Five Days in Uruguay
At last, after much delay, the final installment of our South America trip recap. Here are some highlights from our five days in Uruguay!
Colonia del Sacramento
This beautiful little town was our first stop in Uruguay. We caught the express passenger ferry from Buenos Aires and were quite impressed to find that our first class seats came with a glass of champagne. The town is extremely picturesque – cobblestone streets, quaint buildings and views of the river. It is the kind of place to wander around (or rent a golf cart!), play photographer and maybe stop for a patio glass of wine. Spending a couple hours relaxing at the hotel pool overlooking the river is a good way to go too! Dinner was paella and wine at the very colourful El Drugstore restaurant. This place has an open kitchen, a diverse menu and even some live entertainment. The food was average, but the atmosphere was fun. We ended our big night out in Colonia at the teeny tiny casino adjacent to our hotel, and managed to cover dinner with our winnings at the ‘big money cheese caper’ slot machine…
Punta del Este
We rented a car in Colonia and took off early for Punta del Este. After reading so much about this glamorous, celebrity-filled, beach party town, Punta was on our must-see list. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate at all…we had rain for most of our time there. It turns out rain + shoulder season = ghost town! The sun did show up for a bit, and on our last day there we caught a glimpse of the appeal of Punta’s beaches. Even the rundown parts of town looked much more charming in the sunshine.
Since our plans of beachside laziness didn’t really pan out, we spent some time driving along the coast, checking out the stunning homes of the rich and famous and some of the smaller surrounding towns. Somehow we found ourselves spending time in another casino (this is what happens when it rains), this time the highly recommended (by our hotel) casino at the Conrad hotel. You can’t miss this place (it’s the giant blue one), and apparently it’s a big deal here…which I can understand when compared with the tiny casino in Colonia. It was a fun place to people watch, gamble a bit and have a few drinks, but don’t expect Vegas!
The most memorable part of the entire trip was our football (yes, I mean soccer) experience in Montevideo. We had vague intentions of trying to check out a game, but hadn’t really made any plans prior to arriving in Montevideo. Well…it turns out that weekend just happened to be the superclasico match between Uruguay’s two biggest rivals, Peñarol vs Nacional. On Sunday morning after a crowded bus ride, much confusion, and some help from friendly locals, we had our tickets in hand! We kind of couldn’t believe our luck – but had no idea what we were in for.
During our taxi ride to the game I’m pretty sure our driver was trying to warn us about the craziness about to ensue. We just thought he was being friendly, but we did manage to translate that we should follow the crowds of people in white shirts, not the hordes in black and yellow…and we did – around the fenced off areas separating the opposing fans, past the police in full riot gear, past the pile of abandoned women’s purses (after adding mine to the pile – no purses allowed at the game!). And then we were inside and it was total mayhem. Completely by luck, (or maybe thanks to the nice woman who sold us clueless tourists our tickets) we happened to be in a fairly calm section. Tickets are sold by team section and the opposing fan sections are separated by barbed wire fencing, guards and an entire section of empty seats. Yup. The noise was deafening, the sun was scorching, everyone was on their feet and a riot broke out. Overall, it was awesome!
Do you like sandwiches? How about fries? You do?! Well, let me introduce you to Uruguay’s national dish – the chivito! A massive sandwich topped with almost everything you can imagine (cheese, fried egg, beef, ham, lettuce, tomato, olives, mayonnaise), typically served with a mountainous portion of fries. Have one of these for lunch and you can probably skip dinner, and maybe breakfast. It’s not sophisticated or especially unique, but the chivito is pretty amazing, especially if you are super hungry, trying to eat on the cheap…or maybe a little hungover. You can get these almost everywhere, and we sampled several. We were surprised to see something called the Chivito Canadiense (Canadian Chivito) on many menus, and obviously had to try one – it’s just like a regular chivito, with the addition of delicious Canadian bacon.
Lunch at the Mercado del Puerto
You may have seen this one coming – we couldn’t visit Montevideo without sampling some parilla. And not just any parilla, but the very same shrine to grilled meat featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. We prepared for our excessive lunch with a bottle of medio y medio, which is another Uruguayan specialty – white wine mixed with sparkling wine. As we were drinking this we kind of wondered exactly how this differs from just regular sparkling wine? Slightly less sparkly? Regardless, it did the trick and soon enough we were ready to tackle the grill at Estancia del Puerto. Obviously they get a ton of tourists because the guy taking our order warned us (in perfect English) that we might want to go with a smaller, less organ-y selection. No way! He didn’t know who he was dealing with. We had the mixed grill for two and held our own in the meat eating department. If you go, make sure you snag some of the chimichurri from the shared jars at the counter – it is excellent!
Meals in Montevideo
In addition to the parilla and chivitos, we had some tasty dinners in Montevideo. We enjoyed pizza, pasta, wine and some serious meats and cheeses at Ruffino. Right upstairs from Ruffino is Pacharan, a spanish restaurant with great paella. Our hotel in Montevideo also happened to be next to an ice cream (helado) shop…how convenient. I was slightly baffled/appalled by the ice cream consumption we witnessed throughout our stay. In addition to cones, cups or bowls you could also order a plate – a large plastic dinner plate loaded with scoops of various flavours. Granted it was pretty incredible ice cream – but an entire plateful?
We would love to hear from you – comments? questions? random thoughts?
And you can check out our other South America trip posts here: