Get ready to party down Uruguay way

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

City Slicker: Montevideo - This capital city claims to run the world's longest carnival. Declan McGarvey finds many more reasons why it's worth a visit

Why visit?

Montevideo is one of South America's hidden glories, too often overlooked in favour of nearby Buenos Aires. Yet the compact, laid-back capital of Uruguay makes for a great weekend stopover while on the continent.

Facing the mouth of the world's widest river, the River Plate, the city is fringed by white-sand river beaches and filled with glorious 19th-century architecture. Montevideo was developed as a slave port in the 18th century by the Spanish, a history that can be traced in the neighbourhoods that skirt the river – the Ciudad Vieja (Old Town), Barrio Sur and Palermo – where some of the city's most beautiful architecture and splendid plazas can be seen.

The sounds of those days live on, too, through the rhythms of candombe music. This city may lay claim to being the true home of tango, but it's these beats brought from Africa to the shores of the River Plate that uncover Montevideo's very soul.

Yet, the city isn't all about the past. Centro hosts great shopping streets and one of South America's funkiest street markets, while Calle Soriano is the hip new place to appreciate the work of local artists. Chic new design stores, swish boutique hotels and conversted loft apartments are transforming the old town. In the upscale barrios of Pocitos, Punta Carretas, and Carrasco there's a smart restaurants and bars – this is the place to taste some of the world's best steak – and Uruguay's exciting emerging wines can be tasted at the boutique bodegas, just 15 minutes out of town.

Like all South American cities, Montevideo loves to party. In fact, the city lays claim to the longest carnival in the world – Carnaval runs throughout February and March. If you're heading there in the new year, don't forget to pack your gladrags.

Don't miss...

Ciudad Vieja

Montevideo's most atmospheric barrio contains the city's oldest streets and plazas. Gaze at the façades of crumbling stone and stucco. This is also where you'll discover great new designer stores and cool cafés.

Mercado del Puerto (mercadodel puerto.com.uy)

Open-grill steakhouses crowd the old port market, a cast-iron and glass building dating from 1868. It's a den of open fires, sizzling grills and huge portions.

Candombe in Barrio Sur and Palermo

At weekends, candombe troupes parade through Montevideo's two most colourful neighbourhoods. Scores of tambores, shouldering barrel-sized drums, inch their way along narrow streets. As they go, the rhythms and dancing grow more frenetic. It is a compelling, uniquely Uruguayan spectacle.

Museo del Carnaval (museodel carnaval.org)

This museum captures the magic of Uruguay's Carnaval. Its displays feature costumes, masks, giant dolls and candombe drums.

Museo de Artes Decorativas, Palacio Taranco

The city's decorative arts museum occupies a 1910 mansion and has a dazzling Art Nouveau interior of stained glass, gilded ceilings, and original furnishings.

Museo Torres García (torresgarcias .org.uy)

Uruguay's most influential artist, Joaquín Torres García, founded the Constructive Universalism art movement. This excellent museum gathers together his works.

Plaza Independencia

Monumental architecture rings the central plaza. The Palacio Salvo was once Latin America's tallest building, the Teatro Solis opera house is pure opulence. A monument to independence hero, José Artigas, adorns the centre of the square.

Semana Criolla

A week-long celebration in April of Uruguay's gaucho traditions.

What's new?

Calle Soriano

Soriano Street (between Ciudadela and Convención streets) is an emerging arts zone. The action, so far, centres on the restoration of the Hotel Cervantes, once frequented by Jorge Luis Borges, and the Sala Verdi, a belle époque theatre. But watch out for new art spaces, scheduled to open soon.

Copa América at the Museo del Futbol

Memorabilia from Uruguay's national football team's anni mirabili – it finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and won the 2011 Copa América ahead of rivals Argentina and Brazil – is now on display. The giant Estadio Centenario, built in 1930 for the first World Cup Final, is the venue.

Details: 00 598 2 480 1259

La Cuisine Secrete

New queen of the Monte- video supper-club, the French expat and wonder chef Elsa Manelphe, is currently wowing guests at her Ciudad Vieja home with nights of spicy French-Asian cuisine. Manelphe's new pop-up restaurant is also up and running.

Details: cuisinesecrete.blogspot.com

Fernando Foglino at the EAC (Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo)

Foglino's installation, Eye of the Cyclone – a swirling cylindrical column made from 3,600 metres of rescued VHS tape – hangs suspended across two floors of this impressive new contemporary art museum. The cultural space occupies a recycled wing of the city's first prison, opened in 1888.

Details: eac.gub.uy

Don Boutique Hotel

This new boutique hotel occupies a recycled port bakery. Its design sets the original building's Art Deco façade against a swish, contemporary interior.

Details: donhotel.com.uy

Espacio Samsara

This new veggie eaterie is the proverbial needle in the haystack in meat-obsessed Montevideo. Its menu has Middle Eastern, Latin American and Thai dishes. There are home-made lemonades and natural juices served in a funky interior of tangerine walls, open kitchen, and wooden tables.

Details: espaciosamsara.com.uy

Sunday lunch at Bodega Bouza

A boutique bodega, Bouza offers personalised tours and tastings within a 10 minute drive of Montevideo. Sample its Tannat red wine – Uruguay's signature varietal – and visit this winery's new gourmet restaurant and wine boutique, both additions for 2011.

Details: bodegabouza.com

Compact Facts

How to get there

Return flights are available with Air Europa through Skyscanner.net for £882.

Insider Secret

Natalia Acquistapace, Store Owner, (imaginariosur.com.uy)

I love dancing tango at Lo de Margot. It's a romantic milonga [tango hall] with a bar serving a great medio y medio – a Uruguayan cocktail of sweet sparkling and dry white wines.

News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
New Articles
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Sport
sport
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all