– The Gist –
Steak and wine sum up this trip. Starting in Montevideo will help ease you into South American culture. Both Uruguay and Argentina have a very European feel of elegance and culture. As you eventually head over to Argentina, you will get the full blast of tango and bustling city life. Transferring between these two countries is just a convenient ferry ride away!
– Montevideo –
Montevideo is an understated city filled with hidden gems. Walking the streets of downtown, you will feel a calm, uncrowded atmosphere. But keep a sharp eye on those unassuming buildings standing around you as they hide away amazing pops of culture. This includes the Andes Museum (Museo Andes 1972), which we stopped at solely to fill a rainy day. I came out of this museum inspired, touched, and most of all, ashamed I had no idea what happened in the Andes in 1972 prior to walking in. To take in the scenic-side of Montevideo, visit the beach and walk the long stretch from Ciudad Viejo to Punta Carretas.
We stayed at an inn called Casa Sarandi, and Karen was an absolute gem of a host. She was able to set us up with a driver from the airport to the hotel. It is always comforting to be able to land in a foreign country and know who you’re meeting in advance.
A couple cafés we loved were Café Brasilero and Úrbani; the owner himself served us at the latter. Grab a seat at the counter at Estrecho and order the salad. Sounds underwhelming, but just like the city itself, it will pleasantly surprise you. If you do nothing else in the city, visit Mercado del Puerto. As you walk into the lively, wrought-iron warehouse, your eyes take in the sight of colorful shops/restaurants and your nostrils fill with the smell of heavenly grilled meats.
– The Ferry Journey –
There are several ferry companies that run between Montevideo and Buenos Aires, but the primary is Buquebus. As you are crossing a national border, the check-in process is a bit like an airport so arrive plenty early. Before boarding, your passport will be checked and your bags will go through security screening. As of August 2016, the $160 reciprocity fee for Americans to visit Argentina has been revoked. Check out this Requirements page on the Embassy of Argentina’s website for the most up-to-date policy.
The transnational journey will take just over 2 hours. For a further taste of Uruguay before you go, the Buquebus ferry has the option to visit Colonia del Sacramento, a historical coastal town, for an extended stopover.
– Buenos Aires –
Buenos Aires stole our hearts from the very first day. You could spend the entire week here and only scratch the surface. The activity list includes…deep breath…La Recoleta Cemetery, Plaza de Mayo, La Casa Rosada, Café Tortoni, Teatro Colon, San Telmo’s Sunday Market, the Japanese Gardens, Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento, Bosques de Palermo, and Puerto Madero…to name a few.
For extended stays, AirBnB is an affordable way to stay in the chic neighborhoods of the city, including Palermo and Recoleta. One major struggle we had was using the ATMs. With very common international credit cards, we were extremely surprised with the trouble we experienced. Our only saving grace was that I had some cash with me to exchange at the Ferry Terminal. As a very cash-based economy, only larger charges can be put on a credit card and all tips are given in cash, even in nice restaurants.
But back to the fun stuff. I cannot picture a better life than eating juicy steaks and drinking divine red wine, and then dancing it all off at a milonga late into the night. Salon Canning is one of the top venues for milongas, which is the Spanish term for all-night tango sessions. Salon Canning offers tango classes earlier in the evening, but starting around 11 p.m., the dance floor is strictly for the skilled. It’s an art to see dancers choose their partners via eye contact, then after completing the first dance, introduce themselves to one another. They will go on to dance two more songs together before bidding farewell to their short love affair, and greeting their next tango partner. And the fun starts all over again…
– Tigre –
The local commuter train from Buenos Aires will take you to suburbs and towns that surround the metropolis. We chose Tigre. As you leave the city, you might get that feeling that you would when traveling from New York City to Albany, a subtle loss of tension in your body that you didn’t realize was there until you venture outward. Tigre is a relaxing getaway, and the town revolves around the rivers and canals that runs through it. There is a Tourist Information Center a stone’s throw from the train station. We selected to take a river tour which includes passing the now glass-enclosed house of ex-President Domingo Sarmiento who was known as a champion for the Argentinian education system.
– Pro Tips –
- As with any large city, watch out for pickpocketing in Buenos Aires. I read about many tactics thieves would use, and the “bird poop” trick seems to be popular. You get slimed with a substance you think is pigeon droppings, and before you can blink, kind strangers come over to clean you up and clean you out. We used a money belt under our clothes. Not attractive, but we never felt vulnerable and got to enjoy the city with a sense of ease.
- Carry bottled water and sunscreen. Summers can be brutally hot, and with so much walking to do, you will be exposed to the elements for quite a while.
- For semi-Spanish speakers like myself, watch for the Spanish lisp that is used in Argentina and Uruguay. I was feeling like a star student in Peru, but took an ego hit when visiting these southern countries, as I constantly asked people to repeat themselves.
- The water is meant to be safe, but we stuck to a compromise of using tap water for teeth brushing and bottled water for drinking.
- Bring extra cash to Argentina just in case the ATMs cause you difficulty.
The Steel Flower of Buenos Aires (Floralis Generica) on the top right is designed to open at sunrise and close at sunset.