Montevideo, Uruguay: South America’s most chilled capital
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How to pronounce Montevideo: Mon-tay-bee-day-oh
The vibe is Montevideo is… chilled. If you’re flying to Uruguay, you’re almost definitely going to find yourself in the capital for at least a day. It does have a reputation for being boring, and we’re sorry to say it does kind of live up to it if you don’t know where to look for some fun. Thankfully, our experience of Montevideo changed dramatically once we knew people here.
Our first week was a little dull, so much so that we ended up spending 2 of the 6 days in the hostel updating CVs, applying to Upwork jobs and building Lozzy’s Shutterstock portfolio.
We were lucky enough that the World Cup qualifier match against Bolivia sorted us out for one of the evenings, and we made enough friends in the hostel to jovially drink the nights away, but we felt like our daytime exploration was kind of done within a few days.
Things to do in Montevideo
After museums (recommend the Gaucho Museum and Cabildo Museum), walking through the old town, shopping at Punta Carretas and seeing as much of La Rambla coastline as we could bear, we felt done. Our original plan was to have another week in Montevideo after visiting the East coast, but we changed our plans to make it 2 nights instead since we were worried we’d be bored.
When we went to Cabo Polonio, however, we met Nina, an American student studying in the city, so when we returned to the capital for the weekend she took us out to a previa (i.e. prelash) with her uni friends and then onto a bar/club to experience the nightlife in Montevideo. She also told us about a food festival in an outer neighbourhood which we all went to the next day. As she said, plenty goes on in the city, you just have to be in the know to get there.
There is a group for international students on Facebook called MIS, which is great to browse through if it’s a party you’re looking for.
One thing we really recommend doing on your first day in Montevideo is the Free Walking Tour. It takes you all through Old Town and teaches you about Uruguayan culture. There is normally an English and Spanish option of the tour. They meet at Plaza Independencia at 11am and 2:30pm on weekdays; on Saturdays and Sundays, it’s 2pm.
You can also do a tour of the football stadium if that’s your thing. Although it’s called a free tour, please do remember to take some cash with which to tip your volunteer tour guide.
If you’d like a private tour around Montevideo with a local, check out Hi,hi, who have recently opened up their private tour connections in the capital city.
Where to eat and drink in Montevideo
Food & drink in the centre and old town can be expensive. We found that going to a perpendicular street 2 blocks towards La Rambla got us much cheaper nibbles. Generally, as with Spain, the cheapest looking places tend to give the best food. Uruguayan food isn’t spectacularly flavoursome, and this doesn’t seem to change much with the price tag until you hit a European-styled, swanky restaurant aimed at tourists and yacht-owners, which then is no longer a true reflection of local food.
Safety in Montevideo
What we love about Montevideo is how safe it feels. In fact, the whole of Uruguay feels wonderfully safe, but for a capital city that’s something pretty special in today’s world. Not once did we feel at risk for bringing out our DSLR or laptops, and walking around at night is no issue. The very end of the old town does feel a little less developed than the rest of the city, so we would probably avoid that at night, but everywhere else seems fine, even when you’re partying until 7am.
The only place we saw increased police presence was the Uruguay vs Bolivia World Cup qualifying match we went to. They basically brought in the army in place of ticket-checkers, but there was zero trouble during or after the match.
Nightlife in Montevideo
To be honest, nightlife in Montevideo can be a little frustrating. As mentioned, we only really knew where to go after meeting resident students here. They recommended Jackson Bar, so after our previa we popped into our hostel on the way to change shoes as everyone else was just wearing plimsols, and by the time we got to Jackson Bar, the others had managed to get in.
However, Jackson Bar (more of a club) has ZERO queue system, there is just a gaggle of people around the door, desperate to be noticed by the bouncer (a horrible, arrogant little man who loved his power-trip). This bouncer bloke just pulled out his mates and let them in, then occasionally let in the youngest looking girls (I’m not being bitter in saying these girls looked no older than 15). We spent an hour in this crowd of sweaty people before deciding at 2am to go home.
Luckily, we found an amazing little place called La Vaca Azul, which looked ropey from the outside, but had a reggaeton/bachata cellar with loads of UV paint and cheapo drinks which sorted us out good’n’proper. Those of the group who did get into Jackson Bar didn’t actually stay very long as they said the atmosphere was just creepy, mainly owing to the fact that the only girls let in were super-young and the only males were the bouncer’s pervy 30+ year-old mates. Icky.
Worth noting when choosing a hostel, most of the nightlife in Montevideo is in Pocitos, not in the centre. And if this is the first place you’ve partied in outside Northern Europe or the US, you’ll want to know that people don’t head to a club until 1-2am, and they expect to party until 6-7am, so don’t burn out early!