Most people, it seems, pop over to Uruguay from Argentina on one of the numerous, but expensive ferry services. The ferries leave several times a day and you have a choice between the swift catamaran or the slower boat to either Montevideo or Colonia. Tickets cost in the region of US$30-40.
The ferry port in Argentina is a little chaotic and it’s important to get there in plenty of time for your early morning sailing and have your elbows well sharpened. It’s worth persevering through the chaos as there is a twisted Latin logic to it which ensures that everyone who has a ticket does eventually get on the boat and experiences the maximum amount of discomfort.
Immigration formalities are taken place directly after the brief customs check and officials of the two countries sit on opposite sides of a desk and simply pass your passport across. Weird. The queue to actually board the boat can be fraught with difficulty and there are no facilities for food or drinks beyond passport control. My advice is to never attempt this with a large hangover.
The boat itself is reasonably comfortable and, despite the large number of passengers, there are plenty of seats. There is an extortionately priced duty free store and they often show films on the longer crossings. It was whilst watching The Little Buddha on one such crossing that my beloved produced one of her biggest gaffs of all timeâ€¦
We were sitting down enjoying the film, beers in hand and amusing ourselves watching a group of extremely pale and pasty looking orthodox Jews fight with their moral scruples as to if they should really watch a film about Buddha. The younger members seemed to think it didn’t raise any issues of doctrine whilst their leader was getting more and more frustrated and was virtually dancing in front of the TV to distract them.
It was, during a sudden quiet moment, that my beloved announced to me, in a voice which was much louder then she had thought that, “Jews are sodomised, aren’t they?”
(Of course, she meant to say circumcised, or least I hope she did). It’s only after times like this that you realize just how small Uruguay is as we kept bumping into the hapless bunch who never looked pleased to see us.
In Colonia, there isn’t much cheap accommodation around. There were some fantastic looking places for those who had a bit more cash to spend and who wanted a little pampering. Personally I am going to return to Uruguay for a ‘dirty weekend’ as soon as possible and stay in one of these delightfully decadent hotels.
I stayed in the simple, but delightful Pousada del Rio (sign posted from the main street) and paid US$25 for a double room with cable TV and a decent breakfast. Normally the pousada is a little more expensive but I sweet-talked my way to a discount by being incessantly passionate about Uruguayan football.
For some reason Uruguayan mattresses are about as thick as a stick of chewing gum and possibly the least comfortable in South America – a mat to sleep on might not go amiss.
In Montevideo I stayed in the centrally located and aptly named Hotel Ideal. From my diary:
‘…the hotel is an oasis of calm in the busy city. It has lovely stained wood stairs and a genial old owner who has been swapping Uruguyan bank notes with me. I will soon have a complete collection of the pretty notes which are quite unlike anything I have ever seen before.’
In January 2001, the going rate for a double room with private bathroom and cable TV was US$25. There are quite a few hotels and the tourist office at the bus station is able to book cheap-ish rooms for you.
Things to Buy
Whisky is a good buy and every street corner has a duty free priced shop. You can also pick up some great leather mate sets. The Uruguayans, like most of the rest of the southern half of South America, are addicted to mate, which is a type of tea, and never leave home without their thermos flask.
1. Do allow sufficient time to see the country – don’t expect to cover everything in a short side trip from Argentina.
2. Try to spend a day or two in Colonia sitting under trees, drinking icy beer and enjoying life. Make sure to sample an ice-cream or two.
3. Try to avoid the weekends when Montevideo and Colonia are over run with beer swilling Argentineans.
4. Try some of the excellent local food from the many small street side cafés.
5. Take a bus from Colonia to Montevideo, it’s cheap and a good way to meet the locals.
6. Try to learn at least some words in Spanish – it goes a long way.
7. Stock up on booze before you leave – especially if you are heading home.
8. When leaving Uruguay for Brazil try not to leave the country late at night as the Brazilian customs post is in the middle of nowhere and badly lit.
9. Check the latest news on visas at: http://www.embassy.org/uruguay
10. Try to read something on the country like:
Days and Nights of Love and War by Eduardo Galeano
The Form of the Sword by Jorge Luis Borges
About the Author
The author has lived and travelled extensively in both hemispheres. He is co-founder of the “Let’s Travel in Chile and Uruguay” society. When not travelling or contributing to numerous travel magazines he can be found in Cambridge, UK. He lists his favourite activites as: writing complaining letters to Air Portugal, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and hanging around airports. He may be contacted via: firstname.lastname@example.org