I lived and worked in Montevideo, Uruguay for five weeks. The below is a compilation of advice, resources, and information for travelers based on my own experiences. By no means comprehensive, but hopefully helpful.
Food in Uruguay
Expect to walk past tons of Parilladas - traditional Uruguayan barbecue places. A three-course parilla for two will feed four comfortably and costs ~ 1,000 pesos ($33 USD at time of publishing). More on Uruguayan barbecue here.
Empanadas vary in texture and flavor from restaurant to restaurant. My favorites are from Empanadas Mafalda. They will run you 47-60 pesos each. I usually order three of the pollo con salsa (a promotion of theirs) for a total of 130 pesos ($4.33 USD at time of publishing).
Most restaurants are closed on Sundays and during the Carnaval season. Maybe just avoid Montevideo over Carnaval. Also during Easter.
My personal haunts
- Primuseum - an experience, not just a restaurant
- Jacinto - delicious date night spot in Old Town
- La Madriguera - cafe that's really far from everything but worth the cab ride
- Empanadas Mafalda - good food, open when everything else is closed
- Pacharán - basque food, good drinks
- Ashot Shawarma - Armenian food with a Uruguayan twist
- La Fonda - a great choice in old town
- Meyong Ga - Korean food, right by the Plaza Independencia.
- Bambu - vegetarian Chinese place, open only for lunch
Can you drink the water in Uruguay?
In Montevideo, yes, allegedly. I avoided it for a week, then noticed that my fellow travelers were drinking the water with no side effects.
I filled up my Klean Kanteen with tap water for a while. However, I felt pretty sick the whole time.
I switched to exclusively bottled water for consumption, but DO use tap water to brush my teeth. I also don't worry about ordering salads and eating fruit with no peels.
So: I drank bottled water exclusively, but took no other precautions. That worked for me.
Note: restaurants will still give you bottled water. Sin gas = still water, con gas = sparkling water.
Language in Uruguay
Few people speak English. Download Google Translate and invest some time in Duolingo before coming to Uruguay. I recommend learning numbers (particularly big numbers, as things generally cost hundreds of pesos), directions, pleasantries, and food at the very least.
Uruguayans pronounce y's and ll's as a "sh" sound, which can be confusing. Examples:
- Playa = plah-shah
- Ella = eh-shah
But 'muy' is still moo-ee.
Phrases I use often (oh man my spelling may not be correct):
- La cuenta, por favor. (check, please)
- Permiso! (excuse me, when you're walking on a street)
- Disculpe! (excuse me, to a waiter / waitress)
- Cuanto costo esto? (how much does this cost? Note: I'm not sure this grammar is correct, but it gets the point across)
- Para llevar? ('to go,' to ask for a box at the end of a meal)
Transportation in Montevideo
I walked and Uber'ed everywhere. The city is quite walkable, and Uber drivers are extremely friendly. Uber is wonderful for non-Spanish speakers, because there's no need for confusing transactional language or giving directions. You pay with your phone, you give the driver your destination with your phone. It's awesome.
In my experience, most drivers were excited to speak with a foreigner. Uber rides were wonderful opportunities to practice my conversational Spanish without stress.
New to Uber? Use promo code ti3rz and get your first ride for free.
Ubers cost me $2-5 USD depending on the length of the trip. They're incredibly cheap. I usually had to wait 5-10 minutes for a car to arrive.
Important note: if you ride in an Uber in Montevideo, ride in the front seat.
Taxi drivers in Uruguay are particularly vindictive to Uber drivers. Sitting in the front seat helps the drivers hide in plain sight and avoid uncomfortable confrontations.
Where I Stayed in Montevideo
Austral Hotel, el centro.
I don't recommend the Austral Hotel. I had a really disgusting experience, which was the fault of one of the hotel staff. I don't want to go into details publicly, but it was disturbing and really ruffled my feathers.
The rooms are basic and 'good enough.' The power was down for an afternoon, which knocked out the water as well. This was apparently a grid issue and not the fault of the hotel, but still quite frustrating.
Our group had four unfortunate run-ins in a period of ten days. Three of those four were late at night. The only successful robbery happened to a man who was walking home in the wee hours, alone and drunk.
Take the same precautions you would take in any city. Take Ubers at night - they're super cheap (something like $2-5 USD at the time of publishing). Walk in groups, if you can. Be alert. Watch your bag in crowds. Don't carry your passport on your person.
On the whole, it's pretty safe. Just don't be an idiot.
Weed in Uruguay
Yes, weed is legal in Uruguay. You'll see the occasional cannabis shop and you'll definitely smell it on the street.
Unfortunately for you, cannabis tourists, shops only sell weed to Uruguayans.
Sidenote: when doing SEO research for this post, all of the queries were cannabis related. I see you, stoners.
Questions? Want Montevideo advice? Email me.