Eleven years ago, on a cold winter day, standing at the ferry terminal in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I had the opportunity to go to Montevideo, Uruguay for a day. I pondered and thought that perhaps it wasn’t worth the hassle, so I declined. Soon after, I lived to regret that, for when would I have a chance to go to a country like Uruguay ever again?
Sometimes in life, we are lucky enough to get a second chance. All these years later, the opportunity presented itself yet again; this time, I would not miss it. With one week to travel around southern South America, I made sure that I would see the destinations that I missed the first time, particularly the alluring city of Montevideo.
There are two ways to get into Montevideo, via a ferry from Buenos Aires or by plane. Coming from Chile, the only realistic option was an airplane. The flight was approximately two hours, my first trip on LATAM airlines. I was impressed, but this may be because I was in premium economy. For such passengers, there is a special check-in and immigration area, as well as access to a VIP lounge in the Santiago, Chile airport.
The Montevideo airport is quaint, modern, and clean. It looks quite new and isn’t very large, so it’s an easy airport to navigate and quite nice overall. The one issue is that it is quite far outside the city itself. The taxi “mafia” has a monopoly on the airport, so rates are extraordinarily expensive.
However, I managed to use Uber, and got an excellent driver Alejandro (+598 94 499 744) who extended our ride and showed us the coastline, known as Rambla, and sites within the city as well. This was an unexpected surprise, and welcome since I otherwise probably would not have seen these sites. The most interesting one was the house of soccer star Diego Forlan, a nice pink two story home in front of the beach.
I was stunned to see that one area of Montevideo, where the hotels meet the shore, looks identical to Rio De Janiero. The image is unbelievably similar, and now I understand why many of the tourists here are Brazilian; Montevideo is a safer but similar looking alternative.
The next stop on the unplanned city tour was the local sports stadium, Estadio Centenario. The stadium actually houses a sports museum as well on site. Only later did I realize that this is one of the legendary stadiums of soccer. Uruguay is historically one of the better soccer teams in the world, with two World Cup titles to its name, and more recently a strong finish in 2010 as well.
After this, it was off to the centro. This was a rotunda of sorts, an ovular shaped roundabout with monuments in the middle. This looked different than the normal center of Latin American cities, as it didn’t have a plaza with a huge church; as a result there weren’t many people sitting in the area. However, this also may have been since it was a cold, rainy day. Nearby was the theatre, but it was closed on this particular day.
After a brief stop at the hotel to drop luggage, the driver let me off at a restaurant called El Palenque. Though Palenque means swordfish in Spanish, the dish to have here was obviously steak. The steak I ordered was gargantuan, and fed me for the day. It was probably the best tasting steak I’ve had in my entire life. It’s not my style to go to upscale restaurants but in this case it was worth it.
After this, it was a walk to the hotel through Ciudad Vieja, or old city in Spanish. This was quite a treat, as there was stunning architecture left and right, along with beautiful greenspaces as well. This was totally unexpected, I knew Montevideo would be somewhat similar to Buenos Aires but I was truly impressed by everything I saw here.
All in all, it was worth the trip, not just for redemption, but because the city was worthy of a visit and beat my expectations. If I had a future chance to come back to Uruguay, I would check out Punta del Este, a beach resort city with colonial architecture, sculptures, and the white Santorini-esque building known as Casapueblo. Perhaps there will be a next time yet again.