Montevideo, aka “Little B.A.”
For some people (like yours truly) Argentina’s capital is just too big, too loud, and too much. Luckily, there is a smaller, more navigable, and equally interesting capital city just a 4 hour ferry ride to the northeast. Montevideo, the port capital of Uruguay, is home to just 1.8 million, compared to Buenos Aires’ 13 million. While both cities sit right along the coast, only Montevideo capitalizes on its beachfront with a wide boardwalk suitable for walking or rollerblading. (Though Buenos Aires’ harbor front has enjoyed a splendid revival in recent years, the city still lacks good beaches.) And while Buenos Aires is a must-do on the tourist circuit, Montevideo is largely omitted, which means, more for you!
After touring southern Brazil and Uruguay’s coast with nauseating alacrity, we decided to slow down in Montevideo so I could take a Spanish course at the Academia Uruguay. We booked a room through Airbnb with a bubbly Uruguayan young woman named Fernanda and settled into a peaceful week of studying, exploring, and cooking at our hostess’ apartment. I haven’t felt that at home in a city since Paris.
Montevideo Address Book:
Café Brasiliero: A laid-back café with an old world feel, Café Brasiliero is the go-to hangout for businessmen and women who drop in throughout the day for a cappuccino or a light lunch. Due to its convenient proximity to the Academia Uruguay, I spent many an afternoon here studying, writing, and pouring of any number of the international magazines and newspapers available for patrons. There is also complimentary wifi. Located on the corner of 25 de Mayo and Ituzaingo in the Old City.
Francis: This swanky restaurant in the vibrant Punta Carretas barrio is best known for its sushi, but one quick glance at the menu will reveal a wide variety of cuisines and dishes, everything from Valencian paella to sweetbreads au champagne to pan seared foie gras. I’d recommend going there on a empty stomach and sampling a little of everything. As for the sushi, the salmon sashimi makes for an excellent starter to any meal here. Located on the corner of Luis de la Torre and Jose Maria Montero. Reservations encouraged. Delivery available. Average price of a main around 425 pesos or $21 USD with a 95 peso cover for dinner (this is standard at nice restaurants in Uruguay).
Puro Verso Libreria: Like Buenos Aires, Montevideo is teeming with gorgeous bookshops, typically illuminated by great stained glass windows. One “chain” of these famous librerías is Puro Verso, which has two outposts in the city, each unique in its architecture and style. The Puro Verso pictured below is located along the pedestrian street Sarandi at 675.
California Burrito Company: If you’re looking for a something quick, easy, and fresh in the old town you could do worse than the California Burrito Company. Build your own burrito or salad with a wide variety of fresh ingredients and sit out on the terrace in the shade of an umbrella for optimal people watching. Located on the walking street Sarandi 540. The Combo #1 includes a burrito, fountain soda, tortilla chips and guacamole for 235 pesos or $11.80 USD.
Academia Uruguay: With sites in both Buenos Aires and Montevideo, the Academia Uruguay offers courses for all levels and for all time commitments. Classes are very small (I was in a class of two) and typically last 4 hours a day though times vary according to your wants and needs. They even offer a total beginner class geared towards travelers who aim to speak enough Spanish to get by during their travels. For courses and prices check out their website. Located at Juan Carlos Gomez 1408 in the Old City.