Travel Diary: 36 Hours in Montevideo, Uruguay

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Whenever we visit a new country I try to see both the capital and the countryside. So after a week in Punta we stopped through Uruguay’s charming capital of Montevideo for 36 hours.

We arrived late from Punta on our first night and checked into the Alma Historica Boutique Hotel. Tired from a day in the sun we decided to stay in, enjoying a snack on the terrace attached to our room which overlooked Plaza Zabala, a beautiful gated park named after the city’s founder, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala. The next morning we brainstormed ideas for the day during breakfast.

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We started with a long run along the southern coast of the city, passing a bustling farmer’s market on our way to the water. After showering we set out on foot to explore the neighborhood around our hotel, know as Ciudad Viejo or Montevideo’s “old town”, popular for it’s colonial architecture, antique shops and auction houses selling even more antiques! (I was in heaven!) I was initially drawn to the Alma Historica because of its charming decor and use of antiques everywhere. Not only are most of the dressers, mirrors and chairs antique, but their delicious breakfast is served on eclectic sets of delicate and colorful china, all sourced from the surrounding auction houses. The hotel, housed in a beautiful colonial building, is a lesson in Uruguayan history itself. Each of the fifteen rooms are named after and inspired by the story of famous local poets, artists, actors and athletes! Each room is individually decorated and many contain beautifully bound novels penned by their namesakes. It’s these thoughtful details that make a hotel a truly memorable experience!

Several friends recommended stopping for lunch at Mercado del Porto, a bustling traditional marketplace with many local Uruguayan restaurants. When we arrived, we wandered the stalls baffled by the incredible number of options. Then as we turned a corner, we heard a familiar “Hello again!” and turned to see Cory, a New Yorker we met briefly in Jose Ignacio when we both found ourselves buying $4 Oreos from little girls selling cookies on the beach. Since we ran into each other two times in the span of a week we took it as a sign we were meant to be friends and joined him for lunch, comparing notes on our impressions of Uruguay. On our way home, we wandered down several of the pastel, pedestrian streets around the neighborhood and, following the scent of fresh bread across the Plaza, I stumbled on Jacinto, an adorable cafe known for baking the best bread in Uruguay!

Later that evening we decided to walk through the fashionable neighborhood of Punta Carretas for an hour on our way to the Velodromo for Carnaval. As it turns out, Carnaval in Uruguay is unlike Carnaval anywhere else. The focus is on variety-show style nightly competitions that run for weeks featuring groups performing dance, drum routines, parodies and songs. There’s an official main competition and many smaller stages around town. While we didn’t quite know what to expect, we couldn’t have had more fun as the performers paraded through the crowd and down the aisles while singing and dancing in their outrageous and beautiful costumes.

Sonja, the concierge at Alma Historica was essential to helping us make the most of our time in Montevideo, from recommending a beautiful running route along the coast, to helping us find the best local entertainment and securing us fantastic seats for Carnaval. She had so many wonderful recommendations for us, and if we had more time I would have loved to visit Montevideo’s famous weekend flea markets, as well as take a trip to Bodega Bouza, a winery known for it’s delicious tannat (a local, Uruguayan grape varietal). This small country has so much to offer, we could have been busy for days!

Thanks to Sonja and the Alma Historica Hotel for such a fun and festive introduction to Montevideo!

xx, SF

All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com

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