Montevideo Travel Guide

Montevideo Travel Guide

There are two big reasons Montevideo gets overlooked as one of the world’s best gay travel destinations–namely Brazil and Argentina, the two behemoth countries that wedge in tiny Uruguay. Hiding in plain sight, Montevideo is a chill, earthy, cosmopolitan city with one of the world’s only “homomonuments.” Yes, this country the size of North Carolina is actually one of the planet’s most liberal nations and by far the most open-minded in Latin America when it comes to homosexuality. With a staunch division between church and state, same-sex sex has been legal since 1934 and gay marriage since 2013. The nation has been called ‘a model for social inclusion in Latin America’ and ranks fifth in the world on the Gay Happiness Index. All that and it’s a great city to boot. Fifteen miles of coastal promenade for running, swimming, sunning, or ambling aimlessly holding your partner’s hand. Posh shopping districts and quaint colonial architecture. Leafy plazas and serious grilled meats. But what really sets the city apart is how authentically laid back the culture is, while at the same time being worldly. Montevideo is hippie and hip at the same time.

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The best hotels in Montevideo

The Italian businessman who converted a run-down historic home into the irresistible Casa Roberto worked in public relations representing UNESCO World Heritage Sites before pursuing his dream to create a guest house. With just five rooms, it’s an intimate a stay as you can have. WIth a vintage shop in the basement, Cottage Puerto Buceo is a sleek and sweet option. It’s got a hot tub, indoor pool and bikes for hire. If you’re an outdoorsy type who prefers your urban experience in doses, you can do no better than La Baguala, a country estate hotel just outside Montevideo where you have your own private beach, pool, tennis court and horseback riding sessions. If you prefer to be in the middle of the action, the modern Hyatt Centric Montevideo sits right on the waterfront with beautiful views and is pet-friendly. It’s got a little book nook called The Corner, a quaint reading lounge that’s a wonderful place to catch up on work or emails. The nautical Art Deco facade of the Don Boutique Hotel Montevideo belies its sleek interior. The panoramic rooftop has a pool, sun terrace and bar. The 44-room Own Montevideo offers a cool “Customize Your Stay” option that allows you to specify your taste in music, arts, food and sports, and whether you have a sweet tooth and then tailors your stay accordingly. Located in the upscale coastal neighbourhood of Las Carretas.

Hyatt Centric Montevideo

Hyatt Centric Montevideo

Casa Roberto

Casa Roberto

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Recommended hotels in Montevideo
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Photo: Erica Ramirez

Photo: Erica Ramirez

You’ll be happy to know that tea time is not a lost art in Uruguay

Things to do in Montevideo

We love offbeat museums that provide a window to the soul of a place. This city has a museo dedicated solely to Carnaval and another to tango. Museo Gurvich in the heart of Ciudad Vieja is another. Lithuanian-born José Gurvich was a Jewish-Uruguayan painter, potter, musician who played a key role in the Constructivism Art movement. For the full artistic spectrum of Uruguay, Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales houses the largest collection of the nation’s artwork and also hosts temporary exhibitions of foreign artists. The fascinating Museo Andes 1972 documents the famous flight disaster about which the movie “Alive” was made. Feeling a little tired and peckish after all the culture? You’ll be happy to know that tea time is not a lost art in Uruguay. In between lunch and dinner (the latter of which is very late in Montevideo by the way), locals partake in the ‘merienda,’ which is like a siesta with snacks and tea or coffee. Cafe Brasilero, a famed coffee shop dating back to 1877 with bentwood chairs, wooden walls and brass chandeliers, is a great place to get your merienda on. It’s always a good idea to see what’s showing at Teatro Solis, the top performing arts centre in the country. This gilded building from 1856 hosts opera, plays and ballet. A beguiling musical and dance form of Uruguay is called Camdombe, which has its roots in the African slaves and was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. You can take in a show at El Milongón or see it on Sundays at 7 pm in the Palermo district. Another little known fact about Uruguay is its wines. The lovely landscaped Bodega Bouza Winery is less than a half-hour drive from the city and has been awarded for its Tannat varietal. With gripping tannins and notes of black liquorice, smoke and cardamom, Tannat is being hailed as the new Malbec.

Teatro Solís | Photo: Santiago Bouzas

Fachada Teatro Solís | Photo: Santiago Bouzas

Bodega Bouza

Bodega Bouza

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Recommended experiences in Montevideo
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Rambla | Photo: pkindsvater

Rambla | Photo: pkindsvater

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Things to see in Montevideo

An eminently walkable city, Montevideo can be taken in all on foot. Ciudad Vieja (Old Town) transports you from the Colonial to the Art Deco to the Beaux Arts eras. The district also is home to flea markets and plazas, pedestrian streets and thrumming businesses and one of the world’s few gay monuments. La Plaza de la Diversidad Sexual, built in 2005, houses a rose granite triangle inscribed with the words “To Honour Diversity is to Honor Life.” La Rambla is the seemingly endless strip of land dividing the city from the sea where city dwellers come out to play sports, enjoy snacks from street vendors, fish, stroll, laze about or watch the sunset. Montevideo has some lovely beaches along La Rambla and near Old Town. Playa de Los Pocitos is pretty and easy to get to. Carrasco and Miramar beaches skew more gay. Fortaleza Del Cerro, on the city’s highest hill overlooking the bay, is a must for both military history buffs and those who like stunning views. The old port market building, Mercado del Puerto, is a buzzing hive of all things delicious and Uruguayan. It’s filled with parillas grilling meats and surrounded by street performers playing music and artisans hawking their crafts. For architecture lovers, don’t miss the Julio Vilamajó House, named for the famous architect who designed the United Nations headquarters. His 1930 home was the first modern dwelling to be transformed into a museum. The weird and wonderful neo-gothic Art Deco Palacio Salvo is another edifice to behold. Once the tallest building on the continent, it was originally designed with a lighthouse on top of its bulbous dome.

Palacio Salvo

Palacio Salvo

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Uruguay’s love of meat is rivalled only by its obsession with yerba maté

Where to eat in Montevideo

Uruguay is the land of meat and La Otra is a stand out for its top-notch cuts and perfect grilling. You won’t ever go wrong with the rib-eye. Uruguay’s love of carne is rivalled only by its obsession with yerba maté, the tea that locals sip from silver straws in leather-bound gourds. This is a ritual if there ever was one. Grab one at the Mercado Agrícola for a guaranteed pick-me-up; the elixir is a pretty powerful stimulant. When Anthony Bourdain proclaimed his favourite sandwich was a chivito, it came as a surprise to everyone but the Uruguayans since they were the ones who invented the sublime filet mignon sandwich. Tinkal restaurant makes an outstanding chivito, piled high with steak, tomatoes, mayo, mozzarella, olives, bacon and fried eggs. If you’re feeling like a need for something healthy after all those steaks, Mercado Verde does vegan-friendly raw dishes and green drinks. The much-loved Jacinto in Old City is warm and casual with signature dishes influenced by Spanish and French cuisine and a deep selection of local wines. Their adjacent bakery is also delish. Estrecho means narrow and so this poky gastropub with a lunch counter layout is aptly named. Open for lunch, the food is inventive and impeccable and it’s worth the wait. If you’re a sucker for turn-of-the-century pharmacies with their ornate built-in cabinetry and tiled floors, you’ll want to stop by La Farmacia Cafe, a charming cafe set in a virtually unchanged 1870 pharmacy, for your cortado. We love Doña Inés Dulces Tentaciones, a speck of a pastry shop with exquisite cakes, scones and dulce de leche with coffee and tea as good as the baked goods.

Doña Inés Dulces Tentaciones

Doña Inés Dulces Tentaciones

La Farmacia | Photo: Rafael Tonon

La Farmacia | Photo: Rafael Tonon

Shopping in Montevideo

For menswear, the classic Benson & Thomas combines nautical and classical influences into a line that works for the active man. All their stuff is liveable, luxurious and simple. Black & Liberty is the denim wear king of Montevideo; they make flattering jeans for men and rock-and-roll inspired basics. Selling local designers in a concept store setting since 2008, La Pasionaria stocks clothing upstairs and arts and crafts downstairs. Buy an alpaca scarf or poncho at Manos de Uruguay, a national cooperative that’s been selling high-quality woollen wares and practising fair trade since 1968. Louvre Antiques has been around since the 1970s. The place is a huge emporium filled with jewellery, art and furnishings. A lovely home design shop doing business out of a villa, Casa Banem is the place to check out what local designers are up to and pick up merino wool throws and pillows. If you love to pick up a piece of local art as a keepsake when you travel, Acatras del Mercado art gallery sells fine art and crafts made by homegrown artists. (When shopping about, keep an eye out for the free pocket-sized Friendly Map which is a Montevideo gay scene guide listing all the LGBT-friendly businesses in Montevideo.)

Benson & Thomas

Benson & Thomas

Benson & Thomas

Benson & Thomas

Montevideo Nightlife

Unlike some other South American destinations, gay nightlife in Montevideo is a real thing. Any Montevideo travel guide would be remiss if it failed to warn you that nightlife starts late in Montevideo, very late. If you prefer to get going before midnight, start your night at Chains Pub Montevideo, the city’s most heralded gay bar. Because it’s the place for the early birds, the crowd tends to be 40 plus, especially on weekdays. One of the most popular clubs gay clubs is Il Tempo, which attracts mainly gay guys, their straight female friends as well as some lesbians and straight guys. It’s not about being slick but more of an anything-goes type of joint with a focus on live entertainment including famed drag performances. Cain Club is another big gay club, a multi-level affair with male strippers, drag queens and a darkroom.

On the straight tip, Baker’s Bar has a hipstery, low-key vibe. It’s named after the famous cocktail author Charles Henry Baker Jr. so you better bet this place is serious about its drinks. Museo del Vino is not a wine museum, exactly, but it is a wine shop by day and a tiny wine bar and performance space by night. Wednesday nights are tango nights. This is the ideal venue to go experiment with Uruguayan wines so you know which ones you want to bring back. Uruguay has as much claim to tango dancing as does its neighbour Argentina. The sensuous dance originated in the late 1800s along the river that divides the two countries. Also, it turns out man-on-man tango has been a thing since the beginning, as male dancers had to practice with other men for years before they could debut with a woman. And we’re happy to report the existence of a bunch of queer tango groups going back to those roots. Researching our gay Montevideo guide, we were beyond excited to find Tango Queer Uruguay, a group celebrating a tango that breaks with patriarchal and machismo structures, whatever your sexual orientation may be.

Queer Tango | Photo: Gabriela de Boni

Queer Tango | Photo: Gabriela de Boni

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