Coming to Montevideo in the middle of the carnival isn’t necessarily a very good idea for the wallet
Coming to Montevideo during the last week of carnival is like being in Paris during the week of August 15th
Everything is expensive, and everything is closed
And since we didn’t know enough (not at all?), we went to Montevideo during the last week of the carnival (i.e. the last week of February this year, in 2017)
Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
We have already told you how we almost slept in the street because we couldn’t find a hotel available. Luckily, for the next two nights, I get a last minute cancellation, freeing up 2 nights in a 3 star hotel at only 47€/night
Here we are in front of the receptionist of this 3 stars hotel, a little stressed because the rate seems strangely low, it’s too good to be true, there is surely a mistake. Moreover, the receptionist is just as astonished as we are. In normal period, the rate is 67€/night. It takes her 10 minutes to find our reservation and when she sees the rate we got, she doesn’t look super happy
But luckily, she doesn’t say anything and makes us pay for what we saw on the Booking site, by credit card on top of that. Phew!
JB suggests that we play the lottery because finding a room when all the hotels are full until Tuesday (it’s Sunday), plus at this rate in a 3-star hotel, it’s our lucky day ..
On Sundays, the whole old town is deserted (carnival or not). The two places still animated are the Feria de Tristan Narvaja (which takes place every Sunday morning) and the Mercado del Puerto
Feria de Tristan Narvaja
It’s a huge market/vendor’s market with some fast food stands. They sell antiques, new or used clothes, vintage tiles in all colors. Some come with a huge speaker playing Colombian music, sipping their mate, sitting on a folding chair
JB loves mini-pizzas that can be customized at 90 pesos. There are only 5 ingredients but the seller is very successful. We tell ourselves that when we run out of money, we can make money with a food truck of this type, selling customizable pizzas/tacos and eventually fresh orange juice (we already have a pro machine to make juice in 10 seconds)
Mercado del Puerto
It’s a good thing we already had lunch at the flea market, otherwise it would have been hard to resist the call of the 2 meter wide barbecues here. The restaurants all sell good Uruguayan meat (which has nothing to envy to Argentina’s) for 15€/person (monstrous portion). By the way, everyone advises us to come and have lunch here and enjoy the Uruguayan white wine as well
Fortunately for our wallet, we are neither hungry nor thirsty
A pedestrian street leads to the Mercado, which passes through Plaza Independencia and Plaza Matriz, the two places I like the most in Montevideo
In the afternoon, people come to the Plaza Matriz with their folding chairs, a mattress in their hand. There is a small fountain in the middle, a glacier (a Mac Do too), a nice church… palm trees in the middle of the pedestrian street. I like it a lot! Architecture isn’t necessarily the strong point of Montevideo, but it’s funny to come across completely different styles of architecture. It gives a charm to the city
We quickly go to the Carnival museum to buy two tickets for tonight (60 pesos/person). The saleswoman explains to us that the carnival of Montevideo has nothing to do with that of Brazil. It is like a small spectacle. Except the 2 parades which take place in the street (Rio de Janeiro style), the small shows take place every day at the Carnival Museum and at the Velodromo for 40 days. The Carnival Museum being smaller, everyone advises us to enjoy the Montevideo Carnival here
There is a program for each day. There are between 4 and 5 carnival groups performing on stage, she recommends that we look at the program and choose the date that suits us best. As we don’t know any of these groups, we have no choice to make: we buy the tickets for the same evening
The doors open at 8:30 pm but the show doesn’t start until 9 pm. During this time, several stands serve us chorizo, cocktails… (between 80 and 100 pesos)
The first group looks a little more like the image I have of the carnival in Rio de Janeiro: very pretty girls dancing to festive music. The particularity is the use of drums reminiscent of the drums of African slaves
The next two groups will be completely different. The first looks like a musical, retracing the life of a personality who seems to be very much appreciated by Uruguayans. The lyrics of the songs and the (spoken) text are very important, but we can’t understand the content so the interest is limited. The public seems to appreciate it anyway
Uruguayan Spanish is a bit like Buenos Aires Spanish, with “sh” instead of “ll” or “ya”, which makes it difficult to understand. In fact, at the market, when I asked for “queso”, several Uruguayans corrected me by saying “palmito”. Vivi, an Argentinian woman I knew in Paraguay was the person I had the most trouble understanding (1 word out of 3). But here, it’s worse, I only understand 1 word out of 4. I don’t know if I’m the one who sucks or if the vocabulary used here is totally different. In any case, this isn’t a good preview for our future stay in Buenos Aires. We were warned that Argentines in Buenos Aires would speak even faster
The next group is a group of murgas, that is a “choir” if you can call it that, from 15 to 20 people wearing a lot of make-up and disguises. Their songs are political satire, during the years of dictatorship they were the only ones who dared to criticize the system. Again, understanding Spanish is essential to appreciate
The beach of Montevideo
The next day, we motivate ourselves to walk to the beach of Raminez, along the 20km rambla (a kind of walk of the English)
The water isn’t turquoise/transparent … but the white sand invites to idleness. It is only 30°C but the sun is already tiring us. We prefer to swim later, in Punta del Este, where we will go tomorrow
It’s Monday, a holiday, everything remains closed. There are many restaurants closed between 25/02 and 05/03. We have a lot of trouble finding an open exchange office to exchange our dollars. Fortunately, the public buses are still operational, and some rare supermarkets remain open
There are 3 weeks a year when it is very difficult for tourists to find accommodation in Uruguay
- Carnival Week (last week of the long 40-day carnival period, there are 2 public vacations so Uruguayans will all go on vacation)
- Holy Week (or called Tourism Week). Uruguayans will all be on vacation too.
- Christmas -> New Year
So as you can see, at a time when all Argentinean and Brazilian tourists are meeting up in Uruguay, Uruguayans are closing stores, restaurants, banks, exchange offices… to go on vacation in their own country and spend time with their families. The fact that a country prefers to spend time with the family instead of scratching a few extra pennies is a very good sign. The more I learn about this country, the more I like it: the people are educated, kind, humble… not like their arrogant Argentine neighbors
Part 2: Practical Tips
In summer, plan a budget equivalent to Argentina (i.e. a lot). Avoid coming to Uruguay on weekends, as Argentines also like to spend a weekend in Uruguay. Prices will be higher
When I write $UR, it means “Uruguayan pesos”
$AR = Argentine Pesos
- During Carnival: at least 60€/night
- Outside Carnival (but in summer): 15€/person in dormitory minimum
- In general, the prices shown are exclusive of tax. Foreigners do not have to pay VAT for hotels.
- In the steakhouse: 15€/person for a piece of meat, accompaniment in addition.
- Local restaurants: 150$UR/flat with VAT (i.e. 5€). If you pay by credit card in restaurants, 22% VAT will be automatically deducted from your payment. However, please add 10% tip
- Concordia (Argentina) -> Salto (Uruguay) : 100$AR
- Salto -> Montevideo with the Chapre company : 950$UR
- Local buses: 30$UR/route
- If all the hotels are full, do as we do, go to a love hotel, like Marivent for example
- Cabs are safe here. The meter indicates a code depending on the distance and the travel time, then there is a correspondence table indicating the amount to pay.
- 0 for cabs
- 10% in restaurants. In trendy restaurants, you will be charged for bread served at the beginning of the meal (even if you don’t eat it), this will not replace a service charge, so add 10% anyway, regardless of the restaurant.
- If you pay by (foreign) credit or debit card in restaurants, 22% VAT will be automatically deducted from your payment -> Pay by card is better. VISA is preferred to Mastercard.
- To withdraw money, good luck! Distributors can only get a maximum of 5000$UR at a time, for 170$UR fee per withdrawal -> 3.6% fee. It’s better to exchange your dollars if you have any.
- Beware, withdrawing in dollars is hardly more advantageous. You can withdraw up to 300 US dollars at the ATM at once, for a fee of 6 dollars -> 2%. When you exchange at the exchange office, you will then lose about 1% -> about 3% fee in total. But having US dollars will exempt you from the 19% VAT when you pay your hotels in USD in Argentina. To be taken into account depending on your itinerary.
- Cannabis consumption (and having cannabis plants at home) is legal here but selling cannabis to tourists is forbidden.