We arrived in Montevideo mid-morning after a day in Colonia. Honestly we hadn’t done much research into what we could do before we arrived. In fact, the only reason we came to Montevideo and indeed Uruguay was because we were following the Carnival season and the Llamadas is what brought us to the capital of Uruguay on this particular Friday.
Montevideo is a curious little town. The city was settled by Spanish Soldiers as a strategic point against the Portuguese further north in Brazil. It was the first city to ever host the football world cup. Considered to be the city with the highest quality of life in South America it is also the 10th most gay friendly city in the world.
Montevideo has a pretty decent public transport system and we easily found a city bus which brought us pretty close to our hostel. We stayed in El Viajero, it was a little pricey but as most hostels in Uruguay are, it seemed like one of the best options. After checking in we wanted to see where we could purchase our tickets to the Llamadas later that night. The receptionist looked at us strangely and told us that the tickets had been sold out for two days. Great! However we did have options, a) we could stay in the hostel all night and watch the festivities on tv, b) we could purchase tickets to a private balcony party in a locals house or c) we could try and find a space behind the paid seats and try to watch for free. Seeing as we came here solely for the Llamadas and the balcony tickets being insanely expensive we decided we would take the chance and try see the carnival for free.
Feeling pretty pissed that we might miss the Llamadas and being hangry we left to explore the city and find some food. We stepped into the first corner shop café (El Pancho) which had a sign up for the special of the day – Burgers & Chips. Not very exciting but how hard could it be to mess it up? Pretty easily apparently. Unsatisfied by the poor lunch and realising we forgot our city map we began walking.
The city is pretty charming. It has good street art painted on the side of colonial style buildings and churches. We stumbled upon the Mercado del Puerto, once a fruit market which now hosts a series of touristic restaurants cooking up traditional Uruguayan “parrilla” (meat bbq).
After the market we were back walking through the streets towards the Rambla. The 10 mile long pedestrian track surrounds the city and separates it from the sea. We didn’t feel like walking 10 miles so after about 20 minutes we headed back into town. There are many shops in town which rent bikes allowing for an easier commute to the beaches.
One thing we noticed pretty quickly is that there is always a certain smell in the streets of Montevideo. Weed is legal and it seems to be used regularly. Walk down any street in the old town and you will most definitely smell it or see grow shops.
Without our map and with not much time left to get ready we headed back to the hostel and found out we visited pretty much all of the attractions in the city….that was easy.
We came to Montevideo for the Llamadas, a unique carnival which incorporates the African slave culture that was once part of the country.
We can easily see why Montevideo isn’t highly rated on the backpackers list of places to see. If you had just landed in the city not knowing where you were, you could easily think that you were in a Spanish city like Madrid. Like most of Uruguay, the city is under developed in terms of tourism and the whole city could easily be seen in 24 hours.
If you had to spend more time in Montevideo there are a few more things you could do. As mentioned earlier the city was first ever to host the football World Cup, which they won, and there is a good stadium tour in the Estadio Centenario.
Unfortunately for us we never got the chance to sample the Parrilla (BBQs) as they are insanely expensive. We just had to settle for the great smells in the Mercado del Puerto.
Montevideo also has a good Sunday market. The Tristán Narvaja Street Market is the largest in the country and if we had stayed longer this would have been our Sunday plan sorted.
Cost and Useful information
Bus from Colonia del Sacramento to Montevideo : 400 Ur (13.6€)
Hostel Viajero – 1296 Ur for 2 bed is a 6 bed-dorm… (43€)
Beer : 1L bottle at the hostel 130 Ur (4.3€)
Bus Montevideo to Punta del Diablo : 1236 Ur (41€) for 2 seats