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Goodbye 2013: Our year of travel in pictures

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I remember leaving for the airport in London like it was yesterday. Dani kept looking at me with my big, funny backpack, and I at hers (and the extra bag she had filled with magazines she just had to finish before we left the U.S.) as we walked to catch the bus to the airport. We were filled with exhilaration that we were actually free – like high school seniors on the last day of school.

2010 brought us from Europe, through the US and Mexico to Central America, it was an unforgettable 2011 through Central America, Europe, Canada, the US and then Thailand. In 2012 we spent time in South East Asia, India and finally to South America.

Now here we are, this is the FOURTH time that we’re looking back at our year of travel. 2013 was as much a year of city-hopping as it was spent in some of the least populated areas of natural beauty on Earth. Our travel style was mostly on four wheels overland and technically slow, visiting only seven countries, but we covered a huge portion of this planet this year across Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, the US, Germany, Bolivia and Peru.

Follow along as we look back at what we are still able pack in, nearly four years after setting off on this nomadic adventure. Click through on the dozens of links to read in more detail about each of these stops along the way.

The year began in Santiago, where we housesat for two months. We still think often about our two adorable Scottie dogs there.

1 january santiago de chileWe were practically becoming locals, so we had to rip ourselves away at the start of February to start our travels through Chile. We began in Valparaiso, and fell in love with this colorful city on the Pacific.

colorful houses in valparaisoFrom there we headed to the Lake District and the island of Chiloe, before returning to the Argentine side of the Andes to explore Bariloche and Nahuel Huapi National Park with its famous black glacier. Then it was time to hit Patagonia.

2 bariloche cathedralAfter that infamously long 27 hour bus ride, we landed in El Chalten, where Dani set off on some solo hikes, and continued to El Calafate, where we visited the impressive Perito Moreno Glacier.

2 argentina perito moreno glacierThen it was back over the border to Chile to see Torres Del Paine. We opted for a full day tour of the National Park, and it became one of our favorite places in all of Patagonia.

3 chile torres del paineAfter a few days in Puerto Natales, the base town for Torres del Paine, we continued our journey south and traveled to Tierra Del Fuego via the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas before finally reaching Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, after hitchhiking from Chile back into Argentina.

UshuaiaOur next stop was Uruguay, a quick flight from Ushuaia, where we visited Montevideo (and almost got robbed!) and the dreamy colonial town Colonia del Sacramento.

3 uruguay colonia del sacramentoOf course we couldn’t leave without visiting some of Uruguay’s famous beaches!

3 march uruguay punta del este3 uruguay beach dayAt the end of March, we went from Uruguay to the north of Argentina and spent a lovely week in Rosario, before we made a 48-hour bus detour to the Iguazu Falls – a detour that was well worth it!

4 argentina dani and jess iguazu fallsWe continued our journey through Northern Argentina to Salta, a city we didn’t love as much as we thought we would, but we fell for the small wine town of Cafayate four hours south of there.

4 cafayate streetThe road took us back north through Salta to Jujuy, where we rented a car to road trip through the Quebrada de Humahuaca for two days.

4 purmamarca street and seven color hillHere we also stopped at the first of three sets of salt flats we’d see this year. 4 argentina salinas grandes salt flats salt rainAfter returning the car, we took a bus to San Pedro De Atacama in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

4 san pedro de atacama streetIt turns out that we seriously love this town and the surrounding scenery on this first of two visits to San Pedro in 2013, and were actually excited to know we’d be making our way back up here again later in the year to continue our travels to Bolivia from here.

4 april northern chile atacama desertDuring this first visit, we took a tour that showed us some of the breathtaking landscapes around San Pedro…

4 april chile atacama desert… including salt flats #2.

4 salt flats chile atacama desertBut instead of heading north to Bolivia from here, we broke our South America journey to fly to New York City for a two-month housesitting gig that made our dream of living in New York come true (at least temporarily!). We landed in New York just in time for our third anniversary as nomads and loved ‘our’ two cats and ‘our’ apartment, just a five-minute walk from the Brooklyn Bridge.

6 brooklyn bridge new yorkIn June, we flew straight to Germany to test out five weeks living in Berlin, which is now one of our favorite cities in the world.

7 alexanderplatz at nightWe couldn’t have asked for a more perfect summer in Germany, where we were featured in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, one of the national newspapers and interviewed by a major radio station about our housesitting book before flying back to the US in August.

sueddeutscheIt felt great to jet set in the summer as we flew from Berlin to New York to spend the weekend. We were mainly on a quest to find the best pizza in NYC, but also had time to revisit some of our favorite places off the beaten path and cycle through Manhattan on the Citibikes.

8 best pizza in williamsburg brooklyn new york city white pizza5 dani roosevelt islandOur next stop was Tucson, to a housesit we’ve done three times now for homeowners and a dog, Miss Millie, who we just love! We enjoyed some quality time by the pool and the desertscape that we love so much.

8 Jess and Millie in TucsonIn September, we took off on one of the best adventures of this year: a road trip through New Mexico, which would finally bring us all the way back to Chicago via Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa.

We started at the amazing yet little-visited Gila Cliff Dwellings, followed by the otherworldly White Sands…

9 white sands jess & daniThen we spent Jess’ birthday at Carlsbad Caverns before moving on to the aliens of Roswell, Las Vegas (the small New Mexican town) and Albuquerque…

9 carlsbad cavernsThen we hit Santa Fe, explored Georgia O’Keeffe country, the Bandelier Cliff Dwellings, various Pueblos and then finally spent time in magical little Taos, our last stop in New Mexico. Here we got to trek down into the Rio Grande gorge with llamas and our wonderful guide Stuart of Wild Earth Llama Trekking.

9 bandelier monument new mexicoAfter 19 incredible days on the road, we reached Chicago, where we visited friends and family, hit plenty of our favorite sightseeing spots and ate our way across the city.

10 bean reflections at night chicagoChicago is where Dani got to experience her first ‘real’ Halloween in the U.S.! Look at what we did to her face! 🙂

10 globetrottergirls halloweenIn what now, looking back, seems like our year of New York City, we spent another long weekend in Manhattan before hopping onto the return leg of our flight back down to Santiago, Chile – but not without eating more pizza, spending time in Williamsburg, meeting up with quite a few good friends and watching the New York Marathon.

11 New York sunsetFinally we flew down to enjoy all the things we love about Santiago – and just in time for the perfect spring weather (and escaping the freezing cold New York weather that hit the day after we left!)

11 santiago lastarria churchInstead of pushing through on the 24 hour bus ride to San Pedro De Atacama, we visited three new places on the way: La Serena, a quiet though sizable colonial town with a wide beach seven hours from Santiago by bus. This is the jumping-off point for the beautiful Elqui Valley, which became one of our five favorite places in all of Chile.

11 la serena street with churchThen we traveled 19 hours through the narrow piece of land between the Andes and the Pacific to Iquique, a beach city in the north of Chile. The town grew on us slowly, and we ended up enjoying our fourth visit to the Pacific in 2013. This was our last beach visit of the year, too.

11 sea lions in iquiqueThen we went on to San Pedro and made sure to visit the Tatio geyser fields – an incredible piece of desert nearly 5,000m high where geysers explode, gurgle and spurt. It was well worth the 4am wake-up call to see the geyser field at sunrise.

11 geyser de tatio chileAfter a few days of an obsessive amount of research on good tour companies, we finally jumped on our three day off-roading tour through Bolivia’s South West, otherwise known as the Salar de Uyuni salt flats tour. Our first ever border crossing in a jeep, on a tour and in the middle of absolutely nowhere, there was so much more than the salt flats. We saw more otherworldly landscapes, volcanoes, flamingos, lagoons and rock formations of just about every shape and color imaginable.

11 Bolivia laguna verde11 laguna hedionda flamingos bolivia11 arbol de piedra and mountain boliviaOn the last day of the tour we spent sunrise out on our third set of salt flats for the year, which also just so happen to be the largest salt flats in the world, the Salar De Uyuni.

11 Bolivia salt flatsThen we started our travels through Bolivia, with our first stop in the 4000m-high colonial town of Potosi. For those of you who think in feet, this is 13,500 ft high, or almost three ‘mile-high’ Denver cities stacked on top of one another. This is officially the highest city in the world, and we enjoyed the beautifully maintained historic town center which was a great introduction to the country – although just walking its hilly streets was a massive challenge at that altitude.

12 potosi viewsNext were three weeks in both of Bolivia’s capitals: first in Sucre, the official capital (and a city we spent two weeks battling a massive stomach bug that practically laid us flat for half the time)…

12 sucre street bolivia…and then La Paz, the de facto seat of the government. It was from here that we signed up (read: Dani signed US up!) for the mountain bike trip down the world’s most dangerous road – and survived (barely 🙂 ).

12 death road boliviaOur final stop in 2014 was Lake Titicaca, first on the Bolivian side in Copacabana, where we spent Christmas, then followed by a couple of days on the Isla del Sol and then crossing the border into our first stop in Peru – Puno – where we are celebrating New Year’s Eve.

lake titicaca with boats copacabana bolivia

This was a big year for us as The GlobetrotterGirls as well!

We released a second and much, much sexier version of our book, The Ultimate Guide to Housesitting – check that out here if you want to start housesitting in 2014.

We started the Break Free podcast, where I interview globetrotting women who have created the incredible life balance of running successful businesses while traveling the world. You can listen on the website or subscribe in iTunes.

Then there was the launch of our Escape Route travel planning and consulting service. We seriously love helping people make the most of the travels, and we’ve loved being able to help readers and clients plan their perfectly customized holidays.

Perhaps most exciting for us is the launch of our GlobetrotterGirls Getaways – starting with our seriously epic overland trip from San Francisco to Seattle in May 2014. If you’re interested in joining us on a seriously unique trip (in a custom-converted American school bus!) read more about the Getaways here. Early-Bird pricing ends today, December 31st, so if you’re interested, save $150 and put down your deposit today!

Dani and Jess in Argentina

Thanks so much for following along on our journey in 2013. Stick with us in 2014 for even more epic adventures through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, the US, Europe and who knows where we’ll end 2014!!

Happy New Year!

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Uruguay Hotel Tip: Hostal de la Viuda, Punta del Diablo

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Having local friends show you around is the best way to explore a new town. During our stay in Punta del Diablo, we had a gang of three four-legged friends from our hostel lead us down the organized grid of unpaved roads, up and over the massive sand dunes and along the beach. They waited patiently while we bought groceries to cook in the Viuda’s well-equipped kitchen and laid by our feet after dinner at night for cuddles.

Luckily the owners and staff were just as helpful and nice as our furry friends – which is the actual reason we’re recommending Hostal de la Viuda for a stay in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay.

Hostal de la viuda Punta del Diablo UruguayTo be honest, our stayed ended on a much more enthusiastic note than it first began. Our bus pulled into town around eight in the evening, and a pick up truck from the hostel was waiting to take us there. That was a good sign, but the minute we drove out of the village center – which quite literally took under a minute – it was still a bit of a drive through pitch black, dusty roads to get to the hostel.

We immediately wondered how we would ever find our way back for dinner (we were starving) and just what we had booked ourselves into. I’m actually quite shy, and when we opened the door into a room of over 20 people lounging in the living room and kitchen area of the giant yellow house, I felt immediately intimidated. To be fair, most people glanced up shortly from their smart phones, iPads, laptops or the movie that was showing on the flat screen. The next day, Dani and I would both realize that they were sucked into the relaxing trance that Hostal de la Viuda puts on you, and we would also be entirely caught up in it.

Uruguay Hostel De La ViudaWe were checked in by the same friendly guy who drove us back from town, and after he showed us to our room, he said that he and a few others were heading back in to town and offered to take us in ten minutes. We quickly settled in to our private room on the ground floor. It was small but tastefully decorated. The bed was narrow but comfortable, at the foot of it, a 20inch TV with DVD player sat on the desk. Right across the hall were the three shared bathrooms, which were cleaned early each morning before breakfast and throughout each day of our stay. There are dorms and bathrooms upstairs, plus two more private rooms and two small dorm rooms downstairs. We quickly freshened up and rummaged around in our bags to find our flashlights for the trip back from town later.

Uruguay Hostel de la viudaAlmost everything about the fisherman’s village of Punta del Diablo is just perfect, but the food selection leaves much to be desired. Just that one time, we shoveled the overpriced, mediocre tourist food down and made sure to stop in two different grocery shops in town. We bought enough to cook for the duration of our stay, and headed for home.

There could be more signs pointing the way, but it was easy and we felt perfectly safe walking home that night and every other. We would never walk alone again anyway, for the four days we spent in town. Our dogs were always by our side and our favorite Great Dane mix even walked us all the way to the bus at 8am on the morning we left for Punta del Este.

Hostel de la viuda punta del diabloWith Brazilian songs pumping happily in the background (it is only an hour to the border from here), breakfast each morning consisted of big, puffy white and wheat rolls with oodles of butter, fresh marmalade and dulce de leche, plus bottomless coffee, tea and mate. After months of traveling through South America, this was easily one of the best versions of this breakfast we had ever been served. Three giggly yet stylish girls prepared breakfast each day, and were also around most the afternoon baking and cooking together, always assuring fresh pastries, cakes, quiches and empanadas were available (for purchase) throughout the day.

Even when they were in there cooking, there was enough space, utensils, appliances, stove tops, dishes, pots and pans for us and others to cook along side each other. The kitchen was easily one of the highlights of Hostel de la Viuda, especially considering the 20 minute walk into town where all the restaurants are.Uruguay Hostel De La Viuda BreakfastAfter breakfast each day we tended to go for a walk with the dogs, up over the sand dunes to walk along the beach. The weather in March, Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, was chilly at dawn and dusk, but after hours is the hot afternoon sun, we meandered back through the sandy streets, past the vacation homes, each designed by professional architects. We would dream of renting one the next time we were in town, but in all honesty, after getting back to the hostel and setting up our computers to work at the tables in the cool afternoon breeze, we didn’t ever feel like we were missing anything during our stay. We worked until the kitchen got busy around dinner time (which is later in South America, so we had a good five or so hours to work each day). The Wi-Fi here was strong enough for guests to all sit around on their devices, Skyping or emailing in the evening, and because it was off season, there wasn’t much other to do in the evenings than that, or watch movies sprawled out together on the leather couches and armchairs in the living room.

Hostel De La Viuda in Uruguay Punta Del DiabloStand Out Feature: More than meets the eye

During our stay, we spent a lot of time actually hanging around the hotel and every day we discovered new amenities. There is a pool in the back, plus a multi-level sun deck with ocean views, loads of space to barbecue, sun chairs, hammocks, tire swings, even a volleyball court. In addition to the freshly baked goods in the kitchen, there is also a fridge selling beer, water, soda, chocolate and other snacks at nearly the same price as in town. Any time the jeep heads into town, someone does offer to take you, but there are also bikes for rent for $5 a day. There are also brand new apartments for rent off site, if you are looking to stay longer term or have more privacy.

Hostel de la viuda Punta Del Diablo UruguayRoom for improvement: Signage

I can’t ask the hotel to move closer to the beach any more than I can ask the beach to relocate nearer to the hotel. All I would like is for the information on the website to reflect the reality that it’s a 15-20 minute walk into town, not five minutes, and I wouldn’t mind one or two lit signs on the main road and on one of the darker side roads lighting the way a bit more clearly to hostel. I really wonder if I would have found it at night as easily if I didn’t have my real-life GPS Dani with me.

hostel de la viuda signsOverall

Overall, staying in this big yellow house feels like the parents have gone away, only to leave their enthusiastic kids in charge. There is a happy, chilled vibe that immediately relaxed us during our stay. We got a bizarre amount of writing done, in a sort of serene haze, not lazy, just no stress whatsoever. With a cool, laid-back vibe, Hostal de la Viuda manages to meet every need before you know you’re missing something, and made us so welcome and comfortable that we extended for one extra night, just so we could hang out for one more day (and play with the dogs, obviously).

Punta del Diablo

Details

Location: Calles San Luis y Nueva Granada, Punta del Diablo, Uruguay
Price: Starting at US$10 for a dorm bed, US$40 for a double room (shared bathroom)
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes
Amenities: Complimentary breakfast, fully equipped kitchen, food and drinks available for purchase, free wi-fi, swimming pool, comprehensive book and DVD library, terrace, hammocks, bicycle rental, apartments available
Website: www.hosteldelaviuda.com

Warning: In Punta del Diablo the ATM (Cash machine) only works in January and February!

We booked this hostel through

booking

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14 things we love about Uruguay

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Two weeks in this small South American country might seem like enough, but once you get comfortable and ease into the way of life here, you could easily get sucked in for a few months. Between beach-hopping, checking out Montevideo, the capital, and hitting up so so cute colonial towns we fell head over heels in love with Uruguay. We’ve put together a list of fourteen things we love, one for each day we spent in Uruguay.

1 Punta del diablo

This was our favorite beach town in Uruguay. We were here just after high season, so the tourist swell gave way to the sleepy fisherman’s wharf feeling it has the other ten months a year. We loved the architecture of the homes here, and the sand dunes piled high along the roads near the beach.

Punta del Diablo

2 Dia de Ñoquis – Gnocchi Day!

The influence of Italian immigrants throughout South America make dishes like pizza and pasta commonplace, but the fact that Uruguay still routinely celebrates Gnocchi day on the 29th of every month has us hooked as Jess prefers gnocchi to any Italian dish.

gnocchi with spinach
Spinach Gnocchi

3 Colonial towns

We loved the colonial little towns throughout the country – each and every one was picture-perfect with pastel-colored houses, a well-manufactured town square and cobble-stone streets, with Colonia del Sacramento being the most popular colonial town in all of Uruguay.

la calle de los suspiros colonia del sacramento

4 The gaucho culture

Uruguay remains a very traditional country with a strong gaucho (cowboy) culture. Even though we hung mostly near the coasts, we loved coming across this culture here and next time we will spend more time inland exploring this as well.

5 Medio y medio

This traditional and refreshing Uruguayan wine is simply a half-half mix of one part sweet sparkling wine cut with an equal part dry white wine – delicious!

colonia del sacramento medio y medio.JPG

6 Beaches

Uruguay has miles and miles of coastline and dozens of beautiful beaches. The capital, Montevideo, is surrounded by coastline, which then extends the entire way to the border with Brazil.

punta del diablo dani and dog

7 Buses with Wi-Fi

We should emphasize – these are buses with Wi-Fi that actually works. In Argentina or Chile, where bus rides last ten hours or more, the advertised wi-fi is little more than watching the symbol swirl as it attempts to connect. In Uruguay, rides are usually three hours or less, so you might have less time but you can get online to check emails, read, work or tweet while you drive.

8 Mate obsession

We knew that Argentina was obsessed with the herbal drink Mate, but that is nothing compared to the Uruguayans addiction. People carry a large thermos in the crux of one arm and their mate gourd in the other everywhere they go with others carry leather bags specifically made to carry mate but no one – seriously no one – leaves home without their thermos and their gourd.

montevideo mate vendor

9 Vintage cars

Uruguay is home to an incredible collection of vintage cars. Some are in perfect condition, but most exist in a state that symbolizes the laid-back, rustic charm of Uruguay.

uruguay classic cars colonia del sacramento

10 Gay-friendly

The country is surprisingly gay-friendly. As the 14th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, we saw open displays of affection between gay couples even on the street and there is even a Plaza for Equality in Montevideo.

gay montevideo

11 The rambla in Punta del Este

Even though Uruguay is on the east coast of the continent, Punta del Este sits on a cape, allowing amazing sunsets to be seen from the stretches of west-facing beaches here.

mermaid statues at sunset punta del este

12 The laidback vibe

Beaches, hippies, free health care, low crime rates, decriminalized marijuana laws – take your pick – but all of them combine to make Uruguay easily one of the most laid-back countries in South America.

13 The lighthouses

Uruguay has over 15 lighthouses along the coastline, most of which date back to the late 1800s. We climbed up to the top of various bright white lighthouses for expansive views of the coastline. Those with a fear of heights should still climb the hundreds of stairs – once you get the the top you really appreciate the combination of an old world feel with the beautiful beaches in view.

Lighthouses Uruguay

14 Hostel de la Viuda

This hostel in Punta Del Diablo was our favorite accommodation in all of Uruguay. We extended our stay from two days to four! We felt right at home with the chilled atmosphere, friendly staff, adorable dogs, clean kitchen with everything necessary to cook, plus a swimming pool, comfortable beds and delicious Uruguayan breakfasts (which are still bread and jam, but the bread was huge and the jams were homemade).

Hostel de la viuda punta del diablo

Planning a trip to Uruguay? Check out other Uruguay articles on our site. Have you been to Uruguay? Is there something you love that we forgot to mention? Share it in the comments! 

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The vintage cars of Uruguay

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When we landed in Uruguay, we knew it would be similar to neighboring Argentina, just with a stronger Gaucho culture, better beaches and an even bigger obsession with their maté tea. All of these held true – especially the fact that they never leave the house without their maté.

But who would have thought Uruguay would remind us more of Cuba at times than Argentina! It sure did, though, with thousands of gorgeous vintage cars rolling through the streets like a moving antique car fair or open air automobile museum.

vintage car coloniauruguay classic cars in colonia del sacramentoIn North America in the summer, you’ll often come across vintage car shows, with dedicated owners waxing and relaxing while onlookers admire and consider paying large sums of money to pick up their own vintage car. In Uruguay, the roads themselves are the car show, driven by regular janes and joes who have had these cars in their families for generations.

montevideo vw beetleThere is just something so perfectly fitting about these cars that represents the overall feeling of life in Uruguay – proud, timeworn, defiant, dignified and adorably dilapidated.

uruguay vintage carWhile some cars definitely look used and abused, many are as pristine as in their heyday. There is a sense of nostalgia overload with these gorgeous old-timers parked along the streets of villages that also appear unchanged since the cars first pulled up back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

uruguay classic car colonia del sacramentoIt was during this era that Uruguay experienced a major economic upturn, exporting beef and wheat to sustain Europe throughout both World Wars. With money lining their pockets, Uruguayans proudly began opting for more expensive imported cars, and not just for special ocassions or the very rich. Imported Rolls Royces and Bugattis were even used to make deliveries or left to rust on the side of the road in favor of the latest model.

uruguay classic carThat is, until the economy completely crashed in the 1960s and car imports stopped almost entirely. Uruguayans maintained their love of cars and began preserving their cars to last for decades, and even have a special word for these cars now – ‘cachilas’.

vintage car n uruguayThese cachilas have been passed on to sons and daughters, who passed them on to their sons and daughters, many of whom are still driving them around today. Those cars that don’t run are often still shown love, re-purposed as artistic displays, like many of the cars we saw in Colonia del Sacramento.

uruguay vintage opelIn particular we loved the two classic cars parked in front of the El Drugstore restaurant: a 1930s Citroën sprouting trees and flowers and a 1920s Ford Model T, which has been remodeled into a dining car, for diners to eat at a little table inside the car.

uruguay vintage Citroen Traction Avant with treeuruguay Citroen Traction Avant colonia de sacramentouruguay ford model a dining car coloniaIt didn’t take long for word to get out about Uruguay’s vintage vehicles and in the 1970s, collectors from as far as Japan, Europe and North America flocked to Uruguay looking for rare models at much lower prices.

uruguay vintage car coloniaThe cars of Uruguay, while vintage, can not really be considered antiques. These are living, breathing automobiles that have been consistently in use for over 60 years now. Antique might however be a word used to describe the mechanics who so lovingly restore them. Essentially car historians themselves, the older generation of mechanics have been pouring their hearts in the cars of Uruguay for decades.

vintage car uruguayThe mechanics teach the younger generations the steps to repair the cars, but swear that only the older mechanics can truly keep the vintage cars in tact. Possibly a case of intertwined souls of the cars and the mechanics who have so long loved them?

uruguay vintage ford truckVintage cars have a very special place for everyone in the country, so much so that they are declared by the government to be ‘historic patrimony’. What this means is that a permit from the Commission on Historic Patrimony is required before a car can be shipped abroad that was manufactured before 1940.

montevideo vw beetle greenThis assures that the streets of Uruguay can continue to hark back to the golden era and its car culture for decades to come.

uruguay vintage army jeep_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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Conveniently picturesque – a getaway to Uruguay’s Colonia del Sacramento

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Sitting at a table at ‘El Drugstore’, a popular restaurant in the historic center of Colonia del Sacramento, sipping a medio-y-medio while looking out at the Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento, I felt at ease for the first time since our attempted robbery in Montevideo. It might have been the mix of moscato grapes and pinot blanc sparkling which mix to make Uruguay’s special wine, or the passionate singer who entertained the guests with Spanish love songs. The scene felt like out of a movie, the manicured town square just a little bit too perfect.

Colonia del Sacramento Medio y Medio and churchWe booked four days here despite being warned that Colonia could be ‘done in a day’. Catching up with work and relaxing in the picturesque little town was exactly what we needed.

Picturesque Colonia 

Colonia del Sacramento is a former Portuguese colony founded in 1680 that has become a long weekend playground for residents of Buenos Aires, the reasons for which, however, are not purely touristic in nature.

Colonia del sacramento uruguayColonia is a charming, compact UNESCO World Heritage site that really could be visited in a single day, a soothing contrast to the sprawling Argentine capital that sits just a 50-minute ferry ride across the Rio de la Plata river. Here tourists from around the world step carefully along original and very rocky cobblestone streets lined with one-story colonial buildings filled with cheek-pinchingly cute cafes and restaurants and several modest attractions like the old lighthouse, the country’s oldest church, Iglesia Matriz, the city’s old fort and the 17th century port which juts out into the river.

Colonia del Sacramento UruguayHere you eat ice cream and stroll, and the second day in town you can rent bicycles, scooters or even golf carts to escape out to the beaches just 15 minutes outside the city. We would also recommend riding, driving or carting around the Colonia beyond the historic center, which has an entirely different and much more Uruguayan feel.

Colonia del Sacramento Unesco UruguayWe spent most of our days between sightseeing and working away in the little cafes, such as the Amada, which was probably the prettiest one, and Ganache, which had the best wi-fi… or cake… ok, both.

As was our routine in South America, we hung with the local stray dogs and watched the sun set across the Rio de la Plata.

Colonia del Sacramento Pupppies and sunsets

Money, money, money: Convenient Colonia 

Although it is truly picturesque, Colonia’s popularity might have slightly less to do with an influx of international tourists and more to do with residents of neighboring Argentina, in particular Buenos Aires, who flock here for entirely practical purposes.

Argentina is again suffering bouts of extreme inflation, devaluing the peso. There is no access to US dollars from banks anywhere in Argentina, which means that while parents hand out ice cream and climb to the top of the lighthouse with their kids, they are there to endure the long lines that wrap around the block to withdraw large sums of US dollars from Uruguayan banks. Both parents and business people are involved in bringing massive amounts of dollars back into Argentina, either to save under their mattresses or exchange on the blue market.

Colonia del Sacramento UruguayColonia is also a practical escape for the Buenos Aires expat community, who make quick weekend trips here every three months when their visas expire. North American and European expats hop across the Rio de la Plata and upon their return, have a fresh new three-month tourist visa to continue living in Argentina without having to apply for any sort of official residency.

Our tip: How to best stock up on $US dollars in Colonia del Sacramento

For people who are traveling from Uruguay to Argentina, you will need to stock up on US Dollars, too, as you will save hundreds, even thousands of dollars by exchanging them on the blue market for pesos while in the country. Our advice is to entirely avoid the massive ATM lines in the barrio historico and venture out beyond the cobblestone into the ‘real’ Colonia. There are plenty of little details to discover and the further out you go, the shorter the lines at the ATM (we never waited more than five minutes near our hotel). You can also bring your passport and withdraw $$ with a teller inside the bank in order to avoid paying any ATM fees as well.

Colonia del Sacramento UruguayNo matter what your purpose of your trip is to Colonia del Sacramento, do your hotel research, book at least a week in advance if you can and stay for a few nights to really soak in this charming city and the surrounding sleepy countryside and secluded beaches.

Colonia del sacramento uruguay

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How much does it cost to travel in Uruguay?

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The quick answer to this question is: More than you would think.

Like neighboring Argentina, Chile and Brazil, traveling in Uruguay is not cheap and you often spend the same amount as when traveling in the U.S. and Europe, but if you’re looking to match the same level of quality in hotels or food, it is there, but you’ll actually have to spend a bit more in Uruguay to get it.

The upside? Fellow travelers had warned us that prices in Uruguay would be even higher than in Argentina, more than 20% higher they said! However, with the exception of glitzy Punta del Este, we found there to be no real difference between tourist-friendly areas in both countries.

For short-term travelers looking for a vacation in Uruguay, budget in the same that you would for a vacation in the U.S. or Europe. For long-term travelers, we’d say that unless you’re an extreme shoestring traveler, plan in a daily budget of US$45 per person, based on two sharing.

UruguayNote: dealing with money in Uruguay can be confusing, as prices are marked U$S100 vs when prices are in US dollars US100. For the rest of this post, the use of the dollar sign is for prices in US dollars, Uruguayan pesos will be marked UYU.

Budget breakdown

Our own average spending worked out to $50.68 per person, or US$101.37 for the two of us, per day, and we spent $1,419.20 in two weeks. Spikes in inflation and tricky currency exchanges being the norm in Argentina and Uruguay, we want to clarify that we spent 27,021 Uruguayan Pesos at an exchange rate of UYU19.04 per 1 USD at the time of our visit. .

cost of travel in uruguay

Here is a breakdown of our costs:

As usual, accommodation was the biggest expense, followed by food and transportation. Our love of coffee cost us an additional UYU60 / $3.25 each per day as well, for just basic Americano-type coffee.

Miscellaneous expenses included laundry (UYU260/$13.66), postcards, stamps and a few souvenirs.

Cost of accommodation in Uruguay

Accommodation costs were hard to keep down, and we stayed primarily in hostels and guest houses rather than hotels. Because we were traveling just after the end of high season, we used Booking.com to find discounts on accommodation, which many hotels offer once their hotels clear out after February. If you are traveling in Uruguay between December and February, expect to pay at least 20 per cent more per night.

At Posada Del Sur in Montevideo, we paid $50 for a comfortable double room, shared bathroom and full breakfast, and $42 for a double room at Hostel De La Viuda in Punta del Diablo, a hostel we absolutely loved. For $44, our hostel in Colonia was sub-par and far out of town.

Montevideo

When booking hotels, a private budget room runs for $55, a private in a hostel is between $35 – $40. Beds in dorm rooms cost $10-$14.

During low season (March – October) you can snatch a double room in a 4-star hotel for $80 – $100.

posada al sur montevideo bedroomIf you are booking well in advance (about three to four months), there are huge discounts that can get you room rates almost as low as during low season in Montevideo and at the beaches, but not in Colonia which is busy year round.

The Beaches

Punta del Este is considerably more expensive than the rest of Uruguay’s coastline. We hunted down a great deal on a hotel, including full buffet breakfast for less than $60, right in the center of town. This was partially because we were there in the Summer-Fall shoulder season, but most rooms run $100-$130 in March still. If you book far enough in advance, there are double rooms in hostels and budget hotels for $50-$60, which usually include a full breakfast. Dorm beds average $18- $20.

Expect prices to double around Christmas and at the end of February, which is summer vacation for Uruguay and Argentina; even dorm beds go up to $35.

Even though Punta Del Diablo is slightly more affordable, prices for a decent double room are still up to $100 during high season.

Hostel de la viuda punta del diabloTip: We were told on various occasions that, if you are planning to travel in Uruguay during high season, you should make sure to book a hotel / hostel months before you get there. The best places are booked out up to five months before high season, and you will find yourself left with mediocre options at outrageous prices.

Colonia del Sacramento

Due to weekend visitors from Buenos Aires renewing visas or withdrawing dollars and tourists traveling from around South America, Colonia del Sacramento sees tourists fill so many rooms year round that even taxi drivers can’t keep up with the new hostels and budget hotels popping up further and further outside the city center. There are several beautiful boutique hotels and B&Bs for $90–$130 in Colonia, decent double rooms in a hostel or budget hotel for about $50 – $60 and dorm beds between $13 and $16, but only if you book ahead. If not, it’s a game of roulette – one which we played and lost.

Tip: Almost all hostels and hotels in Uruguay have breakfast included. Book accommodation that includes breakfast whenever possible; it will save you a lot of money, especially at the beaches.

posada al sur montevideo b&b breakfast and kitchen

Cost of food in Uruguay

Prices for eating out are about the same as it is in the U.S. – sometimes even more, and especially if you want any level of quality. To put price comparison into perspective, a 6-inch veggie delight Subway sandwich cost UYU90 at the time of our visit, or $4.73, when in the U.S. you can get $5 foot-long subs.

Vegetarian dinner for two cost UYU400-500, or $22-$27, and when we cooked at the guest house, the groceries still averaged UYU 300 / $15 for a full meal.

Going out for coffee, one of our favorite past times, was outrageously expensive at the beaches, with a cup of coffee or cappuccino costing around UYU100 / $5, two ice cream cones were UYU150 / $7.88 and just going out for coffee and cake set us back UYU420 / $22 in Punta del Este.

punta del diablo coffee

Cost of transportation in Uruguay

Buses between the major cities are usually about $20 for a 4-hour bus ride. Uruguay is a small country, so the two longest distances cost UYU 420 / $22 per person from Montevideo to Punta del Diablo and UYU455 /$24 from Punta Del Este to Colonia del Sacramento. Shorter bus rides, for example from Punta Del Diablo to La Paloma, were UYU215 / US$12 per person. Considering that these prices are from bus terminal to bus terminal, the Summer Bus, which includes hostel pick-up and hostel drop-off in 12 beach towns for $75, is actually not a bad deal at all.

Ferry tickets with Buquebus from Montevideo or Colonia to Buenos Aires start at UYU760 /$36.30 (one way, if booked in advance).

la paloma view

Cost of entertainment in Uruguay

Entertainment costs were actually our smallest expense. The most expensive activity we splurged on was renting bicycles in Montevideo, which cost us UYU200 / $10 per person for a four-hour rental. A 6-hour surfing course for beginners in Punta Del Este is UYU1900 ($100), a half-day city sightseeing tour in Montevideo is UYU650 ($30). However, most museums are only a few dollars and the majority of activities in Uruguay is free.

Money saving tips for Uruguay:

1 Travel in the shoulder season. If you travel in the dead of the winter (May – October) most of the beach towns will be completely shut down, but if you travel on either side of high season, you get great weather, less busy towns and much less expensive accommodation rates compared to high season months of December, January and February.

2 Don’t pay for water. You can drink the water everywhere in Uruguay, and you can ask for tap water in restaurants at no extra charge.

3 Cook for yourself whenever possible After accommodation, eating in restaurants was our biggest expense in Uruguay. We went to the supermarket and bought ingredients for pasta, sandwiches or stews and soups for a fraction of the price (and time) spent in restaurants.

dani and jess at the beach in uruguay

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Uruguay’s best side is its coastline | The beaches of Uruguay

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“A Punta del Este o a Montevideo?”

Asking us whether we wanted to go to the beach resort Punta del Este or Uruguay’s capital of Montevideo, a well-dressed shuttle driver glided up next to us, attempting to entice us with smooth talk of a two-hour air-conditioned ride from the airport directly to the beach.
Uruguay beachesAfter months of chilly (followed by downright freezing) travel through Patagonia down to the end of the world, digging our toes in the sand would have been sweet therapy. Instead we had already booked four nights in the capital and were waiting on the local bus to take us into Montevideo that day.

If we had landed at Uruguay’s swanky, VIP friendly Aeropuerto de Carrasco and been immediately whisked away to Punta del Este to join the international jet set, we would have immediately sided with the oft-given moniker that Punta del Este is the ‘Monaco of South America’. Set on a long, narrow sand peninsula, Punta del Este is home to the good life: sun, sand, nightlife and glamor – and the price tag to match.

Punta del Este Uruguay

Punta del Este for all budgets 

Prices here are 50% higher than the rest of the country. However, when we found a last-mintue deal for a 3-star hotel in the center of Punta Del Este on Booking.com for just under $58, we jumped with joy. This is a downright bargain in this part of South America where we paid $60 for a very basic double room with shared bathrooms in a run-down backpacker hostel in Ushuaia. This deal even included breakfast buffet and free bike rentals, which ended up being the perfect way to visit Punta del Este.

The people might also be more beautiful, the high-rise condos rise higher and there is a lot more life in the nightlife here than in the rest of sleepy Uruguay. At first it might have been easy to be intimidated, but as we hopped on our squeaky hotel bikes and cycled around town, Punta del Este revealed itself as a great spot for travelers of all budgets.

punta del este uruguayLa Mano, or The Hand, is a famous sculpture reaching out of the sand on Punta del Este’s Brava beach. After dozens of different poses with The Hand, ‘brava’ (rough) beach was a great place to start our exploration of the city. We rode down and around the coast along the promenade to the lighthouse, where we witnessed what was easily the most captivating sunset of all our time in South America. We continued then around the small cape past impressive beachfront luxury homes, some with futuristic architecture, others looked more colonial, but all of them looked like they could have been the house that Leonardo DiCaprio rented when his then-girlfriend Gisele Bundchen brought him to this star-studded South American city. The promenade continues to the yacht harbor and lavish condos along the calm waters that earn this section of coastline the name Playa Mansa, or ‘calm’ beach.

Punta Del Este mano SculptureA major highlight for us took place inland at the Ralli Art Museum Punta del Este, the first of five Ralli museums around the world. We had been so impressed by the Ralli in our Vitacura neighborhood in Santiago that we made it a priority to visit this one. One of the most important collections of Latin American art is housed within the gorgeous 6,000m² building in Punta’s Beverly Hills neighborhood. Entry here is free, and we wandered through the many different rooms and outdoor spaces for close to two hours!

Ralli Museum Punta del EsteWe ran out of time in Punta del Este – mostly because we didn’t plan on actually enjoying it so much. If we had stayed longer, we would have taken a trip out to Casapueblo, a majestic hotel and museum created by Uruguayan sculpture artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, or spent the day at beaches like Portezuelo, Solanas, Punta Ballena (Whale Point) and Isla de Lobos (Sea-lions Island), which is home to a light house and the largest colony of sea lions in all of South America.

Our only major complaint about Punta del Este was the food, as quality cuisine costs an arm and a leg, even outside of high season. There are a few affordable spots that don’t serve up plates of grease and sugar, but these are like needles in a haystack. We’d advise you to balance a few nights of pricey dinners with trips to the supermarkets for picnic lunches on the beach.

Punta del Este Uruguay beach

La Paloma, Uruguay’s Dove Beach

Uruguay is such a laid-back country compared to its neurotic Argentine neighbor, and outside of Punta del Este, the coastline between Montevideo and the Brazilian border has several small, more relaxed spots to choose from. We recommend a visit on either side of high season for much lower prices and equally sunny weather. If you are in town over the summer months, however, get a SummerBus ticket. This is a $75 hop-on, hop-of ticket that gets you 12 trips along the coast, with door-to-door hostel drop off.

On a continent where travel often involves 20-hour bus rides across massive countries, Uruguay’s diminutive size is charming and trips totaling two hours or less up and down the coast are perfect for a beach-bum kind of summer.

La Paloma Rocha UruguayThe Summerbus didn’t run anymore during our visit, but local buses still ran on schedule to all the beaches we wanted to visit, including La Paloma. After unseasonal torrential downpours put a damper on our first 24 hours there, the sun came out just in time for our climb to the top of the 95-foot lighthouse for fantastic views of empty beaches. From December to February, especially once Carnival begins, La Paloma is supposedly nonstop nightlife (we witnessed it as a sleepy, off-season beach town), and from July to October this is the perfect beach for whale watching tours. We did not stop there, but nearby La Pedrera is supposed to be a quiet family-friendly alternative to La Paloma.

La Paloma lighthouse Uruguay

Punta del Diablo, Devil’s Point

We could easily see ourselves spending a month or two right on Punta del Diablo, or Devil’s Point, just an hour from the Brazilian border.

This former fishing village turned boho chic beach is the antithesis of Punta del Este. The only high rises are the massive sand dunes along mostly unpaved roads which disguise homes of the town’s 389 permanent inhabitants and the hundreds of architectural masterpieces where over 25,000 Argentines, Brazilians and Europeans spent weeks or months renting during the summer months. These ain’t your typical beach huts.

Punta del diablo Uruguay beachInstead, they are an eclectic collection of creative constructions that somehow still manage to give the town a laid-back, albeit upscale, surfer town vibe (apparently, you see more white people with dreadlocks here per capita than anywhere else in the world). Punta del Diablo is incredibly spread out, but  the ‘downtown’ is made up of three simple blocks, with two modest supermarkets, a school, a few cafes and sandy beachfront restaurants. The main attractions are the many small beaches, and if you visit between March and November when all the holiday-makers have disappeared, the town feels completely empty. Our hostel, the wonderful Hostel De La Viuda, was a 30 minute walk from downtown, and walking back at night was done in complete darkness (unless you had a flashlight), which at first terrified us, but then quickly added to the under-developed charm of the place. Especially knowing that, during the day, the houses we walked past were each individually designed by architects from around the world. Our hostel stay was one of the best we had in South America, but there is something about the idea of renting one of these adorable houses for a month, or a summer, that is so appealing, too.

Punta del Diablo retains the wild, natural beauty of the coastline, while perfectly balancing a modern vibe in such a way that left us wanting to leave our flip-flopped footprints all over it for much longer than our five-day stay.

Punta del diablo uruguayHave you visited Uruguay’s beaches? Which one was your favorite? What’s your favorite beach town in the world?

 

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Photo Essay: A stroll through Montevideo

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Touching in down in Montevideo, the two of us city girls were giddy with excitement. Six weeks of traveling through barren landscape of Patagonia and the green spaces of Chile and Argentina’s Lake District had been unlike anywhere we had ever been, but we missed the buzz of a big city: culture, people, diverse food, art. After such great experiences in Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile, we also had high expectations for Montevideo, our third South American capital and Jess had even harbored some ideas about living there for a few weeks at one point. When we walked out of a gleaming, futuristic airport terminal to catch our bus into the city, we were convinced that Montevideo wouldn’t disappoint.

A few minutes in to the ride, however, and we had passed the first of many horse carriages and dirt roads. We wondered if maybe Uruguay’s capital wasn’t as modern as its airport had teased?

horse carriage in montevideoWe started our exploration in Ciudad Vieja, the original colonial part of town. As we explored around our hotel, we discovered historic colonial buildings either in a charming state of disrepair or beautifully restored.

montevideo old buildingmontevideo confiteria montevideo architecture lionmontevideo vw beetle greenmontevideo sheep sculptureThe Mercado del Puerto, the port market, was originally built in 1865 to be a train station. This wrought-iron construction now houses an array of restaurants that specialize in meat and seafood dishes. While there wasn’t much for us vegetarians to try, people rave about the restaurants in this market.

montevideo mercado del puerto We loved the little restaurants,cafes and shops in the old town, and the old-fashioned fruit and vegetable stores.
montevideo booksmontevideo ciudad viejamontevideo vegetable store montevideo street signThis charming antique flea market sprawled out on the tiny Plaza Constitución, the oldest square in all of Montevideo.

montevideo flea marketmontevideo flea market glassesLined by beautiful grand buildings and a fountain in the center, the plaza made for a great place to sit down and (crazy) people watch for a while.

montevideo fountain angels and fishmontevideo plaza constitucion arch and lionThough it seemed impossible at first, Uruguayans are even more obsessed with drinking their mate, a South American herbal tea drink, than in Argentina. While we saw people walking around with mate gourds in Argentina occasionally, it seemed that everyone in Uruguay was bringing their mate gourd and a thermos with hot water with them, where ever they went.
montevideo couple in the parkmontevideo mate gourdsDrinking mate out of hoofs seemed to be particularly trendy.

montevideo mate hoofsOn our walk through Ciudad Vieja, the ornate and restored buildings were contrasted often with a bit of an edge, including street art in many areas.

street art montevideomontevideo restaurant signmontevideo street artThe historic Teatro Solís is one of the most elegant buildings in Montevideo. Renovations only finished in 2004, six years and US $110,000 columns designed by French designer Philippe Starck, later.

montevideo teatro solismontevideo teatro floorOur next stop was the Plaza Independencia, Montevideo’s most important square, which separates the old town from the commercial downtown center.
montevideo plaza independencia with sculptureThis modern office tower right on the square, the Executive Tower, is the workplace of José Mujica, the current Uruguayan Head of State.
montevideo glass towermontevideo plaza independencia buildingThe Palacio Salvo is the most impressive building on Plaza Independencia, however, with its 100 meter tall ornate tower (below on the right), designed by the architect Mario Palanti, who designed a similar building, the Palacio Barolo, in Buenos Aires.
Historic buildings in MontevideoPalacio Salvo marks the beginning of the Avenida de 18 de Julio, Montevideo’s most important shopping street which is also filled with gorgeous art deco buildings and old-fashioned shops and restaurants.
montevideo opticianMontevideo Uruguaymontevideo door with stone lionsmontevideo clock towermontevideo bar grillWhile shoppers go about their business, there are always groups of men playing chess on the sidewalk.

montevideo chess playersThe smell of roasted peanuts hangs in the air, wafting from several stands where they cooked them fresh along the avenue.

montevideo peanut vendormontevideo peanutsIt is no secret that I am obsessed with love padlocks on bridges (and we even put our very own one on the Brooklyn Bridge!), so I was beyond excited to stumble upon an entire love lock fountain!

montevideo love lock fountainmontevideo fuente de los candadosmontevideo fuente de los candadosThe fountain says: “The legend of this young fountain tells us that if a lock with the initials of two people in love is placed in it, they will return together to the fountain and their love will be forever locked”.
Love locks MontevideoWe loved the Diego y Jose lock – and were surprised to learn that the country is actually very gay-friendly, having recently passed a bill that will make same-sex marriage legal in Uruguay as of 1 August 2013 – making it only the 14th country in the world to legalize gay marriage. The Old Town even has a dedicated Espacio Libre de la Diversidad Sexual Montevideo, a square dedicated to sexual diversity!
montevideo love lock fountainAnother thing we loved about Montevideo were the many tree-lined boulevards everywhere.

montevideo streetThe trees seem to form a natural arch over the streets.
tree-lined street montevideomontevideo french windows

montevideo facade with womenmontevideo angel balconyAfter marveling at some more of the city’s extraordinary architecture, it was time for us to hit the beaches. Montevideo has over 13 kilometers (8.1 mi) of sandy beaches. We rented bikes, but you can walk or even just drive along the Ramblas, the coastal road, for over 20km of beach after beach after beach.
montevideo beachmontevideo beachPlaya Pocitos is the best-known beach in the city, lined by luxury apartment buildings in this upscale part of town.
montevideo beachMontevideo does have all the ingredients of what makes a great city, but this particular recipe just didn’t impress us much. We weren’t captivated the way we were in Buenos Aires or even Santiago, which took longer to win our hearts. We might be biased because of the attempted robbery, but overall we felt that the city is a bit rough, lacking in much diversity and just doesn’t have the interesting, laid-back vibe that makes the rest of Uruguay such a great destination.

Door with ironHave you been to Montevideo? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the city in the comments below.

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She said, She said: Perspectives on an attempted robbery in Montevideo

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Isn’t it funny how differently two people can perceive the same event?

When we rehashed what happened after experiencing an attempted robbery in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, the two of us realized just how differently we perceived the same set of events. Rather than try to meld it into one story, we’ve created another edition of our She Said, She Said series. We’ll let Jess start.

Jess said:

Of all the lessons I have learned in the past three years,  learning to trust my gut sits right at the top. The problem is all the second-guessing that happens just after that sharp pang of a gut feeling happens.

On our first night in Montevideo, the street Dani and I were walking down had become increasingly dark and uninhabited, but we were just a few blocks from our posada, in the heart of the Ciudad Vieja area of the capital. What could go wrong?

After ‘the incident’, when we compared stories, it turned out that Dani and I both had a bad feeling at the exact same moment on the street. About to turn right onto the street of the hotel, a group of three boys, one on a bike and two just standing around, stood huddled up on the corner and immediately I felt vulnerable, aware of how empty the street was, and these three were just too stereotypical – hoodies, baggy pants, BMX bike. It was because they fit the idea of a hoodlum so well that I convinced myself they wouldn’t do a thing. After all, we’ve been in all sorts of shady situations and almost nothing has ever happened to us.

Until that night, that is. We turned the corner, our backs now to the boys and with just one and a half blocks to go, I turned my head to make sure we weren’t being followed. In that moment, one of the boys was right behind us, reaching for Dani’s backpack, which she had securely on both shoulders. He yanked so hard that he pulled her down to the ground; she landed right on her back on the top of the backpack, making it impossible for him to grab it. Then, Dani started screaming bloody murder. Scared, frustrated and honestly quite pissed off at having to deal with this obviously amateur robbery attempt, I too started screaming, just screaming. Startled, he turned to run and any fear I had turned into anger. I ran after him, chasing him down the street where his other two, less bold, friends had been waiting for him.

montevideo ciudad vieja street
The ‘crime’ scene

‘Hijo de puta!’ I screamed after him, repeatedly, running down the street. Son of a bitch, asshole, and any other Spanish swear word I’ve ever used came flooding out of my mouth. After two eternity filled minutes, lights in upstairs apartments flipped on, and local residents padded barefoot downstairs to see what all the commotion was about. I screamed that they tried to rob us, that I had seen their faces and knew what they looked like. I screamed and yelled like a crazy lady. Then I turned to look at Dani who was crying and staring at me, shocked. Jess, I am scared. I just want to go back to our place now, please?

It was hearing the whimper in her voice that I realized she had not reacted the same way, and that I had left her, in the street, having just had someone pull her down to the ground. I felt terrible, and I still don’t know what came over me. But the way Dani tells the story now, I feature nicely as a bit of a hero, so I’ll take that over feeling like a crazy lady any day!

Dani said:

We have been traveling for nearly three years now and feel incredibly lucky to have avoided major incidents or mishaps so far. The worst that has happened was a woman on a chicken bus in Guatemala who attempted to slice Jess’ bag open with a knife – Jess realized what was going on before the woman could get anything – and of course when we fell hard for a scam in Bangkok– our egos are still bruised from this.

The scam taught us to keep our defenses up and stay vigilant, but now sometimes we are extra paranoid, such as when we see a group of teenagers and make them out to be big, bad robbers. Time has taught us that this paranoia is often completely off the mark.

That’s why, on our way back to our guesthouse from dinner in Montevideo when three boys started to walk behind us as we turned the corner into our street, I tried to talk down the feeling that they would try to rob us. I said to myself, ‘Dani, not everyone is after you, don’t be so paranoid all the time’.

I honestly felt guilty for presuming the worst in people, when the next thing I knew, someone was trying to rip my backpack from my back, pulling so hard on it that I fell to the ground. I started screaming uncontrollably. I was imagining knives or worse, a steel wire rope around my neck – though we had possibly been watching way too much Dexter at that point.

The attacker must have let go when I started to scream, but I couldn’t be sure. There I was, paralyzed with fear on the ground, and I see Jess yelling after them. Somehow they were already far away, and running further by the minute. I can’t believe how tough Jess is, while I am cowardly sitting on the floor, she is driving these thieves back.

My heart beat like crazy in my chest and I still couldn’t believe that had actually happened, even though when I saw the boys, I felt that they would rob us. Luckily, my backpack survived, my dSLR camera and my second lens were inside, undamaged, and we didn’t even have to hand over our long-expired debit card we carry around just for possible cases of being mugged.

montevideo ciudad vieja buildings
Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo

All I wanted was to get back to the guest house. I felt sick to my stomach and was shaking uncontrollably. This could have ended so much worse, I was thinking, and I didn’t want to ruin our ‘good fortune’. Later in the posada, one of the co-op owners tells Jess how lucky we were. “North of the border in Brazil,” she warned, “people get stabbed or shot for backpacks everyday.” Hearing that made us happy to be in Uruguay, of course, but for the next few days we didn’t leave after dark. Ciudad Vieja is a charming old part of town during the day, but even then I was too worried about taking out my camera unless Jess acted like my bodyguard for each picture I would try to snap.

The reality:

Is Montevideo unsafe? Not entirely, but increasingly so. Uruguay is a small country that has traditionally relied heavily on both tourism and business from neighboring Argentina. The 2001 economic crash there hit Uruguay hard, and things are slipping back into a serious recession yet again. InternationalMan.com, a website based in Uruguay, put it best: ‘When Argentina sneezes, Uruguay catches a cold’.

The truth is we had always pictured getting an apartment there for a month or two, and if you keep your eyes peeled for Dani’s Montevideo photo essay later this week, you’ll see the beauty that had always attracted us to the idea of an extended stay here.

However, now we might only recommend a few days in a nice hotel and then moving on to the quieter parts of the country, both on the coast in places like Punta del Diablo or Punta del Este, the popular Colonia del Sacramento just across the river from Buenos Aires, or head inland to experience the estancias and gaucho culture of rural Uruguay. What we wouldn’t recommend is running after thieves, no matter how deluded you are at the time to think you are tough! Nothing in your bag is worth getting hurt for, or worse!

montevideo horse carriageWondering about travel safety in other countries? You might like our posts Travel in Mexico, safe or not? and Travel in Honduras, safe or not?.

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Hotel Tip of the Week: Posada al Sur | Montevideo, Uruguay

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If you are an urbanite at heart, then you are likely familiar with that sense of relief you get upon arriving to a city after an extended trip to rural locations.

We spent six weeks traveling down from Valparaiso, Chile south through Patagonia to the southernmost tip of the Americas, and it took us just under four hours to fly back up and into Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo. Wildlife was suddenly replaced by city life and we couldn’t wait to soak up the hustle, and its partner bustle. What we really needed, however, was a good rest after weeks of overpriced, grungy youth hostels, the only accommodation available – for the most part – for under $50 a night in the region.

We were desperate for a grown-up place to stay with all the amenities and comforts of home at a fair price.

posada al sur montevideo b&b
That’s exactly what we got with Posada al Sur, in Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja neighborhood.

The area itself is not the best, as much of Montevideo has gotten a bit rougher in recent years. The street the posada is located on is particularly dark at night and look out in a couple of weeks for a She Said, She Said post on our attempted robbery experience in Montevideo (don’t worry, they got nothing and we made a huge scene!).

posada al sur montevideo viewOnce inside the Posada, however, our cares melted away. Posada al Sur is exactly the kind of hotel we appreciate for its balance of functionality, cleanliness, design and wallet-friendliness.

Set inside two neighboring renovated colonial buildings, the high ceilings make the property feel particularly spacious, and we loved the original high wooden doors and window frames, plus Spanish tile work. We checked in first at reception, set in one building along with a new dormitory room with several beds. Most of the action takes place, however, in the other building next door. There is an entirely separate entrance opening onto a flight of marble stairs. The second floor has five rooms, four private (one en suite) and one spacious dorm room with six beds. The rooms, along with a common room and kitchen, all open to the center of the classic colonial building, where an iron spiral staircase leads up to a rooftop area and separate apartment, fit for a family of four.

posada al sur montevideo b&b uruguayOur room was spacious, with one queen mattress as well as a single bed, plus a desk and a large open set of shelves – with three warm blankets for the chilly autumn weather that had just started to settle in during our stay in March. Because the room opens into the building, it stays dark in the mornings with no window for natural light, but because sound tends to carry (as in all colonial-style houses) we could always hear when folks started stirring in the kitchen around breakfast time.

posada al sur montevideo bedroomBreakfast at Posada al Sur is easily one of the best we came across in Argentina/Chile/Uruguay thanks to fresh bread, organic honey, delicious fresh jams (and the ubiquitous dulce de leche spread), plus fresh fruit, an actual coffee maker with freshly brewed filter coffee, all laid out on the family-sized wooden table where up to 8 guests at a time can eat together – until the comfortably late time of 11am.
posada al sur montevideo b&b breakfast tableThe kitchen itself is really well-equipped, including plenty of dishes, pots, pans and utensils, and a large, clean fridge to store groceries. We cooked several meals here during our stay, and being able to relax in the early afternoon with wine and cheese or coffee and sweets felt like having a home away from home. Even if you are like us and prefer to prepare your own meals while traveling, make sure to stop in at Jacinto, a cozy upscale restaurant just a couple of blocks north of the hotel with sophisticated yet simple meals.

posada al sur montevideo b&b breakfast and kitchenWith the exception of the en-suite corner room, guests share the three toilet and shower rooms tucked on the side of the 2nd floor, which were clean and bright and it felt more like using a friend’s washroom than a shared hotel bathroom and plenty of hot water no matter when we showered.

posada al sur montevideo bathroomsThe common room is large with two heavy wooden doors that open out onto small balconies overlooking the street and Ciudad Vieja. This was great for people-watching from above, and certainly here in the afternoons could have felt very romantic – unfortunately this room is not as comfortable as it could be. There are two computers with internet in the corner and a bookshelf along the wall, but the main places to sit are either around a large table or in two antique chairs made for show, not comfort. We felt like the owners have missed a major opportunity here because if this room had a couple of big, lazy chairs and/or a comfortable couch, Posada al Sur would feel so cozy we may not have wanted to leave.

posada al sur montevideo uruguay common roomBut we respect their intentions as well as all their efforts to offer, in general, such great value for money in the heart of a capital city. None of the owners were particularly talkative (though they may not have warmed to us much after our screaming robbery drama of the first night), but they were all incredibly helpful whenever we had questions.

When we arrived we were given a big map of the whole city and the woman marked down so many points of interest and tips for getting around the city. Dani had a dental issue during our stay, and another one of the four made calls around town to find the best option for foreigners not on the national insurance program of Uruguay. The hotel also rents bikes at competitive prices ($5 half day, $10 full day), and yet another of the owners took the time to map out a good ride along the coast. Montevideo is perfect for cycling with a promenade all the way from the old city to Pocitos, home to the glitzy high rise condos along several sandy beaches.

dani and jess at the beach in montevideo uruguayBest of all, for digital nomads at least, was the fast, reliable Wi-Fi that allowed us to get plenty of work done and refresh our podcasts which hadn’t been updated more than a few at a time during the journey to the end of the world.

Stand Out Feature: The ambience 

No matter whether it was from a rain storm that hit one afternoon, an adrenaline rush from our attempted robbery and Dani’s trip to the dentist, or a wind-whipped ride along the coast, once we escaped inside into Posada al Sur, we always felt immediately at home. Again, it has the feel of staying with friends, the natural light keeps the house bright during the day, our cavernous room and comfortable bed were great to escape to at night and we felt welcome to spend time working, cooking, snacking and conversating in the kitchen together with other guests or each other. There was art on the walls and bookshelves stuffed with quirky books, dolls and other knick-knacks that added to the homely feel.

posada al sur montevideo uruguay

Room for Improvement: Locks and Keys

Uruguayans love their big, gold skeleton keys and old-fashioned locks, but we can’t stand them. Here at Posada al Sur we found them particularly problematic because, especially at night, we just wanted to slip inside off the street, and were often fumbling with the door, trying to get it lined up right and it took several attempts until we got the hang of it. There was also an issue locking our room one night, and while we did manage to get it sorted, we would just really appreciate new locks and modern keys on this already renovated house.

Room for Improvement: Missed opportunities

The hotel is a co-op, owned by four (or so) local 30-somethings who seem to have a bit of trouble translating their very good intentions into reality. For example, we chose the hotel for its promise of organic breakfast and while we were still obviously impressed compared to what we were used to, the breakfast, outside of the honey, was not organic, and serving sugary junk food cornflakes instead of a homemade (or locally bought) organic granola, for example, was a bit of a slap in the face. Also, in addition to the common room missing a cozy factor, there were also large (think conference-sized) posters promoting social responsibility and other posters, brochures and pamphlets in support of specific women’s and indigenous groups. However, while these messages were quite in your face, it was entirely unclear how the co-op owners were involved with any of this and how much, if any, of what we paid actually went to help anyone at all.  The intentions are noble, relevant and important, which is why we would like to see more evidence that these aren’t just superficial marketing techniques to sell rooms to a niche of mature, socially conscious clientele.

posada al sur montevideo decoration

Overall

Our stay at Posada al Sur was what we were looking for – it is as functional as it is comfortable with quality mattresses in big rooms, a fully-stocked kitchen, plenty of hot water, clean bathrooms, great Wi-Fi, a big breakfast, strong coffee and access to the machine to make more later. For their sake we hope that the Ciudad Vieja area starts to live up to its potential because as soon as it does, Posada al Sur is perfectly placed between the port, the coast, a great market and the Plaza Independencia.

posada al sur montevideo sunset from rooftop

Details

Location: Perez Castellano, Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo, Uruguay
Price: Starting at US$16 for a dorm bed, US$50 for a double room (shared bathroom), US$60 for a double room (private bathroom)
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes
Amenities: Complimentary breakfast, free wi-fi, library, rooftop terrace, hammocks, bicycle rental
Website: www.posadaalsur.com.uy

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