- I was in Uruguay in September 2011, during the off season and apparently in summer the country is overrun with tourists, many from Argentina. Thus, anything you read here may be completely different from the experience you can expect if you visit during high season.
- Many of the hostels in Uruguay are Hosteling International affiliated so if you don’t already have a HI card it will probably be worth the investment. I got mine at El Viajero for 300 pesos vs. the 480 that the HI office around the block was charging.
- When you arrive keep an eye out for a Get South booklet, which offers hostel discounts and suggestions for things to see and do in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.
- One interesting food item: pizza in Uruguay doesn’t come with cheese so if you want cheese on your pizza you will order a mozzarella instead.
- At least some of the inter-city buses actually have WiFi.
- The most famous Uruguayan dish is probably the chivito. If you are a meat eater, give it a try. If you’re around at the end of the month, make sure to take part in the gnocci tradition on the 29th of each month.
- Along with Paraguay and Argentina, Uruguay is a mate loving country.
- The main bus terminal in Montevideo is Tres Cruces. You can check schedules and approximate prices on their website.
I entered Uruguay via boat from Buenos Aires twice (once to renew my Argentine tourist visa) and used both Buquebus and Colonia Express. Immigration with both was among the most hassle free of my travel experience to date. I crossed into Brazil via the border towns of Chuy/Chuí going from Punta del Diablo. From Punta del Diablo note that it is a bit inconvenient because you cannot buy a ticket in the town which means either making a separate trip (about 45 minutes) into Chuy to buy the ticket or just showing up and hoping there will be space. As for buses to Porto Alegre in Brazil (where you can easily transfer to other cities) there are generally two companies (one Uruguayan and one Brazilian, TTL) with two each day, at 12:30 and at 23:00 (TTL) or midnight (Uruguayan company). Unfortunately, to buy the Uruguayan bus ticket the agency in Chuy closes at 18:00 so you have to go really early the same day or go a day in advance. TTL closes from 20:30 to 22:30 so you would also need to arrive early, though not nearly so.
Colonia del Sacramento
I made a day trip to Colonia from Buenos Aires to renew my tourist visa. This is done by countless others as well, but whether you visit this way or as part of your overall Uruguay trip, a day is probably enough to see and appreciate this lovely little town about two and a half hours from Montevideo. If you do decide to stay, the El Viajero hostel (see Montevideo) is a good option.
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I stayed at the El Viajero hostel and had a great experience. The staff is amazingly friendly and helpful and I met some of the nicest fellow travelers of my journey in this hostel, many from Brazil and Argentina rather than the more typical European and North American backpacker crowd. The rooms and accommodations are fine, though nothing spectacular and, as you will read elsewhere, the rooms can be a bit noisy at night, but really, the location is good and the staff and fellow travelers make this place highly recommendable. The beers were pricey and you can’t bring your own into the hostel, a rule I don’t much like in any hostel (note to hostel owners, if you are going to make such a rule, at least make your beer prices competitive). On some nights (mostly weekends I believe) there was a communal dinner option, which is a great way to meet and talk with other guests, though again the prices weren’t very good. I’m not sure if the deal is valid during high season or not, but if you book 3 nights you can stay the fourth for free (this is a deal publicized in the Get South directory). Likewise, if you purchase your HI card here you can get 3 nights for the price of 2. Finally, note that you can rent bicycles at El Viajero whether you are staying there or not.
I also read very good things about some places in the old town, but do keep in mind that it can be a bit sketchy/dangerous there at night.
I imagine that most people do a quick one or two days visit in Montevideo but it is actually a nice city with quite a few things to see and do.
Obviously, the most important place to visit and see is the old town (ciudad vieja), Plaza de Independecia (with the Mausoleo de Artigas under the monument), Teatro Solis, and the port area. For meat eaters, make sure to eat lunch in one of the many parillas in the port area.
Cerro Montevideo offers a nice view of the city and the port but it is about an hour away by local bus and the area is not the safest so only go during the day, and go with a group if you can round one up.
A hike or bike ride along the Rambla is a must. Be warned it is a long hike if you want to go on foot. I only went as far as Pocitos, but my local friend Melissa told me it is actually even nicer once you pass that point.
Parque Rodó is a large and quite nice park worth a visit.
There are apparently several good museums, though I only made it to Museo Blanes and the lovely attached Japanese style garden.
On Sunday mornings, visit La Feria Tristán Narvaja Flea Market on Tristán Narvaja Street.
I think on two different nights there are groups of drummers that gather and march through a small section of the city playing (I never learned the reason for this tradition). I went to see the group of women drummers that meet close to the parque Rodó but it was very cold and they were running late so I didn’t complete the mission. Ask at your hostel for more details.
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- Montevideo’s Locks Fountain
- Marcha Mundial de la Marihuana Montevideo: A Day on the Green
- Sick street art of Montevideo
- Best Things To Do In Montevideo Uruguay: Tourist Attractions
Punta del Este
Just as in Montevideo, I stayed at the El Viajero hostel, receiving a nice 15% discount for booking from their Montevideo location (and that in addition to the HI discount of 10%). El Viajero here is a nice enough hostel, but the staff and atmosphere was much better in Montevideo. Punta del Este is a huge tourist magnet and there are many options. You probably won’t be disappointed at El Viajero but there may be better options.
Punta del Este reminded me of Viña del Mar a bit and some compare it to Miami Beach, though I think that is a big stretch. Having gone in low season I can’t really give a good opinion but I can say that reviews tend to be mixed. Some people love the place and others hate it. I think the main draw is the party scene, though it is in fact a scenic place as well.
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This isn’t a place that many travelers have heard of or bother visiting but one of the staff members at El Viajero told me about it and it turns out to be a pretty nice town in the Minas province. It is supposedly is a very mystical/spiritual place that has witnessed several UFO sightings but it isn’t the most convenient place to access as there are no direct buses from Montevideo. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet and travel with Porteño Martín, who had a car. After visiting Punta del Este I mentioned to him what I had heard about Villa Serrana and he was interested so off we went. Along the way we stopped in the picturesque small village of Eden and ate an incredibly delicious lunch (vegetable cannelloni with a lamb meat sauce and apple pie for dessert).
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El Viajero has a hostel in La Pedrera but it doesn’t open until October. Instead my Martín and I decided to spend a night in La Paloma which is quite close. Even there some places were still closed, but we stayed at Hostel Ibirapita, fairly close to the bus terminal and open all year. The place is nice enough though nothing special. Towels were provided, a nice difference from many other hostels in South America.
La Paloma is a pleasant enough place though I didn’t find it too special, nor its beaches too impressive, though apparently it is a great spot for surfing. La Pedrera did seem much nicer in general so of the two I would recommend that instead. However, if you are short on time I would skip both and go instead to Cabo Polonio and/or Punta del Diablo. If you do visit La Paloma, make sure to check out the lighthouse.
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We stayed in Valizas at a place called Deja Vu, owned by a very laid back Argentinean. He is a vegetarian and doesn’t permit meat to be brought into the house, just so you know. But, the place was clean and he was friendly. If you decide to stay in Cabo Polonio there are actually a number of hostels and other homes for rent (I had thought it was much smaller). The most known hostel is Alfredo’s Cabo Polonio Hostel and a friend of mine who stayed there said Alfredo and the overall experience was fantastic.
Martín and I originally planned to stay a night in Cabo Polonio but in the end we decided to stay at the nearby Valizas and just do a day trip to Cabo Polonio instead so that we wouldn’t have to leave his car unguarded for the night. I think both places are actually deserving of a visit. The owner of the hostel in Valizas recommended we visit the lookout on the dunes but to do so we had to cross a creek and, unfortunately, the boat operator stops working late in the afternoon so we couldn’t do it. The dunes did look impressive though and I would recommend this option. As for Cabo Polonio, it is an isolated place that can only be accessed by 4×4 vehicles. Basically, you take a bus to a drop-off point where you then catch a 4×4 (UR$150 round-trip) to Cabo Polonio itself. It is (or at least was) a very nice fishing village and for the most part there is still no running water or electricity (though several homes seemed to have solar panels).
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Punta del Diablo
There are a ton of lodging options in Punta del Diablo due to its enormous popularity in the summer. Martín and I stayed at the El Diablo Tranquilo Hostel. There are two, with the suites option more or less on the beach with a view of the ocean and the other a bit towards town. Both are very typical foreign-friendly hostels. When I was there the location by the ocean was closed for renovations and low season, though the restaurant/bar there was open. The other location is just a few blocks away and still in a good location. I heard that their prices (and all the competitors’ as well) go WAY up during the summer (I heard as high as a UR$1000 for a dorm bed) but in September we paid only UR$160 for a bed. Overall, the hostel and staff are nice. Each night they offer a dinner option which is usually moderately priced and tasty, though the portions are not overly generous. The price of a liter of beer are also reasonable at only UR$80 (versus UR$100-130 in other restaurants and bars). I personally couldn’t care less, but for those who want to watch movies and television be warned that there is no TV in the main location.
I must make it clear that I went in September, the low season so I can’t even imagine how different the place is during summer. Apparently the population goes from 500 to 25,000! I really liked the place deserted but I don’t think I would like it at all in peak summer season.
Getting to Florianópolis
There are only direct buses from Montevideo to Florianópolis two times each week (EGA leaving Sundays at 16:00 and TTL leaving Saturday at 21:30). I think you will have to buy a ticket for one of these ahead of time in Chuy. Otherwise, just take the bus to Porto Alegre and then catch another from there to Florippa. I took the night bus to Porto Alegre and arrived about 07:00 and found the next bus to Florippa was at 09:00 for 80 BRL lasting about 6 hours. There was a slightly cheaper option but it supposedly takes 10 hours instead so we opted for the faster bus.