About this site
Without overlooking the main tourist attractions of Montevideo, this site addresses those who take to exploring and walking around, those with an eye for detail, and those who are looking for a more personal contact with this place. Apart from trips to the most known sights, I
wish to share with them trips to more out of the way and scenic places, topics that relate to some special interests, especially architecture, Montevideo being a magnet of attraction for this field of interest, but also any information that can be useful for organizing in the most efficient way their time spent visiting.
For those who may not get the chance to visit Montevideo or who may not have time to stroll all over its many areas, I am including plenty of photographic material taken during my long walks and explorations.
The people here
In general lines, the people have a Mediterranean character, they are simple, kind, though rather more calm than most Mediterraneans. In their greatest part they are descendants of Spanish, Italian, French and German early immigrants, while during the immigration waves of the 20th century, there arrived many more from other European countries, Armenia, Russia, Lebanon, as well as Jews from many parts of the world.
The feeling and style of life here is distinctly western european, with great tolerance for all minorities. Whereas poverty is present, the quality of life is probably the best in Latin America. Quite noticeable is the absence of nationalistic or sexist chauvinism. Instead, a healthy dose of self-criticism is present.
Wherever we turn our attention, we see old ornate decorations and in some places we find modern creations of craftsmanship that indicate good taste and high talent. In my opinion, this shows a very creative and talented people in wait for better times.
The cultural background and philosophy
A brief historical overview of Montevideo in English can be found in Wikipedia (click here). After the major historical developments of the 19th century and the arrival of many immigrants from Europe during the first half of the 20th century, the city underwent great expansion and prosperity. The reformist politician and twice President of the Republic, José Batlle y Ordóñez (1903-1907 & 1911-1915) supported the rights of workers and women and turned the country into one of the most economically and politically stable and progressive in Latin America. The separation of state from church, the right to divorce even only by the will of the woman and voting rights to women were forefront steps in South America.
The very popular essayist José Enrique Rodó (1872-1917) called the youth of Latin America to reject materialism, to move towards freedom of thought and the culture of inner enrichment of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and to develop a culture of their own, avoiding the life of specialization and routine required by the western lifestyle. The Parque Rodó area of Montevideo is named after him.
His contemporary philosopher, writer and academic Carlos Vaz Ferreira (1872-1958), leaving behind him the doctrine of Positivism, which he had originally accepted (and which marginalizes all metaphysics, especially Ontology, while raising scientific method to the level of a new religion), turned to the good aspects of Pragmatism and, giving Ontology a place, brought a balance between the values of science and philosophy.
The social and economic prosperity of the country, however, received a hard blow by the military dictatorship of 1973-1985. The "best brains" and talents in most fields left the country, many poor peasants were forced to move to the city, raw violence and the disappearance of many persons wounded the people's integrity and terrorized them. In addition to this, the 21st century economic crisis of the Rio de la Plata area has hurt badly most aspects of life. Today, although there are indications of an economic recovery, the distance from the prosperous past is immense.
Impressions from the streets
The most prominent sight in the streets is people drinking maté, in winter and summer alike. They seem to be smoking a strange pipe with a fat bowl, but actually they are drinking a tea made of finely chopped leaves of the maté tree, called yerba. This is placed in a fat bowl made from the dried shell of a type of gourd, in which hot water keeps being added from a thermos held under the arm. From the maté bowl starts a metallic drinking straw, the bombilla, with a flattened and pierced lower part, which acts as a filter.
One of the first scenes from the street traffic that will attract your attention is the omnipresence of persons holding a red stick, or just wearing a fluorescent yellow or orange plastic vest, who direct or assist parking cars. For their self-appointed services, which normally include keeping an eye on the cars during the absence of the owners, they are usually given 5 pesos. The next scene is jugglers and other street performers. They display their skills when traffic lights turn red, during fairs, in weekend street markets and other public places.
Recycling in Montevideo takes the form of a cart, drawn by horse or by hand, having stopped in front of a garbage container, with its owner in and out of the container collecting plastic bottles, cardboard, glass, and whatever else happens to have some price in the market. There are many homeless people, whose blankets and cardboard you will see in recesses, somewhat out of the pedestrians' way, protecting them from the rain.
The seasons and some special days
The geographic latitude of Montevideo is N 34º 50/55'. In correlation to the north hemisphere, it would be slightly south of Memphis, Tennessee, in the USA, or slightly offshore south Crete, in Europe. The duration of sunshine and the strength of the summer sun is relevant, if we allow six months difference. The north hemisphere mid-August, for example, corresponds to the 15th of February here, when the summer high season ends. Winter is not Mediterranean-like. Although snow and ice are rare phenomena, the moisture in combination with temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) is quite piercing, while the so-called "little summers" (hot intervals during winter) start and end abruptly and many people catch colds.
Apart from the internationally known holidays there are some special days of purely local origin, as well as some imported ones. The Night of Nostalgia (La Noche De La Nostalgia) is a purely local special night. It falls on the 24th of August, on the eve of the anniversary of Independence. It is a night during which all the night clubs and restaurants play music of the old times, hold special shows and everyone goes dancing. The Día Del Patrimonio is an Open Doors Day cultural event inspired by the 1984 La Journée Portes Ouvertes of France. Actually all EU countries have agreed to follow Heritage Day since 1991. It is a weekend during which people get the opportunity to visit public and private buildings of special interest which are not normally open to the public.
Setting up base and moving around
If you don't have a place to stay and your choice of a hotel is for $50 - $60 per day, the following are the best recommended ones: the Hotel Palacio (review) in the Old City, the Sur Hotel (review) and the Hotel Iberia (review) in the Bario Sur, as well as the Hotel Tres Cruces (review) in Tres Cruces. Staying in the Old City is practical if you intend to spend time visiting its museums, art galleries, neoclassical buildings, the traditional but usually crowded grill-rooms of the Mercado del Puerto and the Flea Market. It is also the area of the city nightlife, though strolling around the port area after nightfall is a most unsafe activity. Staying in the Bario Sur places you between Avenue 18 De Julio and the Rambla, the famous seaside walkway of Montevideo. Staying in Tres Cruces places you out of the big tourist commotion and closer to the long-distance bus terminal, which is in the Tres Cruces Shopping.
There are many bus companies in Montevideo. You will see city buses with names like Cutcsa, Copsa or Coetc. Unfortunately, a printed plan for all the city bus courses is not available at present. There is, however, a practical query site in Spanish: (click) here. Click on a point in the map and then on "Marcar Origen" to mark the place you wish to take the bus from, then click on another point on the map and then on "Marcar Destino" to mark your destination. Finally click on "Buscar Recomidos" to get a list of the buses which will take you there. To find the return path, click on the "Intercambiar Origen y Destino" and then again on the "Buscar Recorridos". As of 5th Sep. 2015, the common fare is 26 pesos (ask for "común"), in few express lines it is 42 and if you move within a limited area of the centre it is 19 pesos ("céntrico").
A taxi will drop its flag for 32.84 pesos (daytime) or 39.41 pesos (nocturnal) and charge you slightly over 49 pesos per km. during daytime. From 22:00 to 6:00 (nocturnal), as well as Sundays and holidays the tariff is 20% higher. A 5 km. ride (3.11 miles) during daytime is estimated around 280 pesos, with a tariff unit of 1.91.
Some necessary precautions
Certain precautions are considered good for your safety while visiting Montevideo. As in many other cities around the world, there are cases of robberies here, as well. You may soon notice that all windows and many doors are protected by bars. When people go to sleep, they don't leave their cars in the street. When commuting, people don't display signs of luxury.
Apart from some areas, it is not considered safe to walk around alone during the night hours, while in a few areas, like the Hipodromo, it is said to be dangerous during the day, as well. Unless you are going around with an organized touring group, do not wear expensive jewelry, dress simply and generally don't attract attention to your person. Also do not use cash machines in isolated areas.
To shoot photos during a hike, it is wise to use a simple looking pocket camera. All the pictures you see here in reduced size (apart from the historical ones), I have shot with a Sony W80, which, although a good sample of its class, it does have many limitations. In case you have higher quality requirements and wish to use bigger and more expensive cameras, it would be best to organize you photo-safari with company.
In case you choose to drive a car, remember that traffic lights are placed in the opposite side of the street from the spot you have to stop. Even in diagonal street conjunctions, you should be looking across the junction for the traffic lights. In junctions with traffic lights, a left turn from a two-way street is forbidden, unless there is a left turn traffic light regulating it.
This is a map of Montevideo in 1867, when Villa de la Victoria and Cosmopolis (now Villa del Cerro) were independent settlements outside the city.
Map of Montevideo of the first part of the 20th century.
Modern map of the city.
Map showing the distribution of people living under the limit of poverty in the various areas of Montevideo in 2006.
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