Half the population of Uruguay (only 3.3 million people in all) live in its capital city, Montevideo. Not surprisingly, most of the important institutions (hospitals, universities, government, etc.) are located here, and most of the citizenry has to visit Montevideo at some point or another. This is a beach city located on the river plate (aka Rio de la Plata 1). It’s a wide river that makes you feel like you are looking into the ocean. However, it is fresh water, brown in color from the sediment flow.

Culturally, there seems to be a lot in common between Uruguay, and Argentina…Tango, Gaucho traditions, beef export, similar cuisine, significant Italian roots, the omnipresence of Maté (hot tea like beverage) 2, etc. are examples of this commonality. It is important to note however that Uruguayan people we encountered were warm, friendly, and helpful…we haven’t been to Argentina to objectively compare, but the predominant sentiment among travelers we met was otherwise. I also sensed a bit of a “little brother” type competitive spirit among Uruguayans towards Argentina. One might say there is a love-hate relationship between the two countries…the rest of the countries we visited had more of a hate-hate feeling towards Argentina:)

Uruguay was our first stop on this month long trip around South America. The country had a slow-paced relaxed feel to it, and was just what we needed after our hectic last week in Sao Paulo. Even as we were landing in Montevideo, watching the long coast all along the city of Montevideo put us in a good holiday mood. Montevideo’s Carrasco airport 3, by the way, is small but modern, and very impressive.

We wasted no time after checking in at the Axsur design hotel (located a couple of blocks from old town) to walk the streets of old town (Ciudad Vieja), watch the hustle and bustle, shop for souvenirs at an antique market, and of course dive into a late lunch. ‘La Creperie’ had pretty good vegetarian options. I’d recommend the Axsur hotel to anybody looking for a no frills, well-appointed reasonably-priced hotel, within walking distance to a lot of dining, and sight seeing options.

The next day, we did a city tour that started off with Old Town, Plaza Indepencia, and Downtown. Our favorites were Iglesia Matriz church (its serene quietness stood in stark contrast to the cacophony outside), The Mausoleum of General Artigas (tastefully done and masculine), and Palacio Salvo (for its salt shaker look).

Next up were the Legislative palace, Estadio Centenario football stadium, Monumento La Carreta, some residential neighborhoods, and the botanical gardens. The football stadium 4 hosted the first FIFA world cup in 1930, and is of historical significance. The Los Últimos Charrúas sculpture 5 is a poignant reminder of the methodical and heartless extermination of indigenous people…there are apparently none left in Uruguay. This sculpture shows the last 5 Charrua people who were taken to Paris to be displayed as if like circus animals. For all the wondrous traits we have, we humans are the most savage species to ever roam this planet.

Last stop was the port market adjacent to the port of Montevideo. This is one of the major ports in South America, and the market serves as a way to advertise Uruguay’s export products (meat, agricultural products, etc.) to potential clients. It is also sort of a tourist trap for all the vacation cruises to herd their clientele to. Regardless, the food and atmosphere was good. It is a carnivore’s heaven. Uma had a Chicken Chivito, and I had a decent vegetarian salad along with some medio y medio (Uruguayan traditional drink, half white wine, half champagne). An interesting side note is that beef consumption per capita in Uruguay is the highest in the world (around 59 kg i.e. 130 lbs per person per year!!). Folks here have a sneaking suspicion that there is a correlation between that and the fact that cancer rates are pretty high in this country. But they can’t seem to let that come in the way of their love for meat.

The beach runs along the entire city, and is easily accessible. We did not get into the water since it was cold, but walked many miles along the beach during the two days we spent in Montevideo. There was always some activity…jogging, sports, fishing, eating, watching the sunset, etc. A water body adds another dimension to any city.

We started Uma’s birthday celebrations (which lasted the entire 30 day trip:)) at La Perdiz. Dinner was decent, portions were HUGE, the local wine (Tannat) was great! I wouldn’t call it a vegetarian’s paradise.

We stayed at the Belmont House Hotel upon returning from Colonia. It is located in the Carrasco neighborhood, but not close to anywhere we wanted to go. Moreover, the hotel seemed to be an old British raj type of affair…lots of porcelain, antiques, jams, kettles, tea, etc. Not exactly my cup of tea. Dinner at Tandory 6, a nuevo Indian/Asian restaurant, was fantastic! The chef, Gabriel Coquel, added a nice twist to each item on the menu.