Major Port and Uruguayan Capital, this City Charms
While Buenos Aires hollers boisterously across the bay, Montevideo merely whispers confidently. It is this polite welcome that entices travellers to this enchanting city.
Where better to start the day than at the beating heart of Montevideo, the Avenida 18 de Julio? Tree-lined and adorned with banks, shops, cafes, allow yourself to be swept along by the tides of harassed workers. Before reaching the Plaza de Independencia, stop by the Gaucho Museum next to the Plaza Fabini. What the museum lacks in exhibits it makes up for in a brief glimpse into of what must have been. By the grandeur of the internal organs of this dramatic 19th Century Franco Italian masterpiece complete with original plasterings, woodwork and ceilings one gets an idea of colonial Montevideo.
A few blocks beyond in the Plaza de Independencia with its imposing statue and mausoleum of the father of Uruguayan independence, Jose Artigas, gaze at the folly that comes in the shape of the Edificio Salvo, both once a hotel and South America’s tallest building, it now represents a fading decadence and has been split into private residences.
Catch a taxi from the Plaza de Independencia and head East up past the Centenario Stadium, home to Uruguay’s proud history as a founding father of the Latin American style of football, don’t stop and keep going to the Cerro at the far western end of Montevideo.
At 139m high this is no immense peak to scale. It is however the highest point in the city and the place from which the City gets its name. From here you can make out old the old town, the port, the new residential districts and the bustling downtown hub. The fortress here has some good information regarding the struggles for independence and the various factions that were involved in the tug of war for trade dominance in the region.
Before heading back downtown and while on this side of the city it would be well worth a trip to the Blanes Museum to see some of Uruguay’s greatest works of art housed in yet another astounding 19th century mansion.
A long lunch that extends late into the afternoon is of course de riguer. Cab it down the rambla boardwalk that extends along the waterfront of the city, passing the well preened sandy beaches of Ramirez, La Estacada and Los Pocitos until you reach the Puerto del Buceo alongside the Uruguay Yacht club. Feast on the freshly caught and prepared seafood at the friendly and unpretencious El Italiano restaurant.
A well deserved siesta is in order after a short stroll along the rambla. Recharge those batteries in preparation for the long afternoon and evening ahead.
It’s back to the Plaza de Independencia to take in the magnificence and decaying elegance of the Ciudad Vieja. The old centre and port area has been home to wealth and squalor since its conception. Consider that 5 years ago the streets were plagued by rabid dogs and piles of uncollected refuse, the gentrification and refurbishment has been astounding. It’s a short stroll to the Plaza de la Constitucion, the oldest square in Montevideo and home to the Cathedral.
Continue past the chic boutiques, trendy loft conversions and avant-garde galleries along the Sarandi pedestrian area and downhill along Ituzaingo street for a well earned coffee at the Café Brasileiro for a taste of the old world. With high wooden paneled walls, mirrors and comfortable unstuffy atmosphere, the courteous waiters attend to a clientele who have possibly been frequenting this locale for the better part of their lives.
Two blocks on is the Plaza Zabala strong>, so named after the founder of the city. Feed your inner shopaholic and buy from the painfully hip and original boutiques along the Sarandi. Check out the Neo Classical Teatro Solis and the arts and crafts stalls along the way. Be wary of the horse-drawn carts and bichicomes rag and bow men in this area, they stop for nobody.
Head back to your hotel for another break and rest period before the long night ahead of you. Have no fear, you will be returning to the stunning Ciudad Vieja as Montevideo’s fashionable nightlife happens here.
To dine lightly at the Mercado del Puerto is in itself an impossibility. Choose a restaurant from an array of high quality places, devour Uruguayan beef, soak up the live music of the dueling Gaucho guitarists and feel your stomach wince at the size of the favoured Uruguayan grill, including cuts of beef, blood sausage, chorizo, lamb, tripe and peppers.
Before entering a club, pause along the side streets to see if a candombe drum group is practicing with the resonant chico, rapique or bajo drums. They should not be hard to find as the echoes and vibrations rock the very foundations of the Old Town. Dinner having settled, hit a local boliche or club to dance the night
away Uruguayan style.
Getting out of Montevideo
Hit the Beach at Punta del Diablo