MVMT's new Montevideo Page
Nick-named America’s Switzerland, the small, independent country of Uruguay is known for the sense of personal and financial security shared by its people. In fact, Montevideo is ranked among Latin American capitals with the lowest crime rate. The government focuses intensely on preserving economic stability and, therefore, maintaining public support.
The climate and topography attract visitors from all over the globe to bask in sunshine and marvel at beautiful beaches, mountains, rivers and lush, vibrant foliage and flora.
Just as Switzerland isn’t limited to the Alps, cuckoo clocks or numbered bank accounts, Uruguay has lots more to offer. With its rich culture, history and variation in pace and setting, Uruguay has an aspect to enchant everyone. Uruguay is not only a tranquil oasis but a country thriving in business and the arts.
Montevideo, the capital, has 1.5 million inhabitants, 44% of the country’s total population. It is a great city, rich with culture and history. Its beauty is enhanced by the warmth and friendliness of the people. Visitors are delightfully surprised with the generosity and willingness extended by natives of Montevideo.
The Old City. The Old City of Montevideo seems lodged in another time. With customs and architecture from a bygone era, this original section of the city calls to the camera. In the center, the Hotel Plaza Fuerte evidences characteristics of the past. Visitors are charmed by its decor and views of the city. In Montevideo, visitors are often surprised and delighted to discover that the city still retains the disposition and feel of an intimate village. First time guests must complete the walking tour that begins at Plaza Independencia Square and stretches up the street of Sarandí, by the legendary café Tupi Namba, frequently visited by writer Jorge Luis Borges, and the Torres García Museum. Up ahead is an alley where an old bookseller sells texts long out of print. El Cabildo, the Cathedral and Saturday’s antiques fair completes the tour. Nearby is Cafe Brasileño, a good place to meet and to take photographs and ask for autographs of the rich and famous. One block down is the Junta Departmental building with its Gothic-style facade and wooden balconies.
Dockside Markets: Walk to the Central Market by the docks, one of the favorite activities in Montevideo. Similar in structure to the old European markets, the dockside marketplace hosts a 24-hour pageant. Street musicians, artisans and painters peddle their wares. Among the smells are the aromas of classic "parrillada" barbecue, seafood, and the sandwich "chivito", with grilled beef, bacon, pimentos and mozzarella. Among the bars and cafés, the most famous is Fun Fun, open since 1895, and hailed for "la Uvita", the house drink. The neighborhood erupts in celebration on December 31 at noon, when locals mark the end of the year eating, drinking and dancing in the streets.
The Belle Epoch: Another walk leads visitors through the sights and monuments of Montevideo’s history. Up the street from the Teatro Solís theater, built from 1842-1856, the "Torre de los Panoramas" or Panoramic Tower, home of modernist poet Julio Herrera y Reissig, stands Uruguay’s first Anglican church. Down the street of Sarandí, see the great view of Montevideo Hill, which guards the bay.
Following Washington Street to Plaza Zabala square provides a beautiful portrayal of Uruguayan history. Rich architecture surrounds and awes. A short walk away is the Parque del Prado, a vast forest that remains largely undeveloped except for a few magnificent homes and Las Carmelitas church built in Gothic style. Further down, the Botanical Gardens are home to 1,000 species of indigenous flora. There, high society once met in the Rose Garden (El Rosedal). Further down is the mansion of Juan Manuel Blanes (1830-1901), now a museum dedicated to the fundamentally Americanistic painter. Blanes’ key works focused mainly on the history of Uruguay, Argentina and Chile and important characters of the times.
Carrasco: One cannot visit Montevideo without driving to the town of Carrasco. The traditional hotel is flanked by the marble statuary that was discovered in 1916, and serves as a monument to traditional customs and decor. Among the famous statues are La Vendimia, El Acecho and La Espina.
In the center of town is the Plaza de la Armada and further, toward the beach, is the Dámaso Larrañaga Zoological Museum. Originally founded as a bar, the site was also once dedicated to cabaret before becoming a museum devoted to oceanography and fishing.
The Aduana de Oribe customs building, famous during the siege of Montevideo (1843-1851), offers a magnificent view of the Bay of Puerto de Buceo. The walk takes us past the Artigas boulevard, the greens of the golf club and the attractive Rodó Park.
Shopping: Shopping enthusiasts will be delighted with the area’s four major shopping centers, Pocitos, Carrasco, Punta Carretas and Tres Cruces and the department stores of Avenue 18 de Julio. Among the local specialties are leather goods and semi-precious stone jewelry with agate and amethysts. Handknit wool sweaters, blankets and throws are also of good value, look for the "Manos Uruguayas" label. Another good opportunity for antiques are the various flea markets. The most important is Feria de Tristán Narvaja and the old narrow streets, where you can find everything from small "candombe" drums to old phonograph records.
Carnival Month: Originating in ancient cities, and later adopted by more modern ones, the carnival traditionally lasts four days in February. In Montevideo however, carnival extends through all of February and half of March. Consequently, this event draws a larger crowd than a year’s worth of soccer games combined. The carnival is kicked off with a spirited parade of floats and all kinds of participants. The Llamadas, musical crews, start in the neighborhoods of Sur and Palermo, as the celebration originated among slaves and these humble sectors of the city. The first musical crew, called "La Gaditana que se va", originated in 1906, the same year that the first streetcar circulated. Jubilant singers and dancers revel in the streets under a hail of confetti.
Food and Customs: Dining in Uruguay is an experience to be relished. Here, as in neighboring Argentina, the specialty is beef. From the finest restaurant to the most modest inn, steak is always the best choice of fare.
In Uruguay, methods of barbecue have developed into an art. One cannot rush the process. There are several regional specialties: Pamplona, stuffed with bacon, pimentos and olives; barbecue "la tela"; or grilled blood sausage with raisins. Grilled fish is also very popular, especially in coastal towns. In recent trends, various ethnic cuisine have emerged in several restaurants but, for value and taste, the best bet for dining in Montevideo is the local cuisine.
After dinner, satisfy your sweet tooth with Martín Fierro, a local dessert made of "fresco y membrillo" cheese and quince jam or sweet potato jam. Or try a harder cheese served with a caramel cream. The delicious homemade taste and quality are worth all the calories.