Exploring Montevideo should be on every travellers list when visiting either Buenos Aires Argentina or Colonia Uruguay.
With a weekend to spare you can explore the often overlooked gem that is Montevideo. Here’s what you can experience in just 48hrs exploring Montevideo.
- How to get to Montevideo
- Currency in Montevideo Uruguay
- Where to stay in Montevideo
- Oddities in Montevideo
- Attractions in Montevideo
- What to do in Montevideo
How to get to Montevideo
Other than by air there are two main routes to Montevideo. For those coming from Colonia Del Sacramento it’s a two hour bus ride. Buses run every 30-60minutes from Colonia to Terminal Tres Cruces in Montevideo.
For those coming from Buenos Aires as part of a weekend getaway or visa run, there is the Terminal Buquebus in Puerto Madero. The Buquebus is a large high speed catamaran that takes a little less than 2 hours to reach Montevideo.
If like me you can’t be bothered with bureaucracy and paperwork a trip to Uruguay on the Buquebus is the easiest method to renew your visa for Argentina.
Return packages are available with onward travel to Colonia by bus for those looking to spend longer in Uruguay and see more before returning to Buenos Aires.
Currency in Montevideo Uruguay
Uruguay’s currency is the Uruguayan Peso. If you are travelling to Uruguay from Buenos Aires with its hyper inflation you may be surprised by prices.
You will get a lot of Uruguayan Peso for your USD or other home currency. But the underlying costs in Uruguay are significantly higher than Argentina.
Compared to Uruguay everything in Argentina is a fire sale. For those travellers from the US or Australia, daily costs in Uruguay are about the same as Australia or cheaper cities in the US.
There is no unofficial rate or black market currency in Uruguay. The rates found on XE.com can be used as a guide.
Because there is no unofficial exchange rate or dólar blue in Uruguay you should avoid using private money changers and currency exchange shops in Uruguay. And instead use Banco República for the best currency exchange rates in Uruguay.
ATM’s will dispense Uruguayan Peso and USD in Uruguay.
Banco República will be the best for foreigners looking to withdraw cash. It has no ATM or exchange fees for most travellers. Banks such as Rio Santander will charge largish ATM fees and give lesser exchange rates.
For Australians Banco República is your best option for cash withdrawals in Uruguay.
Where to stay in Montevideo
The selection of Airbnb accommodation available in Montevideo is underwhelming. This is the same in Colonia Del Sacramento and most parts of Uruguay. In Uruguay hotels are more often the better choice.
When choosing where to stay in Montevideo I would recommend staying close to the centre of the city. The suburb of Centro close to Independence Square is the best option for sightseeing as the bulk of the museums can be visited on foot.
The ‘Smart Hotel‘ is conveniently located in Centro. I’ve personally stayed here a couple of times and would recommend it as an option. It has amazing sunset views out over the city from it’s rooftop terrace.
The areas around Punta Carretas and Pocitos are nice with easy access to beaches and modern shopping malls. Though these areas are more suburban with a smattering of foreign embassies. If staying in Punta Carretas or Pocitos you will need transport to and from Centro.
If you’re planning to stay a while in Montevideo then Punta Carretas and Pocitos are the places to go on a weekend. As Centro and Ciudad Vieja (Old City) become ghost towns on the weekends.
If transiting between Centro and Punta Carretas, be sure to drop the window of your cab and flip off the Russian embassy on your way past. Everyone else does. Also, don’t stay near the Russian embassy as the constant honking and yelling of obscenities will likely disturb your sleep.
Oddities in Montevideo
The aspect of Montevideo that seems to catch tourists off guard is the way in which Montevideo empties on a weekend.
Areas of the city such as Centro and Ciudad Vieja that are normally packed full of people on a weekday are devoid of life on a weekend. Even the street dogs vanish from the streets on a weekend.
On weekends Uruguayans flock to beaches, shopping malls and barbecues. They abandon the city in droves. For tourists wanting to avoid crowds this makes the weekend a great time to explore the city and old town free of hindrance.
Some museums are closed on Saturdays and all are closed on Sundays. So you should plan your museum visits ahead of time.
Attractions in Montevideo
For Argentinians visiting Uruguay the major attractions seem to be Uruguay’s beaches and shopping malls. For everyone else the attractions are the country’s history and art.
The beaches in Uruguay due to its location on the Rió de La Plata are brown. There are no white sandy beaches with crystal clear water in Uruguay. Just yellow sand with brown water.
The shopping malls in Uruguay are the same as those from Australia, the US or Europe. The shops in Uruguay are also priced the same as Australia, the US or Europe.
Stopping for lunch at a beachside restaurant or grabbing a coffee on a weekend from outlets in or near a mall is sufficient for most tourists to experience Uruguayan malls and beaches. Instead time is better spent exploring Montevideo by wandering around Centro and visiting museums.
Some museums worth visiting are:
- Museo Histórico Cabildo de Montevideo
- Pre-Columbian and Indigenous Art Museum
- Museo de Historia del Arte
- Museo Andes 1972
- Museo del Automóvil Eduardo Inglesias
Museo del Automóvil Eduardo Inglesias
My personal favourite museum was the Museo del Automóvil Edward Inglesias and its large collection of classic cars.
Museo Histórico Cabildo de Montevideo
My second favourite museum to explore in Montevideo is the Museo Histórico Cabildo de Montevideo. This museum documents the Uruguayan constitution and the history of Uruguay as a nation.
Pre-Columbian and Indigenous Art Museum
When I visited the Pre-Columbian and Indigenous Art Museum it was running exhibits of Australian indigenous art. This was in part thanks to a grant from DFAT. As an Australian it was an odd experience to see Australian art in a gallery in Uruguay that I’d visited to see Uruguayan art.
Museo de Historia del Arte
The Museo de Historia del Arte is one to visit if you have time. But this museum shouldn’t be a priority as most of the works are cast copies of works held elsewhere in the world.
In between the replicas at Museo de Historia del Arte you’ll find items donated to the museum. Such as the collection from Iran, donated by an ‘esteemed benefactor’ in order to get his name on the wall. Unfortunately for the museum what this benefactor has donated came from an airport gift shop in Iran and the museum staff haven’t realised.
Museo Andes 1972
The Museo Andes 1972 is a privately owned museum that documents the Uruguayan Airforce flight 571 that crashed in the Andes in 1972 with a Uruguayan rugby team onboard. The museum has a lot of artefacts from the crash and those made by survivors during their ordeal.
The owner Jörg P. A. Thomsen is also a very interesting chap. He reminds me of a very particular breed of government officer.
What to do in Montevideo
With 48hrs in Montevideo it’s possible to see 3-6 museums without rushing. As each museum takes about 2hrs to see in full. Most museums and tourists attractions don’t require much effort to explore in Montevideo.
When charting a course between museums you should stop off at the Plaza Independencia and Puerta de la Ciudadela.
There is a great coffee shop at Palacio Salvo along with a tango museum and a set of wrought iron sculptures outside.
For lunch the restaurants in Punta Carretas and Pocitos are your best options. For dinner the restaurants near to the Buquebus terminal in the tip of Ciudad Vieja are a great choice.
When in Ciudad Vieja there are a lot of really interesting street art murals tucked away in all the side streets. And it’s worth venturing off the main thoroughfare to explore. Some of the murals are incredibly intricate and all worth admiring.
On sunset or after dinner you should take a stroll along Montevideo’s miles long waterfront promenade that rivals Cuba‘s Malecon. The locals begin gathering along the waterfront in the early afternoon to drink maté and watch the sunset.
As in most countries, one of my favourite things to do is to just go for a stroll in the late afternoon or early evening and watch as the city lights up. Wandering along the waterfront and listening to the waves crash into the seawall is one of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon in Montevideo.
If you would like to see more of Uruguay, you can check out our article on exploring Colonia Del Sacramento Uruguay. Or view the Uruguay archive.