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Montevideo, Uruguay

A major port with a friendly, small-town feel, Montevideo is one of South America's hidden gems.  As of 2004, Montevideo had a population of 1,325,968 (about half of Uruguay's population). It has an area of 530 square kilometres (200 sq mi) and extends 20 kilometres (12 mi) from west to east.

As the country’s commercial and political hub, Montevideo follows its own, nonchalant pace.  Montevideo’s skyline is punctuated by few skyscrapers. The historic heart of Uruguay's capital is an unspoiled tableau of 18th- and 19th-century colonial architecture, home to charming small museums, a lively old city and only a handful of tourists.

The Montevideo Carrasco International Airport (IATA: MVD) is about 15km east of the city center. Buses depart right outside the airport to Terminal Tres Cruces, just north of many major sites downtown (easily walkable to hotels).

Think twice before choosing a hotel downtown. Charming by day, the old city can be loud and unpleasant, or quiet and dangerous, at night. Since the city is so easily navigable by cheap taxis, it’s best to stay in an upscale neighborhood like Pocitos, which is right on the water. Most hotels accept U.S. dollars.

Montevideo is not a large city and it boasts a very efficient public transportation system, so getting around is not difficult at all. If you are not bashful about your Spanish, feel free to ask people which bus route you need to take to get to your destination as it can be effective and cheap. If you know some Spanish, two websites similar to Google Maps are useful: Cómo ir and MontevideoBus.

The city's central terminal is called Tres Cruces. Aside from being a full-fledged mall, it sports companies with fully-equipped tour buses that can take you anywhere in Uruguay and even into neighboring countries.

Things to Do

It's easy to find your way around Montevideo. All roads lead from Plaza Independencia. Start under the original battlements and walk into Ciudad Vieja, past Peatonal Sarandí's street stalls on to Plaza Constitción and the city's original public building, the Catedral.

Walk Ciudad Vieja and Centro and count the many statues dedicated to national hero José Gervasio Artigas, liberator of Montevideo. Say hello to the bronze replica of Michelangelo's David at the Palacio Municipal and the Gaucho monument's tribute to Uruguayan cowboys.

Bustling dockside Mercado del Puerto offers arts and crafts, boutiques and delicious food. In handsome 19th-century Centro, visit the small shops located within ornate structures such as Montevideo's once-tallest building, circa-1928 Palacio Salvo.

The handsomely refurbished 19th-century Teatro Solis presents opera, while the ultramodern Auditorio Nacional del Sodre offers ballet, symphony and chamber concerts.
Plaza Victoria Casino is a well known gaming hotspot, and La Casa de Becho is the place to show off your tango and condombe dance moves.

When you get hungry, you will find parilladas (grill restaurants) throughout the city, proudly serving some of the most delicious cuts of meat you will ever taste.

The Rambla — This waterside roadway has people biking, fishing, drinking mate, and enjoying the great views. 22 kilometers-long (13.6 miles), the Rambla goes along Montevideo's waterfront. Lovely at sunset.

Montevideo's miles of beaches facing River Plate rival those of more famous South American seaside destinations. In addition to soaking up the sun, swimming, and fishing, funseekers can take advantage of the city golf course only minutes from Montevideo's center, the 18-hole Punte Carretas, or watch a rugby match at the Carrasco Polo Club.

Try El Mate — This traditional drink is ubiquitous - find it anywhere and everywhere throughout the city! Mate is derived from the herb yerba that was originally used by the indigenous Guarani living near the Rio de la Plata. Most of the city-dwellers in Montevideo prefer to drink their mate without sugar, called a Mate amargo. Gourds and horns are constantly being refilled with the brew from sun-up to sun-down.

Within Montevideo there are an increasing number of businesses and individuals catering to travelers seeking short-term accommodation alternatives to hotels. Outside Montevideo however these assistance services are much less common so the search can be tougher. Some places along the coast that attract tourists (such as Piriapolis, Atlantida, Punta del Este, Jose Ignacio, La Pedrera and Punta del Diablo) have apartments or cabins to rent.

Thinking of a long term stay in Montevideo?
In a world where almost everything seems to be available online, Uruguay can feel like a bit of a desert. Most transactions are done  in-person and via notices in windows rather than online. This can make it difficult to know what is available, where, for how long, for how much, and under what conditions, especially when you are searching for help in English.

You may rent an apartment directly from the owner or through a real estate agent (known here as an "inmobiliaria"). Keep in mind that a real estate agency will generally deal with contracts of 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year. Usually you can have the lease for that period with an option to renew for the same. Don't bother with the real estate agents if you want to rent for less than 3 months.

You'll find all kinds of different opinions and thoughts on life in Uruguay. Adapting to a new country will also be different for everyone depending on your expectations, your state of mind and personal way of dealing with change. That being said, according to Mercer Human Resource Consulting, in 2007 Montevideo provided the highest quality of life in Latin America.

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