Uruguay


Uruguay destinations

about Wedged like a grape between Brazil’s gargantuan thumb and Argentina’s long forefinger, Uruguay has always been something of an underdog. Yet after two centuries living in the shadow of its neighbors, South America’s smallest country is finally getting a little well-deserved recognition. Progressive, stable, safe and culturally sophisticated, Uruguay offers visitors opportunities to experience everyday ‘not made for tourists’ moments, whether caught in a cow-and-gaucho traffic jam on a dirt road to nowhere or strolling with mate-toting locals along Montevideo’s beachfront.

Short-term visitors will find plenty to keep them busy in cosmopolitan Montevideo, picturesque Colonia and party-till-you-drop Punta del Este. But it pays to dig deeper. Go wildlife watching along the Atlantic coast, hot-spring hopping up the Río Uruguay, or horseback riding under the big sky of Uruguay’s interior, where vast fields spread out like oceans.

Identification

The name Oriental Republic of Uruguay República Oriental del Uruguay, derives from the fact that the country lies east of the Uruguay River, a major tributary of the Rio de la Plata estuary. Before independence, it was known as Banda Oriental del Uruguay . The name "Uruguay" is a Guaraní word meaning "river of shellfish," or "river the uru birds come from."

Uruguayans have a strong sense of national identity and patriotism. There are no alternative traditions or nationalities within the country.

Urbanism, Architecture and the Use of Space

Montevideo is a modern city with a European flavor. The character of the old part of the city, which was originally within a defensive stone wall, has been preserved to some extent. There are many parks, some very large. Public spaces follow the Spanish model and are open to everyone. Brick and mortar and concrete and stone are the dominant construction materials.

The urban centers in the interior are much less imposing and lively. Of note are the historic quarters of Colonia del Sacramento (founded in 1680 by the Portuguese), which UNESCO has declared a World Heritage City. The beach resort towns and cities are modern and active in the summer; Punta del Este has become a center for international meetings, golf tournaments, and film festivals. In remote rural areas, some gauchos still live in the traditional rancho, a simple adobe construction with a thatched roof.

Food in Daily Life

Meat, particularly beef, is the mainstay of the diet. The national dish is the asado (barbecued meat). The parrillada (beef and entrails) is the most typical dish. It contains a varied assortment of parts, the most common being beef ribs, kidneys, salivary glands or sweetbreads ( mollejas ), small intestine ( chinchulines ) or large intestine ( tripa gorda ), and sweet blood pudding sausage ( morcilla dulce ). Pork sausage usually is served as an appetizer. Barbecued lamb is consumed in large quantities, particularly in rural areas. At rural banquets, entire cows are barbecued slowly with their hides.

Etiquette

Uruguayans are quite traditional and do not welcome criticism from foreigners. They also do not appreciate being confused with Paraguayans or Argentineans. Otherwise, people are friendly and easygoing. Although tactful, people are frank and direct and maintain a close distance when speaking. Close acquaintances of the opposite sex greet each other with one kiss on the cheek.

A national behavioral particularity is the conspicuous "following gaze" that males direct to females to indicate that they are attractive. In many cases this is accompanied by verbal expressions called piropos, which are sometimes abusive and usually are ignored.
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The nation’s capital and home to nearly half of Uruguay’s population, Montevideo is a vibrant, eclectic place with a rich cultural life. Stretching 20km from east to west, the city wears many faces, from its industrial port to the exclusive beachside suburb of Carrasco near the airport. In the historic downtown business district, art deco and neoclassical buildings jostle for space alongside grimy, worn-out skyscrapers that appear airlifted from Havana or Ceauşescu’s Romania, while to the southeast the shopping malls and modern high-rises of beach communities such as Punta Carretas and Pocitos bear more resemblance to those of Miami or Copacabana. Music, theater and the arts are alive and well here – from elegant older theaters and cozy little tango bars to modern beachfront discos – and there’s a strong international flavor, thanks to the many foreign cultural centers and Montevideo’s status as administrative headquarters for Mercosur, South America’s leading trading bloc.

Sights

Parque Rodó, La Rambla & Eastern Beaches

La Rambla, Montevideo’s multi-kilometer coastal promenade, is one of the city’s defining elements, connecting downtown to the eastern beach communities of Punta Carretas, Pocitos, Buceo and Carrasco. This is Montevideo’s social hub on Sunday afternoons, when the place is packed with locals cradling thermoses of mate and mingling with friends.

Montevideo Weekend Highlights

Weekends are the time to enjoy several of Montevideo’s quintessential experiences. Note that Ciudad Vieja, outside of Mercado del Puerto, is a virtual ghost town on Sundays, when businesses are closed and the pulse of local life moves east to the long Rambla waterfront.

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Activities

One of Montevideo's great pleasures is cruising along the walking-jogging-cycling track that follows the riverfront Rambla. A few kilometers east of the center you’ll reach Playa Pocitos, which is best for swimming and where you should be able to jump in on a game of beach volleyball. A couple of bays further along at Buceo’s Yacht Harbor you can get windsurfing lessons at the yacht club. The entire Rambla is a picturesque spot for a stroll and a popular Sunday-afternoon hangout.

Sleeping

Montevideo boasts a growing number of stylish boutique and luxury hotels, a thriving hostel scene, and a host of dependable midrange options in the Centro. With more beds to choose from, competition is driving prices down; look online for the best deals..

Eating

Diners are spoiled for choice in Montevideo. The city offers everything from 19th-century cafes to trendy modern bistros, and from carnivore-centric parrillas to vegetarian- and vegan-friendly eateries, all interspersed with a wider choice of international cuisine than you'll find anywhere else in Uruguay. Ciudad Vieja's restaurant scene in particular is blossoming as old concerns about the neighborhood's security continue to wane.

Drinking & Nightlife

Montevideo offers an intriguing mix of venerable cafes and trendy nightspots. Bars are concentrated on Bartolomé Mitre in Ciudad Vieja, south of Plaza Independencia in the Centro and near the corner of Canelones and Juan Jackson where the Parque Rodó and Cordón neighborhoods meet.

Entertainment

Spanish-language websites with entertainment listings include www.cartelera.com.uy, www.vivomontevideo.com/cartelera, www.yamp.com.uy/agenda and www.socioespectacular.com.uy.

Shopping

Central Montevideo’s traditional downtown shopping area is Av 18 de Julio. Locals also flock to several large shopping malls east of downtown, including Punta Carretas Shopping, Tres Cruces Shopping (above the bus terminal) and Montevideo Shopping in Pocitos/Buceo.

Orientation

Montevideo lies almost directly across the Río de la Plata from Buenos Aires. For many visitors, the most intriguing area is the Ciudad Vieja, the formerly walled colonial grid straddling the western tip of a peninsula between the sheltered port and the wide-open river. Just east of the old-town gate, the Centro (downtown) begins at Plaza Independencia, surrounded by historic buildings of the republican era. Avenida 18 de Julio, downtown Montevideo’s commercial thoroughfare, runs east past Plaza del Entrevero, Plaza Cagancha and the Intendencia (town hall) toward Tres Cruces bus terminal, where it changes name to Avenida Italia and continues east toward Carrasco International Airport and the Interbalnearia highway to Punta del Este.

Westward across the harbor, 132m Cerro de Montevideo was a landmark for early navigators and still offers outstanding views of the city. Eastward, the Rambla hugs Montevideo’s scenic waterfront, snaking past attractive Parque Rodó and through a series of sprawling residential beach suburbs – Punta Carretas, Pocitos, Buceo and Carrasco – that are very popular with the capital’s residents in summer and on evenings and weekends.

Travel with Children

Uruguay is generally a family-friendly country, and children will be made to feel welcome. Baby-changing facilities are available in Montevideo and some other cities, and car seats are provided for a fee by most rental-car agencies.

Uruguay is not big on child-focused urban attractions such as museums, but kids of all ages will appreciate the local beaches, and older kids will love riding horses on the tourist estancias of the interior.

LGBT Travellers

Uruguay is widely considered the most LGBTQ-friendly nation in Latin America. In 2008 it became the first Latin American country to recognize same-sex civil unions, and in 2013 same-sex marriage was legalized. In Montevideo, look for the pocket-sized Friendly Map (www.friendlymap.com.uy) listing LGBTQ-friendly businesses throughout the country.

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Syncopated, dilapidated, colorful and poetic, Valparaíso is a wonderful mess. Pablo Neruda, who drew much inspiration from this hard-working port town, said it best: 'Valparaíso, how absurd you are…you haven't combed your hair, you've never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.'

But Neruda wasn't the only artist to fall for Valparaíso's unexpected charms. Poets, painters and would-be philosophers have long been drawn to Chile's most unusual city. Along with the ever-shifting port population of sailors, dockworkers and prostitutes, they've endowed gritty and gloriously spontaneous Valparaíso with an edgy air of 'anything goes.' Add to this the spectacular faded beauty of its chaotic cerros (hills), some of the best street art in Latin America, a maze of steep, sinuous streets, alleys and escaleras (stairways) piled high with crumbling mansions, and it's clear why some visitors spend more time here than in Santiago.

Sights

Valparaíso's Murals

Wandering up and down the winding hills of Valparaíso, you'll see colorful public art everywhere, from dreamlike wall paintings of glamorous women to political graffiti-style murals splashed across garage doors. Top spots to view street art are Cerros Concepción, Alegre and Bellavista, including the unmissable Pasaje Galvez. Explore this area with Valpo Street Art Tours to gain a better appreciation for the art and artists.

Cerro Polanco was 'bombed' by graffiti artists from across Latin America at the First Latin American Graffiti-Mural Festival, with 80-plus murals going up in just a few days. The neighborhood is great for wandering by day, but avoid it at night as tourists regularly report pickpockets in the area.

As you cruise the streets, keep your eyes peeled for Chilean artist Inti. His large-scale mural, painted across the surface of several neighboring buildings and visible from Cerro Concepción, was unveiled in early 2012. The vibrant sideways image shows a mysterious, partially fragmented figure draped with exotic jewelry.

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Activities

Wandering through Valpo's streets admiring its murals and architecture is one of the city's best activities. Don't miss a trip or two on one of the six rattling ascensores (funiculars), built between 1883 and 1916, that crank you up into the hills and meandering back alleys (several more are currently being repaired). Beach lovers should head north to Viña and Zapallar.

Practical Tip: Hop on the Bus

Sure, you can take the creaky antique elevators or huff it uphill on foot – but there's another unforgettable way to experience some of Valparaíso's magic. The route of local bus O (labeled micro O or sometimes micro 612) carries a mix of weary locals and camera-toting tourists through the narrow alleyways and across several of the city's steep hillsides; you can board in front of Congreso Nacional, atop Cerro Alegre or at various other points throughout town.

Sleeping

You'll find the vast majority of accommodations on Cerros Concepción & Alegre. While these hills were once only home to hostels, there are now rooms to fit all budgets. In general, Valpo tends to offer good value for money, particularly if you visit midweek.

Eating

Valparaiso may be the birthplace of chorrillana (a mountain of French fries under a blanket of fried pork, onions and egg), but you'll find an increasing number of fine-dining establishments poking out over the hills. Seafood – including ceviche and machas a la parmesana (clams baked with parmesan) – is the regional specialty.

Drinking & Nightlife

Concerted efforts have been made to keep at least the major tourist zones safe in this notoriously unsafe port city – making Valpo's midnight lights shine brighter than ever. Most bars and all clubs lie in El Plan. They tend to attract a young alternative set.

Shopping

Most galleries and craft shops are concentrated on Cerros Concepción and Alegre. The street Lautaro Rosas is a great place to look for gifts.

Travel with Children

Chile is a top family destination where bringing children offers up some distinct advantages. Little ones are welcomed and treasured, and empathy for parents is usually keen. Even strangers will offer help, and hotels and services tend to accommodate. There are lots of active adventures and family-oriented resorts and lodgings.

Getting Around

Walking is the best way to get about central Valparaíso and explore its cerros – you can cheat on the way up by taking an ascensor or a taxi colectivo (CH$500). Colectivos to Cerros Concepción and Alegre line up at the bottom of Almirante Montt, while those to Cerros La Cárcel and Bellavista leave from Av Ecuador.

Countless local buses operated by TMV run along Condell and Av Pedro Montt, Av Brasil and Yungay, connecting one end of El Plan with the other. A few climb different cerros and continue to Viña or along the northern coast; destinations are displayed in the windshield. The city's most famous line is the 802, which uses the oldest working trolleybuses in the world. The curvy cars date back to 1947 and have been declared a national monument.

Metro Valparaíso operates commuter trains every six to 12 minutes from Valparaíso's Estación Puerto and Estación Bellavista to Viña del Mar (CH$450 to CH$500, depending on the hour of departure).

Taxis are much more expensive in Valparaíso than other Chilean cities.

If you're willing to brave the hills on a bike, you'll see a few outfitters around town renting bicycles (generally CH$6000 per half-day).

What to do in Punta del Este

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On the east bank of the Río de la Plata, 180 km west of Montevideo, but only 50 km from Buenos Aires by ferry, Colonia is an irresistibly picturesque town enshrined as a Unesco World Heritage site. Its Barrio Histórico, an irregular colonial-era nucleus of narrow cobbled streets, occupies a small peninsula jutting into the river. Pretty rows of sycamores offer protection from the summer heat, and the riverfront is a venue for spectacular sunsets (it's a Uruguayan custom to applaud the setting sun). Colonia’s charm and its proximity to Buenos Aires draw thousands of Argentine visitors; on weekends, especially in summer, prices rise and it can be difficult to find a room.

Sights

Historical Museums

A single UR$50 ticket covers admission to Colonia’s eight historical museums. All keep the same hours, but closing day varies by museum. Tickets are sold at Museo Municipal.

Barrio Histórico

Colonia’s Barrio Histórico is filled with visual delights. Picturesque spots for wandering include the roughly cobbled 18th-century Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs), lined with tile-and-stucco colonial houses, the Paseo de San Gabriel, on the western riverfront, the Puerto Viejo and the historic center's two main squares: sprawling Plaza Mayor 25 de Mayo and shady Plaza de Armas (the latter is also known as Plaza Manuel Lobo).

Real de San Carlos

At the turn of the 20th century, Argentine entrepreneur Nicolás Mihanovich spent US$1.5 million building an immense tourist complex 5km north of Colonia at Real de San Carlos. The complex included a 10,000-seat bullring, a 3000-seat frontón (court) for the Basque sport of jai alai, a hotel-casino and a racecourse.

Only the racecourse functions today, but the ruins of the remaining buildings make an interesting excursion, and the adjacent beach is popular with locals on Sundays.

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Sleeping

Colonia has some great options for an overnight stay, though bear in mind that many hotels charge higher rates Friday through Sunday. Book in advance for summer weekends.

Eating

There is no shortage of pretty little cafes and restaurants in the Barrio Histórico, but prices are high and quality varies. For better-value fare, head to the local eateries along Avenida General Flores.

Drinking & Nightlife

Most bars and restaurants sell local lagers such as Patricia and quality wines produced at nearby bodegas; ask for recommendations. Expect to fork out for the privilege of sipping your beverage at one of the outdoor tables in and around the colonial center.

Travel with Children

Uruguay is generally a family-friendly country, and children will be made to feel welcome. Baby-changing facilities are available in Montevideo and some other cities, and car seats are provided for a fee by most rental-car agencies.

Uruguay is not big on child-focused urban attractions such as museums, but kids of all ages will appreciate the local beaches, and older kids will love riding horses on the tourist estancias of the interior.

Getting There

From the ferry terminal at the foot of Rivera, Buquebus runs three or more fast boats (UR$1310 to UR$2228, 1¼ hours) daily to Buenos Aires. The same company owns Seacat, which runs slightly faster, and often cheaper, ferry services along the same route (UR$1220 to UR$1780, one hour).

A third operator offering similar service is Colonia Express, which runs three fast ferries a day (UR$1049 to UR$1349, 1¼ hours).

All three companies offer child, senior and advance-purchase discounts.

Immigration for both countries is handled at the port before boarding.

Bus

Colonia’s modern bus terminal is conveniently located near the port and an easy 10-minute walk from the Barrio Histórico. It has tourist information and luggage-storage, money-changing and internet facilities.

Buses from Colonia del Sacramento The following destinations are served at least twice daily by companies including Agencia Central.

What to do in Colonia del Sacramento

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