MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY - This is a part of South America that doesn’t get as much attention from tourists as glamour spots like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.
They don’t know what they’re missing.
Just ask the people of Argentina and Brazil, who come here to escape the pollution and chaos of their cities and enjoy the tranquility Montevideo offers over a glass of “mate”, the country’s famed herbal tea served in a leather cup.
The cup and stainless silver straw used to sip the refreshing “mate” make great souvenirs. But mate is just one of the refreshing things you’ll find in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital and cultural center.
The city’s famed Mercado del Puerto (port market) is where cruise passengers mingle with locals and sample some of the country’s delicacies cooked on an asado - the open pit barbeque where meat is cooked slowly over coals.
Meals here consist of thick cuts of steak, heaping portions of local sausage, wonderfully spiced lamb, finger licking good pork ribs and freshly picked vegetables, all grilled to perfection and delivered by entertaining servers who double as cooks. A strolling three piece Mariachi band entertains diners as they enjoy the lip smacking food that costs about $10, which includes a bottle of the local beer.
The market is not the only bargain visitors can enjoy in Montevideo. Across the street from Mercado del Puerto is a series of art shops where original oil paintings from the brush of some of the country’s most talented young artists can be purchased for as little as $200. Rich, dramatic colors are used to highlight paintings that for the most part retrace the country’s history.
The rest of the capital is just as appetizing as the Mercado del Puerto. It’s dominated by large squares and colonial-style Spanish and Italian buildings that sit alongside some Art Deco beauties.
Left: The main plaza of Montevideo is filled with statues and surrounded by grand buildings. Right: The port-side market in Montevideo serves up some very tasty dishes.
Montevideo is a city which has endured some hard time over the centuries and the weathered buildings surrounding impressive Plaza Independencia are in desperate need of repair. But the Plaza Independencia itself is a much different story. The city’s largest square is decked out in bronze statues and bright tropical flowers ring the square where residents come to seek shelter under the massive trees that line one side.
A series of narrow streets runs off the main square and the most famous with tourists is Julio Street, where the city’s famed leather shops are located. High quality merchandise can be bought here for bargain-basement prices. The neighborhoods running off Julio Street are some of the chicest in the city and their tree-lined streets offer a welcome relief from Montevideo’s stifling heat.
Most of the streets in Montevideo are crowded during the day – 50 per cent of the country’s population calls this city home. At night, you are advised to employ the services of a guide for parts of Montevideo, especially around the port, are not safe.
For the most part, though, the citizens are friendly and children asking for money – the national sport in many South American cities - are usually scolded by their proud parents.
The city offers a number of important national art galleries and museums but the most impressive part of the city for TNNworld’s liking was an area off the main square where the city’s old square is located. Here, under a canopy of ancient trees, artists and artisans sell their crafts, most of which are colorful and very inexpensive.
The best museums in Montevideo are the Museo Historico Nacional, which is filled with the country's historical treasures, and the Museo del Gaucho y de la Moneda, which houses an impressive display of artifacts from Uruguay's gaucho (cowboy) past.
The Ciudad Vieja, the old town and colonial core, is the city's most intriguing feature and a place filled with many art galleries displaying and selling impressive works by some of the country's best artists.
Montevideo is an undiscovered tourist jewel – just ask the people from its neighboring countries.
- Silversea anchors in Montevideo as part of its excellent South America cruise itinerary, which leaves from Buenos Aires and includes stops in Punta del Este, Uruguay, Santos, Brazil and Rio de Janeiro. Contact Silversea at www.silversea.com for sailing dates and prices.