Destination South America – Montevideo, Uruguay and the First Steps in South America

This is part two in our series Destination South America, you will find the first part here: Destination South America – Flights, Transits and Arriving in a New Country


When arriving in Montevideo, our first impression of Uruguay was that the cars and buses looked like they were ready for a scrapyard. It was difficult for us to see the logic in how things worked. Did we need to purchase bus tickets in advance or from the driver? Did the cars stop for pedestrians trying to cross the road, or how were you supposed to cross it? There are always some simple questions that you would really like an answer to when taking those first short steps in a new country. Luckily for us, Uruguay and its people proved to be relaxed enough for us to actually be tourists – it was completely fine to do everything wrong when crossing streets or trying to understand how to purchase bus tickets. iBienvenidos a Montevideo!

 

Day 1 – First day in Montevideo

We arrived at our hotel in Pocitos a bit too early to check into our room, so we asked the receptionist if we could leave our bags with her and if she could recommend any restaurant for lunch. This was no problem at all, so we were soon off to a small restaurant a few hundred meters from the hotel.

Our first impression of food in Uruguay? Well, the restaurant looked like a place with fast food and that was also our impression when looking at the menu. The prices seemed quite expensive, with us still being unfamiliar with the currency. Susann, who ordered a salad to get something fresher after all the junk food during the journey down to Uruguay, was served a salad with a lot of mayonnaise and cheese. It was not particularly green and definitely not healthy. Jesper’s pizza on the other hand looked more like a sandwich with ham and melted cheese on top. So there we were, wondering whether we would be able to find any good food on this trip.

Montevideo

After lunch we decided to return to the hotel to check in. The plan was to relax for a while and later on take a walk to see what the surrounding area around looked like. The hotel turned out to be really close to the coast as La Rambla – the road going along the coast – was only a few blocks away. There was also a shopping center nearby. There we found a big supermarket. We like visiting supermarkets in new countries, in order to find out about  interesting sweets, spices, and food.

Knowing the time turned out to be more complicated than one would imagine. We assumed that the time on our phones was the correct one, since it was auto-corrected to use the network time when we arrived in Uruguay. This was the case. We found a cosy restaurant with the help of good reviews about on Tripadvisor. As we showed up at the restaurant, we were told that only a limited part of the menu would be available before 8 p.m. This was fine for us. We actually considered whether we should wait an hour to get more options or if we should settle with the pasta. Luckily we decided for the pasta. Later in the evening and back at the hotel, we realised that the time was one hour less than we expected it to be. Apparently the network time in Uruguay was not correct and the time on our phones was not reliable. This fact resulted in the wrist watch being our only entrusted device for checking the time throughout the remaining part of the trip.

 

Day 2 – Exploring Montevideo

The second day in Montevideo started with breakfast being served in the hotel. The options were similar but yet different compared to the ones we have had in Europe. There was an abundance of sweet croissants, and the coffee tasted slightly odd.

So what is the best way of exploring a new city? In our opinion the answer is that the best mode to explore is by foot. In Montevideo, we started our adventure with a walk along La Rambla in the direction towards the older part of town – Ciudad Vieja. Walking along the coast with the water on one side and the city on the other was really nice. There are not that many things to see along La Rambla, except the water, but just walking along the road for an hour or two is really relaxing.

There are a lot of lighthouses in Uruguay. One of the first sights we visited in Montevideo was the Punta Brava Lighthouse – charming a lighthouse erected in 1862. On the way to the city centre, one also passes one of the city beaches of Montevideo, Playa Ramírez.

Montevideo
Ciudad vieja

Once we had arrived in Ciudad Vieja, we had a look on all the old buildings and streets in the area. There have been attempts to turn the old part of town into a tourist district. As a result, there is one street going through Ciudad Vieja from the market place to the Independence Square (Plaza Independencia). There are some parks and so on, but there are not so many major statues or buildings in this part of the city.

So we continued our walk through the more modern part of town towards Tres Cruces.  After having a look in the park which is housing the national soccer stadium, we decided that it was time to continue back towards Pocitos. Well, not without first passing by the Montevideo-sign.

Montevideo
Palacio legislativo. The Parliament Building.

In total this is probably the longest walk that we had made in single day up until then. With almost 31 kilometers in one day we were quite happy to get back to the hotel to get some rest, we were going to get up early the next day.

 

Day 3 – Leaving Montevideio for Colonia del Sacramento

We had in advanced booked tickets for the ferry crossing Rio Grande from Colonia del Sacramento to Buenos Aires. In order to get a few hours in Colonia del Sacramento before it was time to board the ferry we opted for an early bus. It was remarkably easy to buy the bus tickets at the bus station in Tres Cruces and we were soon on the bus heading to Colonia del Sacramento. The bus ride took approximately two hours and the bus was really comfortable with nice seats as well as free wifi.

In Colonia del Sacramento it was difficult to see where the ferry would leave from a few hours later. However, we quickly found a tourist information office near the station.The staff there were able to both point out which building was the ferry terminal – just next to the bus station – and which direction we should walk in to get to the old part of the town. Colonia is one of the really old towns from the colonial times and there is still a lot to see in the historic part of time; old buildings, town walls, and an old light house.

Colonia de Sacramento
Watching the Sea

It also turns out that there was not a shortage of old cars here. Old Volkswagen Beetles in various colours seemed to be one of the more popular cars, something we found very interesting.

We walked around for an hour or two before getting something to eat. This time we decided to try a dish that is very famous in the area – Chivito.  Basically this national dish of Uruguay is a sandwich with a lot of meat, eggs and some veggies. We ordered a plate for two and both the meat and the side dish or french fries were really nice after all the walking with the backpacks. We can really understand why this not so healthy dish is so popular.

Uruguay
Chivito

After our meal we headed towards the ferry terminal. The procedure to check in was easy, we just had to show the paper with the booking information and we received a ticket and a form to fill in for the Argentinian customs. Then it was just to head to security checks and emigration.

This is one of the easiest border crossings we have ever witnessed. At the passport control the officer only had a fast look at our passports before giving us the exit stamp for Uruguay. We were slightly confused when we were told to go to the next stall. Here we were given the entry stamp for Argentina. There we were, still waiting in the ferry terminal in Uruguay and already had all papers ready for entry into Argentina.

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Leaving for Argentina

The ferry crossing across Rio Grande to Buenos Aires took not much more than two hours and the journey was quite comfortable. It would prove on the return trip that the boat is quite sensitive to the weather, but to Buenos Aires there were not .

The ferry terminal in Buenos Aires is not very close to the center and it was hard to find out how to get around once you got there. The terminal building is really small and you end up right outside at the road in an unknown part of town. At least it felt unknown then- La Boca and San Telmo were probably located quite close to where we found ourselves on that first day. Luckily Jesper had downloaded the maps for the city, so it was quite easy to find which direction to walk in to get to our hotel in the center of the city. It surely was a lovely (and straight) walk once we found Avenida 9 de julio.

That was all for now, don’t miss the next part with our exploration of Buenos Aires and the surrounding areas in Argentina.

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