Tourists usually go to Uruguay as an option after visiting Argentina. However, this small country is a very nice place to visit, not only for a short weekend from Buenos Aires, but also for at least one week in order to understand better the kindness of their inhabitants and enjoy the delicious food offered in the once considered the Switzerland of South America.
How to get to Uruguay
If you’re not in Buenos Aires, you can arrive there by plane to the Aeropuerto de Carrasco in Montevideo, the capital city. Once there, you can take a bus or the airport shuttle that leaves you in Tres Cruces Terminal and also near the beach areas. Tres Cruces is a bus station that connects Montevideo with the rest of the country. More information on schedules at link (Spanish)
The airport shuttle is a good choice if you’re carrying heavy luggage. However, there are some pros and cons for each transport option:
Omnibus: It’s fine when traveling as a backpacker. The price is really cheap, around 3$ or even less. Frequency: every 15 minutes.
Airport shuttle: Good if you carry heavy luggage. Capacity: 12 persons. Price is higher of course, around 12$. As a disadvantage, these buses leave the airport with 5 passengers as a minimum, so be patient.
Taxis: These are first class Mercedes Benz. Disadvantage: the price, the minimum fare is around 60$. You can pay in cash or credit card directly in their office at the airport.
If you’re in Buenos Aires, take the ferry, there are several companies. They leave from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento or Punta del Este, crossing Rio de la Plata, and later the company takes you in a bus to Tres Cruces Terminal in Montevideo. There are several options for the price, depending on the day and class.
There is also an option by bus from Porto Alegre, Brazil. Check here link (Portuguese)
Where to start
You can start your trip in Montevideo, Punta del Este or Colonia del Sacramento. It depends on how you get to Uruguay whether by plane, by bus or by ship.
Montevideo the capital city. There are many things to see. Let’s start with Ciudad Vieja, the most touristic side of the city, with nighclubs and the Mercado del Puerto. Visit Plaza Independencia (Independence Square), Palacio Salvo (Salvo Palace), Puerta de la Ciudadela (Gateway of the Citadel), Teatro Solís (Solís Theater), Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral) and Plaza Constitución (Constitution Square). Walk along Avenida 18 de julio, main avenue of the city, with many things to enjoy in all its length, one of them is Fuente de los Candados (Locks Fountain), where lovers leave locks since the legend says: “…if a lock with the initials of two people in love is placed in it, they will return together to the fountain and their love will be forever locked…”
Out of Ciudad Vieja, visit Legislative Palace, also Pocitos and Parque Rodó, where different activities and events are held every weekend. Don’t forget to walk along the ramblas and enjoy the beaches of Río de la Plata, where Pocitos is considered one of the best.
There is not subway in Montevideo, the best and cheapest way to know Montevideo is either by foot or by bus.
Punta del Este is a great place to visit. It’s the South American version of Miami Beach with its casinos, shops, beautiful buildings and beaches. The coastline has the Atlantic Ocean view by one side and Rio de Plata by the other side. Remember the summer season starts from December and ends around March. Don’t forget to visit Casapueblo, a hotel in Punta Ballena, it’s a must. There is an art gallery inside that you can visit without being guest in the hotel. Hours to/from Montevideo: 2 hours by bus. Good for a day trip.
Colonia del Sacramento is a small town from which you can see Buenos Aires in the distance in sunny days. I especially like these typical colonial towns, with cobblestone streets, very picturesque, so romantic at the same time. Hours to/from Montevideo: 3 hours by bus. Good also for a day trip.
These are some highlights because there is much more to see. Uruguayans are very friendly, always willing to help, lovers of great food and good beers.
What to eat
Barbecue, Chivito and beer (wine too). What is “chivito”? Chivito in Spanish can be translated into English as kid-goat, so when you say “chivito” any Spanish speaker would think of an animal. However, if you were Uruguayan, a different image will appear in your head, something similar to a hamburger or maybe a sandwich containing a steak, bacon, egg, ham, mozzarella, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise and much more if you wish, such as olives and mushrooms.
The world famous Uruguayan “asado de tira”, which is a delicious, grilled rib eaten with sausages (chorizos). A good place to enjoy a barbecue is in Mercado del Puerto in Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo. "Matambre" also is worth a try, very typical from Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, it’s a rolled beef roast that is filled with boiled eggs and vegetables.
There are different kinds of beers, although preferences are for Patricio and Pilsen. Uruguayans are also well-known for drinking Yerba mate infusion, even for breakfast. It's curious to see people in the streets walking and drinking mate. It's the equivalent of coffee or tea for us. Moreover, Uruguay is finally the first country that legalizes the grow, sell and consume of cannabis. Be sure to ask first if you can freely smoke marihuana in the streets.
Everything said in this post is not enough to describe Uruguay. There are more places to visit, food to try, beaches to enjoy and people to meet.