Before we left Buenos Aires, people kept telling us we shouldn’t spend a week in Montevideo because there’s nothing to do there. If they’re talking about nightlife and comparing it to Buenos Aires, they might be right; however, we have loved having time to explore.
We spent the week in a funny sort of hostel we found on AirBnB. We chose it over the other most promising option because the other one mentioned they had cats. We decided we shouldn’t spend a week in a place where Eric would suffer from allergies… only to show up and find two cats and two dogs in the hostel. It turns out this one also mentioned the animals but it was in Spanish and Eric couldn’t read it. 😂 The hostel was very airy with a huge sun roof and floor-to-ceiling windows that were often open, so the cat allergies were mostly kept at bay. Our private room was in the front of the hostel and didn’t have a key which was not much of a problem except that the dogs could push the door open and then get stuck inside. After one such episode in which Feli pee-pooped on the floor of our room and the straps of Jess’s backpack (she loved that!), we rigged up a string to tie the door closed when we were out and about. The openness of the hostel posed only one other small challenge: mosquitoes. Although we never saw or heard any mosquitoes, they found Jess. She got fed up after three bites the first night and installed the mosquito net we brought from home. Sleeping inside a net took a little getting used to but made a huge difference.
After our excesses in Argentina, we were determined to reign in our spending a bit and get back in line with our $100 per day budget. More to come on our budget in a later post. Luckily, Montevideo made this pretty easy as there are tons of free things to do around the city. Here’s how we entertained ourselves for a week:
Feria de Tristán Narvaja: We kicked off our time in Montevideo by visiting a large street market that occurs on Sundays and seems to sell just about everything. Besides fruit and vegetable stands, butchers, cheese mongers and egg vendors every few feet, we saw birds, puppies, bathing suits, toothpaste, and multiple aquariums with frogs and fish for sale. We’re pretty sure if you were looking for something, you could find it.
Candombe: On Sunday evening, we went out in search of candombe which is a drumming music with accompanying dance. It was originally created as a method of communication by African slaves brought to the slave port of Montevideo and has been part of Uruguayan culture for more than 200 years. It is now recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage of humanity.
After wandering around in circles for two and a half hours looking for drumming, it turns out the Candombe group passes by our hostel!! We caught up to them a few blocks before and then went up on the roof of our hostel to watch.
Free Walking Tour MVD: On Monday, we joined a free walking tour offered every day in English, Portuguese and Spanish unless it’s raining. The tour guides are paid only in tips and do a great job explaining some of the history and culture of Uruguay. See our post here about some of the history we learned about on our tour.
Museo de Artes Decorativas (Museum of Decorative Arts): we popped into this free museum on our way back from the old town. Downstairs is an archaeological exhibition of Greek, Roman, and Iranian pottery. Upstairs are two floors of what was originally the house of a wealthy Montividean family, Ortiz de Taranco, exhibiting art and furniture.
Sunset on the Rambla:
The Rambla is the long coastal road that wraps around Montevideo. The view of the sunset over the ocean from the Rambla is beautiful and the sun seems to set very quickly once it’s time for it to do so. On Monday, sunset was at 7:59pm.
Central Cemetery of Montevideo: Tuesday was incredibly hot, so we wandered through one of the most important cemeteries in Uruguay. It was originally constructed outside the city to avoid the spread of disease but is now totally surrounded by the metropolitan area. The layout of the cemetery in Montevideo is very different from the one in Buenos Aires which was primarily large mausoleums. Most of the plots in this cemetery are flat slabs of marble decorated with statues.
Playa Ramirez: After the cemetery, we decided to check out the beach. The lifeguard shack was flying two flags, a green one and a red one with a green cross. The green one means “fit for bathing” and the other one means “unsanitary bathing conditions”, so we’re not really sure what it means when both are up. The water was a bit murky, but after sitting on the sand in the heat being stared at by small children who appeared to think Jess was an alien in her big hat and sunglasses, we decided to brave the water. Playa Ramirez is very shallow for a long time, and we were able to walk for quite a while without the water reaching our belly buttons. Eric got bored and dove in and reported that the water wasn’t that salty which we think is because water from the Uruguay river is mixing with the ocean water there.
Party at Flower Island: The owner of the hostel we were staying at, Andres, hosted a roof-top party with a DJ, a cash bar, and an awesome wood-fire grill filled with meat. As guests of the hostel, we could attend the party without paying the 150 peso cover, so we spent some time enjoying the atmosphere on the roof. The party officially started at 8pm, but by 9:20pm there was still hardly anyone there. We are not sure if the party every really got going because the music stopped at midnight, but it had great potential.
Teatro Solis: The theater offers free guided tours on Wednesdays in English, Spanish and Portuguese. We arrived for the 11am tour and were given an almost private tour in English by two tourism students who were giving the tour for the first time. They were pretty nervous, but they did a great job. The theater is not as grand as the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, but it’s still beautiful. And the morning tours come with a special treat we didn’t get in BsAs. While we were in the main auditorium and the tourism students were explaining the details of the ceiling, two theater students started a performance for us.
Museo del Vino: We read about the Museum of Wine in a blog of things to do in Montevideo. Despite its name, it’s not a museum; it’s a bar that hosts a variety of live music events on Thursdays and Fridays and allegedly a milonga on Wednesday nights. Milongas are events where people go to dance tango. Thinking we were going to watch some locals dance tango over a glass of wine, we arrived at 9pm to find a mostly empty bar except for three couples taking tango lessons. They were quite advanced tango dancers, so in that sense, we got what we were looking for; however, they left around 10:30pm, and we were left finishing our bottle of tannat in a now otherwise completely empty bar.
Fortaleza del Cerro de Montevideo (Fortress on the Hill of Montevideo): On Thursday, we decided to explore a little further afield by taking the bus. See our post here about figuring it out. The hill is the highest point in Montevideo which, with a height of about 135 meters, is not very tall. However, it still has a pretty good view of the city, and we found a great shady spot to drink some maté and play cribbage while attempting to photograph birds and butterflies. The fortress contains a military museum which we did not enter because our next destination was the Museo Blanes.
Museo de Bellas Artes Juan Manuel Blanes: We took another bus to the museum, which is also free. The museum is small, but it has four exhibits, two of which are permanent and two of which are temporary. One of the temporary exhibits, Teresa Vila, had opened just 36 hours before we saw it. In the permanent exhibition of Juan Manuel Blanes is the painting of the Oath of the 33 Orientals which refers to the 33 revolutionaries who fought against Brazil ultimately resulting in the founding of Uruguay.
Behind the museum, there is a small Japanese garden which you can enter for free. The garden has beautiful flowers, a Japanese tea house, stepping stones and a variety of bridges. It feels very calm and relaxing.
Inaugural Carnaval Parade: By coincidence, our stay in Montevideo overlapped with the start of Uruguay’s 40-day carnaval, so we caught the parade which was filled with samba dancers, candombe groups, and these incredible flag bearers who wave enormous flags and try to get them to fall over the crowd like parachutes.
Humedales de Santa Lucia (Saint Lucia wetlands): On Friday, we again took the bus, this time to the Humedales which are about 20km outside Montevideo in a small town called Santiago Vazquez. There is a boardwalk path that crosses the marshy wetlands which are free to explore. The basin fills with water when Southern winds push water into it. On Friday, the water level was very low because the winds were coming from the North. That meant we could see lots of little crabs scuttling across the mud into their little holes. When we got to the end of the boardwalk, one of the caretakers told us that the wetlands were very muddy, and besides, since it was cloudy, we wouldn’t see very many birds in the wetlands. He suggested we turn around and walk through the woods instead. We found a look-out tower and a path through the woods that led us to many butterflies, lots of squawking parrots, and a beautiful grassy spot for lunch, maté, and cribbage which Jess won, FINALLY!
In between each of these activities, we admired Montevideo’s street art which might rival Buenos Aires’.
All of these activities cost us less than $35 including the cost of the buses and our $12 bottle of wine. All in, including food and hostel, we spent an average of $64.87 per day and we don’t feel like we missed out on anything. Eric calls that “pretty much a success!” Now we’re off to Termas de Daymán in Northern Uruguay on an overnight bus to check out the thermal baths.