When the morning ferry from Buenos Aires arrives in Colonia del Sacramento, crossing the Rio de la Plata and international borders, it offloads hundreds of daytrippers who make the 1-hour trip mainly to visit the Barrio Historico (Old Town), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Old railway sign
Cobblestone streets and original buildings from the Portuguese colonisation era characterise this part of town, where you can easily stroll for a couple of hours before continuing your discovery in one of the many museums located in the Barrio.
You can also climb up the narrow staircases of the lighthouse and have a better and wider view of Colonia and the coastline.
Entrance to the Barrio Historico
Old Portuguese house
Old Portuguese house
Old railway station
Old Portuguese house
A visit after sunset (the sunsets in Colonia are amazing!) will be the opportunity to enjoy the historic district under artificial light, which gives a magic touch to the area. Then sit and have a meal in one of the many small restaurants, tasting some amazing seafood or steaks :-).
If you are a chocolate addict and are looking to satisfy your sweet tooth with some proper stuff while in Uruguay, look no further than Nueva Helvecia.
Formerly known as Colonia Suiza, this town in the Colonia area (South-West Uruguay) was founded in 1862, having received a large influx of immigrants mainly from Switzerland.
However do not expect to see wooden chalets like in the Swiss Alps. The town looks quite Uruguayan – in my opinion – although most buildings display shields representing the Swiss cantons. A walk around town doesn’t take more than an hour and to be honest is not particularly interesting.
Entrance to Nueva Helvecia
Shields representing the Swiss cantons
Seen in a shop
But then there are the chocolaterias! Taken to one of them (called Tante Eva) by a fellow backpacker, I tried a few different home made chocolate bon bons and medallones, with a variety of fillings from dulce de leche to coconut. Absolutely delicious!
That final touch made the brief visit to Nueva Helvecia totally worth it.
Before this trip I had never really heard much about Uruguayan beaches. Now I know why they are such a drawing factor for tourists!
In Punta del Diablo there are four main beaches: Playa Grande (north), Playa del Rivero (in town), Playa de los Pescadores (in town), Playa de la Viuda (south). Windswept, long and empty, they have soft and fine sand, and offer plenty of opportunities for long walks and/or just lazying in the sun. Most of the time you’ll have long stretches of the beach to yourself, which is definitely a plus.
The rocky parts of the coastline are great for watching the waves crashing or exploring rock pools (a passion of mine), so don’t hesitate to go for a wander.
To my surprise during my several beach walks I saw a few dead sea animals stranded on the shore: a turtle, a seal, several penguins and a couple of large seagulls. Never experienced that before! Apparently there are also whales in the Punta del Diablo waters.
The huge waves make Punta del Diablo perfect for surfing, which is one of the main activities here. You’ll always see people heading to the beach wearing a wetsuit and with a surf board under their arm. Sit and watch them as they try to catch the waves, it’s quite cool!
Catching the waves
One warning: if you want to go for a dip in the ocean, be aware that the wind is always very strong and the waters choppy and cold, so be careful…
I spent just over three days in Montevideo and I really liked it.
This is my first taste of South America but having been to Mexico before I am not new to Latin American countries. Yet Uruguay is different and Montevideo is a really pleasant city to visit!
Local buses are an easy way to go around and take you everywhere, just check the destination on the front of the bus or ask for directions. The area of the Ciudad Vieja and Centro can be explored on foot. There are bike rental schemes and bicycle racks are scattered around town. Las Ramblas are perfect for walking or cycling too.
The streets are clean and tree-lined boulevards give a very nice feel. Also there are a lot of green spaces (parks) in the city where you can chill when tired of sightseeing. Parque Rodo’ is just an example.
Note: the wind is always very strong – and the chill factor too- so be prepared.
If you are really desperate for shopping malls, heard towards the Punta Carretas one, or the World Trade Centre in Pocitos, or the Tres Cruces (where the main bus terminal is too), and you won’t be disappointed.
Final note: an easy way to access information about Montevideo while on the go and without having to carry guidebooks is the Kindle version of the Uruguay Rough Guide, as well as the TripAdvisor guide to Montevideo, which also has a zoomable map. And you don’t even need to be online to use them after download!
A balmy 19C degrees, blue sky and sunshine. Despite the strong wind, which seems quite common here, in my brief experience of Montevideo, the day is perfect for a long walk along the promenade.
Las Ramblas. One of the main features of Montevideo, they offer great views of the city and the coastline. By the way the water body that borders the city is a river, the Rio de la Plata. As huge as it may be, it is not the ocean.
For the start of my walk I choose the stretch of the ramblas that goes from Pocitos to Punta Carretas. This is a wealthy area and some of the apartment blocks facing the waterfront seem quite expensive. A large beach in Pocitos increases the resemblance with the seaside. There are also a lot of green/natural areas along this part of the coastline.
La Rambla in Pocitos
Playa de Pocitos
Playa de Pocitos
La rambla is crowded: cyclists, joggers, mums pushing prams, tourists, locals enjoying a walk in the sun. It is really an enjoyable part of Montevideo.
The lighthouse in Punta Carretas, built in 1876, marks the southernmost point of Uruguay. It offers good views of the city and coastline, once you have climbed the steep and narrow staircase leading you to the balcony (all for UR$25).
Punta Carretas lighthouse
Punta Carretas lighthouse
From Punta Carretas, the ramblas continue all the way to the Ciudad Vieja (you will first encounter the Parque Rodo’, a nice green area where you can rest for a while) and further more. The view changes a bit and you will see a lot of fishermen too, but walking along the ramblas remains a not-to-miss experience when in Montevideo.
La Ciudad Vieja, or the Old City. This is the oldest part of Montevideo, once surrounded by walls. Since 1829 all that remains is the Puerta de la Ciudadela, the main gateway to this part of town.
The best way to get to know the Ciudad Vieja is to explore on your own then join a free walking tour. The young guides will give you loads of useful information about the area as well as tell you interesting anecdotes (did you know that Montevideo has a small Walk of Fame similar to the one in Los Angeles?).
The starting point would be the Puerta de la Ciudadela, which gives access to Sarandi, the main tourist boulevard. This is where most shops, cafes and restaurants are located and it is always very crowded.
As soon as you move away from it and venture into other alleys, you’ll find yourself surrounded by rundown buildings reminiscent of Cuban architecture. Dodgy characters sitting or walking around do not make the area particularly appealing so I wouldn’t recommend going there after sunset, but during the day it is fine.
Sarandi, Ciudad Vieja
Walk of Fame
Amongst the main sights that you will want to visit are: the Catedral Matriz (the cathedral), Teatro Solis, the Museo del Carnaval (the Carnival in Montevideo is similar to the Brasilian one but lasts longer!).
Teatro Solis, Ciudad Vieja
Museo del Carnaval
Lots of small and quirky art galleries and arts&crafts shops are another way to spend your time in the area.
Then when you are tired and hungry, head towards the harbour area: the Mercado del Puerto, an old and beautiful building that looks like an English train station, is where the main restaurants are. Eating here can be expensive but it’s definitely worth it: the meat barbecues are fantastic!
I thought I was going mad. Actually I thought my smartphone was going mad.
It had never failed once in automatically updating timezone when travelling around the world. You switch it on and it picks up the correct date & time. Like any other smartphone.
So I just couldn’t understand why it didn’t work in Uruguay. My phone said “7:35pm”, all clocks around me showed “6:35pm”. I checked the settings, they were ok. No obvious reason for the behaviour. I wasn’t bothered enough to ask any locals.
Then the Eureka moment came: a German expat I spoke to yesterday mentioned that this year for the first time Uruguay is not adopting daylight savings. That would explain! My phone settings are only aware of the expected daylight savings, which would have made Uruguay time a GMT -2. While we are now on GMT -3.
Apparently this decision is the result of an initiative of the Chamber of Tourism, which claims that daylight savings have an adverse effect on tourism.
While this reasoning puzzles me a bit, I now feel better as the mistery is resolved. And I am sharing this trivia info with you ;-)
The Day of the Dead (El Dia del Los Muertos in Spanish) is something I was looking forward to. Under the (wrong) assumption that Uruguay would celebrate it in the same fashion as Mexico, I was excited at having planned November 2 as my first full day in Montevideo.
To my disappointment, when I decided to check with the hostel staff how the city would celebrate the occasion the reply I got was: “Uruguay doesn’t really celebrate El Dia de Los Muertos”.
No fear, though: Montevideo had a surprise stored for me!
While I was walking around Avenida 18 de Julio just after lunchtime on Nov 2, I noticed hundreds of people gathered outside the Intendencia Municipal. TV crews and police were everywhere too. I first thought that some sort of protest was going on, then someone pointed to me that the people in the queue (mainly teenagers) were having their make-up done. That’s when I realised that most of them looked like they were out of a zombie movie.
Zombies. Day of the Dead. Is this what’s happening, I wondered. But I decided to walk away.
Luckily around 5pm I was back in the same area and saw the crowd gathering in the middle of the street, then they started moving. A Zombie Walk!
Avenida 18 de Julio soon turned into something out of a Hollywood movie: hundreds of people wearing incredible outfits and amazing make-up marched slowly, screaming at regular intervals. The walk lasted probably around an hour and ended outside a club, where part of the participants left. And l left too.
Back at the hostel, the staff explained to me that the Zombie Walk has been featuring in Montevideo only in the past 2-3 years but it’s quickly becoming very popular as a modern way to celebrate El Dia de Los Muertos.