above +30°C are common. There are no particular "rainy" and "dry" seasons: the amount of rain stays roughly the same throughout the year.

Orientation

Central areas

The city of Montevideo extends from the extreme southeast of Rio de la Plata along a circular gulf that offers a natural harbor.

The most interesting area for visitors are the old town (Ciudad Vieja) and Centro. The city's major sights, monuments and museums but also accommodation, theater and shops can be found there. The old town stretches along a small peninsula that abuts Montevideo Bay and the Centro immediately to the east.

Avenida 18 de Julio starts at Plaza Independencia, dominated by Palacio Salvo, an Art Deco highrise of 102m that is considered the symbol of Montevideo. Another point of interest in the old town is Plaza Constitución, colloquially named Plaza Matriz. Another sight is the former city hall palace (El Cabildo).

Towards the north of the old town one can find architecture reminiscent of Buenos Aires, and in the south it is delimited by the seaside promenade La Rambla that continues all the way to Parque Rodó. This is a popular area for outdoor activities like fishing, strolling or biking.

Eastern and Southern Montevideo

Playa Pocitos - Pocitos beach

The coast east of Parque Rodó is known for its beaches. Its principal artery is Avenida Italia, a lively road connecting the city to the airport. The Rambla runs along the coast. The most important districts in this part of the city are:

Cerro fort

Northern and western Montevideo

The northern and western parts include a couple of sights. The few dangerous barrios of Montevideo are located in the northwestern outskirts.

Get in

Montevideo is located on the north bank of the Rio de la Plata.

By plane

Inside the terminal at Carrasco International Airport

The   Montevideo Carrasco International Airport (IATA: MVD) is about 15 km east of the city center. There are flights to the airport from major South American cities as well as Miami, Madrid and Paris.

From the airport there are two kinds of buses to central Montevideo. The local buses, of which there is sparse information on the Internet and that for some reason do not show up in the city's route planner either go to an old bus station a few blocks north of Plaza Independencia. Tickets for these buses cost UYU31, and their stop is straight outside the airport entrance across two lanes.

More luxurious long-distance buses from the eastern part of the country take you to the central bus station Tres Cruces, and for those operated by the COT company a one-way ticket costs UYU134. As you exit the terminal, walk to the right, buy a ticket in the COT office (or you can buy it on board the bus) and walk further 20m forwards, where the stop for those buses is. Note that buses that go from Montevideo to the east of the country (and bring passengers from Tres Cruces to the airport) stop here as well, and you should better ask if the bus goes to Montevideo before boarding.

As of 2014 the tourist office in the airport reported that the fare for a taxi to central Montevideo is a hair-rising USD60.

Departure by plane

According to the airport's home page there is a USD40 departure tax for international flights, which can be paid cash in USD, UYU or by card. At the departures level between the check-in booths and the entrance to the security check there is indeed a booth that says "departure tax". As of May 2014, it looks like travelers leaving to Buenos Aires are not asked about the payment of said tax at any point so the fee is probably included in at least some tickets.

By boat

Another possibility for travelers who are heading to Montevideo from nearby Buenos Aires is to take the high-speed ferry operated by Buquebus. A one-way ticket, tourist class, costs about UYU 940 and takes about 2.5 hours. There are several boats a day. The ferry arrives in the   Ciudad Vieja district of Montevideo, situated very close to downtown - a cab ride to a hotel in El Centro or Pocitos is much shorter and cheaper than from the airport.

Grimaldi Lines offers transport by freighter from European ports, the journey taking several weeks. Montevideo is occasionally also visited by cruise ships.

By train

Currently there are no scheduled long-distance trains in Uruguay.

By bus

The platform area at the Tres Cruces bus terminal

Like the rest of Latin America, overland transportation is in practice synonymous with taking the bus. There are frequent buses to and from all main cities in Uruguay and from destinations in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay. The city's central terminal is called   Tres Cruces terminal after the district it is located in. Aside from being a full-fledged mall, it sports companies with fully-equipped buses that can take you anywhere in Uruguay and even into neighboring countries. All destinations, timetables and hours are available online. Tres Cruces is connected to the old town by the buses 180 and 188 among others. They have an excellent tourist office there as well.

If you are traveling from Brazil, you can reportedly almost halve the bus fare by not taking a direct bus but instead a Brazilian bus to Chuy, walk across the border and continuing to Montevideo by Urugayan bus.

Ferry service from Buenos Aires is also available via the same company Buquebus via Colonia. The ticket can include the bus to Montevideo from Colonia. This route is cheaper and about 1-2 hours longer than the direct crossing. The crossing from Buenos Aires to Colonia by fast ferry takes about one hour. The city of Colonia itself with its old buildings is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and certainly worth visiting. The bus ride from there to Montevideo's main bus terminal takes 2-3 hours and bus tickets cost around UYU188. One traveler paid UYU179 one-way to Colonia, about 2 to 3 hours. Efficient and on time.

By car

If you are driving into central Montevideo, be aware that many hotels do not have their own parking spaces and it can be challenging finding somewhere to park. Parking houses in the city charge per hour and long term parking is generally expensive. They do also not take responsibility for the cars parked there.

For those leaving from Porto Alegre, Brazil, there are two options: one that enters Uruguay via Chuí and another via Jaguarão. For both, you start by taking the route BR-116 up to Pelotas. Next, if you want to visit Chuí, the southernmost city of Brazil, or the Santa Teresa Fortress or even see the beautiful beaches of the coast of Uruguay, then, at Pelotas, take the route BR-392 to Rio Grande and next the route BR-471 all the way to Chuí. Takes about 6 hours and 30 minutes to go from Porto Alegre to Chuí. On June 6 of 2010 there were 5 tolls between those cities, a total of R$ 34.60 (it's important to note that they only accept Brazilian Real). Around 30 minutes after crossing the border, you can visit the Santa Teresa Fortress. An option is to stay a night at Punta del Diablo, in case you are too tired to keep driving to Montevideo. From Chuí to Montevideo, just stay on route 9. It takes about 4 hours and 30 minutes. Again, there are three tolls between Chuí and Montevideo, each cost UYU45. In this case, they do accept foreign money. However, it's strongly recommended that you pay in Uruguayan pesos, as they charge a lot more if you pay in reals or dollars.

If you want the fastest route to Montevideo (about 2 hours shorter than the first one), you should cross the border at Jaguarão. To reach this city, just stay in route BR-116. After that, take route 8 to Montevideo.

Get around

By bus

Buses at Plaza Independencia

Montevideo is not a large city and it boasts a very efficient public transportation system, so getting around is not difficult at all. If you are not bashful about your Spanish, feel free to ask people which bus route you need to take to get to your destination as it can be effective and cheap. If you know some Spanish, two websites similar to Google Maps are useful: Cómo ir and MontevideoBus. If you own an iPhone you can also use Bondi , it shows bus stops, lines and their arrival times, it's available in both spanish and english. Be aware that there are no route maps at the bus stops and the route layout for many lines are rather quirky. In addition the street signs can be hard to notice/don't exist at all at some intersections and the buses are packed at rush hours so non-locals should definitely research their routes well beforehand, especially if they aren't fluent in Spanish. Local buses are operated by several different companies, and there are differences in the fares - though most of the buses in the city center seemed to be operated by the company Cutcsa.

It is useful to know that if you choose to ride a bus, upon boarding you will pay either the driver or the assistant who sits on the right-hand side of the bus (door-side) a few seats from the entrance. There are quite a few ticket types, but the most common version is valid for one hour and for transfers. Ask for una hora (one hour), and hand over the fare (UYU26 as of February 2016). There is a small device that will dispense your receipt, make sure you hold on to it for the duration of your ride as sometimes government officials will board your bus checking for these receipts (making sure no one is riding unauthorized). Like many other major cities in the world also a system with preloaded cards called Tarjeta STM has been taken into use, and if you are staying for longer it may be practical to get such a card. Occasionally ticket sellers may ask whether you don't have a card if you pay cash.

If you are unsure where to get off you can always ask the driver or assistant to let you know when your stop is coming up and they'll be happy to comply. Just try to remain visible so they can tell you (though if the bus gets full and you're displaced to the back they'll yell out the street name). It is also important to note that you do not need to have the exact fare as the driver or the assistant carry change. Of course, expect disgruntlement if you pay with bills larger than UYU100.

By foot

The pedestrian street Perez Castellano in Ciudad Vieja

Montevideo is a relatively safe city and if you are getting around by foot, you will have time to see the beautiful architecture of Montevideo. The city is built on a slight hill, the spine of which extends into the Rio de la Plata to create the point that was the original city (Ciudad Vieja). From the Plaza de la Independencia, the main street that extends east from the plaza is 18 de Julio Ave. El Centro (downtown) is in this area and there will be lots of shops and places to change money.

If you are arriving at the central bus station you can walk south along General Artigas until Parque Rodo looking at old buildings. From there you can walk east along the beach promenade which reminds of Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro. Another alternative is to walk east from the bus terminal to Parque Batalle and its Estádio Centenário - the home of Uruguay's football team and site of the 1930 FIFA World Cup. A third alternative is to walk towards the city center and the old town along 18 de Julio, it's around 4 km to Plaza Independencia.

Separate traffic lights for pedestrians are rare, in general there is just one traffic light for all traffic. Jaywalking and crossing the street outside of zebra crossings is very common. Cars are fairly respectful of pedestrians especially in the old town and elsewhere where they drive slowly. On the other hand, you're not in Northern Europe, and at the Rambla where highway speeds seem to be common, stepping out in the front of cars is an utterly bad idea!

You can walk around without worry almost anywhere, and there are lots of side streets and areas you can explore: be aware that the port area, just off the main tourist and port terminal areas, is considered dangerous by locals as much as by the police. Parts of the city may appear run-down, but do not confuse this with it being a bad neighborhood. Along with Buenos Aires, this is one of the few cities in South America where poverty is not overly prevalent. That being said, there is simply not enough money in Uruguay to construct lots of new, modern buildings, so buildings are kept in use for long periods of time.

By taxi

Taxis are plentiful but not too cheap. It helps to know a little Spanish. A ten-minute cab ride costs about UYU100. Taxis are metered and upon the end of your ride you are shown a chart depicting distance and cost (though on some vehicles this chart will be on the window between you and the driver). Generally there are two fare schedules. The first is for Monday-Saturday from morning to mid-evening. The second fee schedule is for Sundays and late at night, and is slightly more expensive. Tipping is not expected, but you might round up to an even number to be polite. It is also not uncommon to sit on the front. If you are interested in a more private and secure option, you can hire a Transfer Service. This kind of services work with prior recruitment, often have wide range of vehicles and can be paid by credit card.

By car

Car rental is cheaper if booked ahead but be aware that places like the airport and the ferry terminal charge higher rates then the same agencies in other locations around the city. A few phone calls and a cheap taxi ride to a location other than the air or sea ports will save you half the rate for the same car at the same company. Gasoline costs around USD 2 per litre. If moving around by car, be aware that signs and lane markings are often poor or non existent, and it's hard to see how many lanes the street really has. Drivers often yield to pedestrians, and you should not drive to close to the car in front of you as it, even while driving at high speed, might suddenly brake to let a pedestrian cross.

By train

There's no rail traffic in the city itself. Administración de Ferrocarriles del Estado (AFE) operates local trains to suburbs and towns northwest of Montevideo in the departments of Canelones, San José and Florida. These trains depart from a terminal about 500 m north of the majestic former central station - Estación Central General Artigas - that was abandoned in 2003.

By bike

Less windy days are good for bike rides along the beach promenade. If something on your bike breaks, head for one of the Bicipuntos service points. Most city streets do not have designated bike lanes, so cycling around can be challenging, especially on weekdays. However a bike is a good way for getting around the parks in and around the city.

Bikes can be rented at reasonable rates at some hostels and at Plaza Matriz in the old town.

See

Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia
Estévez Palace

The Independence square is a symbol of Montevideo and lined by several prominent landmarks.

Ciudad Vieja

Probably half of what Montevideo has to offer visitors is concentrated in the area immediately west of Plaza Independecia — the old town.

Buildings and monuments

Inside the Montevideo cathedral

Museums

Carnival museum
Andes 1972 museum

Along Avenida 18 de Julio

Palacio Municipal

Sights located along or near Avenida 18 Julio from Plaza Independencia to the football stadium, in other words, the commercial center of Montevideo.

Buildings and monuments

Museums

Exhibits of the Football Museum

South and east

Sights located in the Parque Rodó and Punta Carretas districts and eastwards along the Rambla which features seemingly endless beaches.

Closeup of Punta Carretas lighthouse

Buildings and monuments

Museums

Parks

Parque Instrucciones del Año XIII, southern part of Parque Rodó

Districts

North and west

Sights north of central Montevideo. The area with most points of interest here would be Parque Prado and its surroundings with interesting residential buildings from the early 19th century.

Buildings and monuments

Palacio Legislativo

Museums

Parks

Llamas at the entrance to Parque Lecocq

Do

Estadio Centenario
Desfile de Llamadas, Montevideo carnival
Tango dance performance outside Mercado del Puerto

Events

Cultural events can be found at the Montevideo Cultura, Descubrí Montevideo and Cartelera.

Learn

Work

Foreigners are required to have a work permit, which reportedly is easy to get. Many native English speakers work as language teachers; however, the pay is not always good. As most Uruguayans do not speak anything but Spanish, Spanish proficiency is practically mandatory if you intend to work and live in the country.

Buy

Stores

Shopping malls

Punta Carretas shopping mall

Markets and fairs

Eat

Chivito
Asado - South American barbecue

What

Budget

Mid-range

Mercado del Puerto

A good selection of medium level restaurants are to be found in Pocitos and Punta Carretas in the south of the city.

Splurge

Drink

What

Thermos bottle, gourd with maté and bombilla

Where

Sarandi is the main street of the old town

There's a wide choice of places in Montevideo for going out for a drink. However, before midnight there is very little going on, and while bars are open before that you might be the only patron. In the old town it is not hard to find cafés and dance and music locals where you can experience the local culture. The street Bartolemé Mitre in the pedestrian area of the old town has plenty of cafés and bars to choose among, but prices tend to be higher than elsewhere in Montevideo. Many establishments have a happy hour and by good weather you can enjoy your drink outside. The streets of 25 de mayo (Bacacay) and Sarandi are pedestrianized and have a range of bars and restaurants with good atmosphere. A little bit to the east, the streets San Jose and Sariano run parallel to Avenida de 18 Julio. On both of those streets you can find good places to spend the night. Finally, district of Pocitos is also a popular place for drinking and partying with several popular bars.

Cafés

Bars and pubs

Night clubs

Sleep

Street sign in the old town

Many hotels in central Montevideo are dated and badly maintained, but this does not apply to all hotels there. The ones near Plaza Independencia are of high standard and popular among foreign dignitaries. Districts to find good hotels include Parque Rodó, Punta Carretas, Pocitos, Buceo, Punta Gorda and Carrasco.

In Uruguay it is not uncommon that hotel rooms are priced in American dollars.

Budget

If you're traveling on a shoestring it's advisable to pick hotels or hotels that are simpler equipped but better located and cheaper. Hostels do generally not have private rooms, only dormitories. Usually cooking and washing facilities are available, some hostels also have computers with Internet access and a TV room.

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Police officers and car in Parque Rodó

Security

Montevideo used to be safer before, however it is still a safe city compared to e.g. Brazilian cities. Pickpocketing occurs downtown so backpacks and handbags should preferably be worn so that you can see them.

The most secure neighbourhoods, according to a report from a realtor magazine, are Buceo, Pocitos, Punta Carretas and Parque Rodó, followed by Colón, the downtown, Sayago and Conciliación.

The old town outside the pedestrian area is considered dangerous after dark. This also applies to the beach promenade outside the old town. In the daytime there are frequent police patrols on old town's streets and many establishments have security guards standing outside the door. In the summer the beaches of Ramírez and Pocitos should be avoided at nighttime.

If you are an obvious foreigner you are more frequently targeted by beggars. However they aren't violent. Near attractions there are often people presenting themselves as "keepers" that allegedly will look after your parked car for a fee. Unlike in other places they reportedly don't ask for payment in advance and don't behave in an intimidating way.

Tourists are advised not to visit certain peripheral suburb neighbourhoods known for being sources of insecurity, such as 40 semanas, Barrio Borro, or the outskirts of Casabó. Although some of them are not slums at all, the level of crimes is higher than the downtown or the suburbs. The Cerro district west of the bay, famous for its fort, is also reportedly one of the districts you should not be wandering around in as a tourist and absolutely not alone, specially at night.

Drugs

Like elsewhere in Uruguay, the current maximum blood alcohol concentration tolerance level is 0.3 g/l. It's advised not to drive under the effects of alcohol. Also in Montevideo as well as the rest of the country, smoking is prohibited in public enclosed spaces. Violation of this policy may carry fines.

Regarding the legality of marijuana, possession for personal use is not penalized if it concerns minor quantities (a few grams). Possession of major quantities is illegal and punishable by law. Remember that the recent legalization of this drug as for the personal use (medicinal or recreational), sale or storage of the plant (~480 grams per year) is only for Uruguayan citizens of 18 years and above (natural or legal citizenship) with legal capacity. Likewise with alcohol, driving under the influence of marijuana is not allowed, and such breach may carry a fine.

Stay healthy

Fruit stand at the pedestrian street Perez Castellano

The city has several public and private hospitals. Among the publics, there are:

Among the private institutions, there are: Britain Hospital, Italian Hospital, Médica Uruguaya, Asociación Española, and some other minor ones. Also, there are many policlínicas (medical consultories) for minor cases around the city. The Hospital Policial and Hospital Militar are for the police and the armed forces respectively — these are not open to the public.

The emergency number is 104.

Connect

Cope

General

Embassies

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, March 30, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.