Often Montevideo, Uruguay is overshadowed by its neighbors Argentina and Brazil. However, it is definitely worth a visit. This little city of 3 million was rated the safest capital city in South America. In this guide, I go through our favorite 8 things to do in Montevideo after we spent a week exploring this chill city.
Planning an upcoming trip to Montevideo, this guide breaks down some really amazing things to do.
1. Try Mate
After visiting Argentina, we thought they loved Mate. The day we arrived in Montevideo we were proven wrong. Uruguayans love their mate. Our Uber driver from the port told us that Uruguayans drink Mate non-stop and he was right. We were determined to try this bitter tea-like drink.
But first, what is Mate? It is the national drink in both Argentina and Uruguay prepared by steeping dried yerba mate leaves in hot water and drinking through a metal straw. The leaves are ground into a powder and the straw filers the leaves from the water you would drink. It tastes very bitter but so integral into the culture that it’s worth a try.
The problem with trying Mate in Montevideo is whereto try it. Unlike in Cordoba, we couldn’t find a restaurant to try it. The locals already have their won so there is no need for restaurants to carry the entire set up. Since we stayed in a hostel, we were able to try it with the staff. This way was special because Mate is very social where a group of friends usually chat and share this drink (including putting their mouths on the same straw- but who am I to judge.)
2. People watch at the Parque Rodó
By now, you know that I love sitting and observing people in their daily lives passing by (in a very non- Joe Goldberg way). My favorite place to do this is in Parque Rodò. From students to lovers, from Mate drinkers to cannabis smokers, Parque Rodo has all of these. This was one of my favorite things to do in Montevideo.
The culture is very relaxed and chill. So, laying in a park chillin’ became a staple in our week in the city. This would be the opportunity to try Mate or cannabis in the Uruguayan way in a circle of friends.
3. Go to a grow shop and get a cup of “coffee”
That brings me to the next thing to do in the city, visit a coffee shop/ grow shop. Cannabis has been legal for recreational use in Uruguay since 2013. In fact, it was one of the first countries to legalize recreational marijuana country-wide. Although it is illegal for tourists to purchase marijuana, it is legal to receive it as a gift or enjoy it with friends for free. This is often kept quiet because the government doesn’t want to attract drug tourism.
However, citizens are allowed to purchase up to 40 grams a month from pharmacies or have up to 6 plants in the home. Smoking marijuana is very popular that you will smell it throughout the streets and in Parque Rodo.
We went to Cafe Marlin located near Mercado del Puerto for our consumption. The key is to be nice and befriend the staff although they know that people are looking to purchase marijuana. Don’t worry about the big sign in English that reads “We do not sell marijuana”. In January 2020, we were able to try it in the garden of the Cafe Marlin. Hey! – it’s a part of the culture.
4. Attend a free walking tour to learn more about the country.
We learned a lot of these facts about Montevideo through our free walking tour at Free Walking Tour Montevideo. I’m a huge fan of walking tours in any city because its affordable and ran by locals (plus the exercise). This tour was no different.
My number one takeaway from the tour are the 3 big laws that stand out in Uruguay. I already mentioned that Uruguay was the first country to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. It is also the second country in South America to legalize gay marriage in 2013 (after Argentina) and has been a global leader in LBGTQ+ rights for more than 80 years. Lastly, Uruguay is one of the only South American countries to legalize abortion back in 2012. Women in Uruguay can legally and for free get abortions up to 12 weeks.
We learned this and several other really cool facts about the country through the walking tour.
5. Try beef at a steakhouse.
While much of South America enjoys its steak, Uruguay has more cows per capita than any other country. In fact, The number of cows to a person ratio is 4:1. Unlike its neighbor Argentina, steaks are grilled with wood and not charcoal. We loved our visit to La Pulpería. I wouldn’t recommend going for the weekend because it is a tiny restaurant and very popular. We went on a Tuesday and waited about 20 minutes for a cramped seat at the bar. However, the food was delicious and affordable. Montevideo can be quite expensive so not as affordable as Mendoza, Argentina.
6. Go to El Italiano for seafood.
If steak is not your jam, there is a delicious seafood restaurant located right on the water. Several people throughout our week-long trip suggested El Italiano for the best seafood.
7. Skip Mercado del Puerto and go to Mercado Fernando
Mercado del Puerto is a super touristy market located in the city. Indeed the free walking tour even stops at this market. I believe it is a tourist trap with expensive low-quality food options. Most people will recommend that you visit Mercado del Puerto because of the high reviews on Trip Advisor or other blogs. For a more local experience, visit Mercado Fernando. Its located close to Parque Rodo for a good picnic option. We visited 3 days in a row and the food was that good.
8. Watch the sunset on the beach every night
Lastly, my favorite thing to do is to watch the sunset on the beach. This became a ritual every day that we would pick a spot on the brick wall to sit for sunset. Locals even give the sun a round of applause after the sun dips below the horizon. Its the perfect activity for families or for friends to hang out and enjoy that Mate mentioned previously.
Bonus: Check out more on Montevideo, Uruguay
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