An October 2005 trip
to Montevideo by SeenThat
Quote: Its glorious early 20th-century architecture tells us the whole story: Montevideo was an important city a century ago. Nowadays, there are just the beaches.
The Palacio Legislativo, the parliament, is in a communist-sized roundabout and resembles Ceausescu's Palace in Bucharest, but on a smaller scale. The daily flag ceremonies performed at its entrance by the military a little before sunset will remind you that you are still in South America. The Plaza Independencia is the heart of the town and connects the Old City with its modern parts; on its eastern side is the shuttle-like Palacio Salvo, which, when built, was the tallest building in the subcontinent with its imposing 26 floors. The Mercado del Puerto, the port’s market, is a good place to buy souvenirs and taste the huge local beefsteaks. Sarandi, a walking street connecting Plaza Independencia with the Old City and river, is the commercial center of the town and a good place to shopping for local goods. The nearby Plaza Constitucion hosts the Iglesia Matriz and many cultural events. The 14km of beaches are connected through a beautiful promenade, locally known as the Rambla. Any street name beginning with Rambla signals a street by the river. The central Pocitos Beach is considered as one of the most beautiful.
As you exit the terminal, turn to the right and climb the stairs. You will see several stops of buses. Many of them lead to the center. If you are heading there, then the best thing is to leave the bus once you enter the Plaza Independencia, which will recognize by the huge statue of a cavalryman at its center.
Attraction | "Montevideo Beaches: Heaven’s Illusions "
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 11, 2007
Due to decentralization efforts in the late nineteenth century, Montevideo’s sights are spread around; yet the tour is worth the effort, since many of them are extraordinary, and not only in the South American context. However, the downtown area can be explored by foot and then be used to reach faraway sights with buses.
A logical place to begin is the port: Puerto de Montevideo by the Rambla 25 de Agosto 1825; if you do not have a map of the city, the Tourism Ministry’s Office there will be happy to provide you with one. As you begin walking away from the port, the places of interest will be:
El Mercado del Puerto (Port Market): less than a block away from the port, at the junction of Piedras and Yacare streets, is a wonderful market where you can taste the flavors of Uruguay from small “empanadas” (filled baked pastries) to massive “churrascos” (beefsteaks). The pedestrian street next to it hosts many stalls selling souvenirs and handicrafts. Afternoons and weekends are the best times for a visit.
Plaza Constitucion: to reach it, walk away from the port through Perez Castellano Street until you reach the corner with Sarandi. The last is a walking street that hosts much of the commercial activity in downtown; you will be pleasantly distracted in your way to the Plaza Constitucion, which is known as Plaza Matriz as well. The last name refers to its main landmark, the Iglesia Matriz (Matriz Church), on the corner with Ituzaingo Street. The cathedral was the city’s first public building and was erected in 1804. Across the square is El Cabildo (Town Hall), Juan Carlos Gómez 1362. Uruguay’s constitution was signed there and now it is a museum. The admission is free and it is open every day except Mondays. On Sunday mornings there is a flea market here as well as open tango shows.
Teatro Soliz: the street parallel to Sarandi to the south is Buenos Aires, there, on number 678 is the wonderful theatre and opera house. Among the artists who have performed here are Caruso, Toscanini, Sarah Bernhardt, and Twyla Tharp.
Plaza Independencia: looking to the north, you will see the main city square, Plaza Independencia. That is the limit between the Ciudad Vieja (Old City), which was enclosed behind walls, and the newer areas of Montevideo. The only testimony to the transition is the beautiful gate at the encounter of Sarandi Street with the plaza; its name is Puerta de la Ciudadela. On the plaza’s center is the very expected South American Horse Rider statue. The tallest building in the city (and in the country) is the Palacio Salvo, with its peculiar shuttle-like structure. It was built between 1923 and 1928 and its 26 floors and 120 meters height transformed it at the time into the tallest building in Latin America.
Av. 18 de Julio: it joins the plaza at its eastern side and is Montevideo’s main avenue. Beyond the hectic activities, you can find the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Av. 18 de Julio 965, 2nd Floor, which is dedicated to contemporary Uruguayan art. From the nearby Plaza Fabini, begins a huge diagonal avenue called Lavalleja (Laa-vaa-shae-haa) from where you can catch a bus to the Plalacio Legislativo. Further east on the avenue is Plaza Cagancha, which hosts several typical restaurants, and beyond it the Palacio Municipal (Municipality). Where Av. 18 de Julio intersects with Av. Santiago de Chile, there is a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David.
Plalacio Legislativo: the most grandiose building in town, the parliament was built between 1908 and 1925. It was built away from the downtown in an attempt to expand the city, nearby is the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Carmen. The building is in a communist sized roundabout and curiously resembles Ceausescu's Palace in Bucharest, but in a smaller scale. The daily flag ceremonies performed at its entrance by the military a little before sunset will remind you that you are still in South America: a military regime ruled the country for a long period.
Tres Cruces Terminal: from Av. 18 de Julio, take any bus with the Tres Cruces signs to get there. The terminal is placed along Boulevard Artigas in a pleasantly green area.
Parque Rodo: the main green area of the town can be reached by bus from Av. 18 de Julio, or by any bus traveling south from the terminal through Boulevard Artigas. It is a very well designed park with a glorious beach, Playa (plaa-shaa) Ramirez. It is the perfect place to end your tour, and you can return to the center just by walking west through the promenade.
Shopping Malls: Punta Carretas Shopping Center is the most fashionable mall, at Calle Ellauri and Solano, next to the Sheraton hotel and somewhat away from downtown. Montevideo Shopping Center, Av. Luis Alberto de Herrera 1290, is close to Playa Pocitos, one of the best beaches in town, and to the Puerto del Buceo. It was the first mall in the city and it is the biggest as well. It offers free pick-up and return service from the main hotels.
Punta del Este is just a couple of hours by bus to the east of Montevideo. Its name means Eastern Point and hints to the main characteristic of the town, which is built on a short peninsula placed at the exact point of the meeting between the Rio de la Plata (Plate River) and the Atlantic Ocean. The result is the most thrilling beach resort in the southern cone of the subcontinent: rich Brazilians and Argentineans completely crowd the town during the summer season. Its unusual geography leads to a striking characteristic: the southern side of the peninsula has a beach called Playa Mansa, with hot and sweet water, while its northern side has a cold and salty water beach called Playa Brava. Walking along the promenade (Rambla General Artigas), you can choose your splashing style: hot river water is the best for a chilly morning, while the cold water from the ocean will cool you down in a hot afternoon.
You can get a map loaded with local information at the tourist office located at the west end of Inzaurraga Street. Many souvenirs are available at the Feria Artesanal, which is active every evening on Plaza Artigas. The main commercial street is Avenida Juan Gorlero, which hosts many pizzerias and cafes that offer the best economical meals in town.
From the yacht harbor you can take a boat every half-hour to Isla Gorriti, which has sandy beaches, and, with a special appointment, to Isla de Lobos, home to many fur seals. Since this is an exclusive location, a backpacker on tight budget must plan its way carefully. There are no cheap accommodations in the town, but you can overcome the problem in a couple of ways. The simplest one is returning to Montevideo at the end of the day; in such a way, you can leave your luggage and travel light.
The other option is more interesting if you are heading for Brazil: you can take a bus from Punta del Este to the town of Rocha, farther east, and from there you can take a local bus to La Paloma, 28km southeast, by the Atlantic Ocean. La Paloma is a tiny Punta del Este for locals searching for beaches facing the ocean but unattracted to the overwhelming crowds of its big sister. Backpackers will feel at home in their inexpensive guesthouses. Rocha offers good value guesthouses as well, and from there you can follow to Chuy, the border cross to Brazil.
The Portuguese, who needed a port along the Rio de la Plata, founded Colonia in 1680. Nowadays it is an essential stop to everyone visiting Uruguay. The capture of the city in 1762 by the Spaniards lead to its hybrid look: the streets are not arranged in the typical grid of most cities along the river, but follow the irregular shape typical of the Portuguese towns, despite that most of the whitewashed houses in the old quarter are built in the typical Spaniard Colonial style.
The old quarter highlights include the Puerta de Campo, which is the original Portuguese gate to the city, built in 1745; the Portuguese Museum by the Plaza Mayor; and the Spaniard Museum on San Jose Road, just next to the old pier. The museums are open from noon until 6pm. Nevertheless, the true highlights are the streets themselves, which take you effortlessly a couple of centuries back into an era long forgotten elsewhere. The fact that there are no cars in the narrow cobbled streets of the Old Quarter strongly contribute to that magical feeling.
To see the famous perfectly preserved vintage cars of the Uruguayans, you must exit its limits for the sake of the nearby commercial quarter and the pier leading to Argentina. The small modern town spans for a few kilometers along the coast to the north. The main point of interest of the new town is the Real de San Carlos, a huge quasi-destroyed bullring that was never used. By the new pier there are many motorcycles for rent; a day rental costs $4. In the same place there are many touts offering rooms in guesthouses next to the Old Quarter. Most rooms cost $5 per night, and there is no extra cost for the tout's work: the same price will be offered if you arrive without them. A typical basic room costs $5 per night. As with all Uruguayan coasts, Colonia is quite a windy place, so you should bring adequate clothing.
Colonia can be reached as a day trip from Montevideo or approached as a stop on the way out of the country towards Buenos Aires. A bus to Montevideo costs some 140URP and the way is almost 3 hours. The buses leave at 5:00 (Mo), 06:20, 09:30, 12:00 (except Su), 14:00 (except Su), 16:00, 18:00, and 20:00. In the opposite direction, the timetable is similar with departures half an hour later. The Buquebus Hydrofoil fast line to Buenos Aires costs 720URP and leaves at 9:15, 17:30, and 21:00; the trip takes about 1 hour. The slow line costs 420URP, takes almost 3 hours, and leaves at 04:30 and at 19:30. The Buquebus has a good cafeteria, which helps to comfortably pass the trip. Therefore, eating a heavy meal before the departure is not recommended; the prices aboard are only slightly higher than those on the coast. At the same counter where the Buquebus tickets are sold, by the pier, you can buy tickets for the Lancha Carmelo. Using this option, you travel first 85km to the north by bus and then cross the narrower Uruguay River with a speed boat to Tigre in Argentina. From there you can continue to Buenos Aires by bus or train (this is the only public train still in use in Argentina). This option is cheaper with a 261URP one-way ticket, or 437URP for a return ticket. It leaves daily at 2:30pm, and the only drawback is the landing place in Argentina, which is considered somewhat dangerous. Very conveniently, the Uruguayan and Argentinean immigration are placed on the Buquebus departing hall; thus you get both stamps on the same spot.
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