Getting to Montevideo is not the easiest of tasks, though, especially since Colonia is so much closer to Argentina, and Punta del Este, with its beaches of bikini-clad ladies beckons the crowds farther east. There are also very few flights from the U.S. And I dare you to take Pluna, the national airline of Uruguay, whose planes look like they could be props on Mad Men. That said, you can get there via a long ferry ride (almost 4 hours!) from Buenos Aires, or by taking the ferry to Colonia and then taking a 3-hour bus ride. That was the route I took, since I wanted to stop over in Colonia.
As with other smaller South American capitals, lodging options can be limited in Montevideo, especially if you’re looking to stay in the tiny city center for a reasonable price without resorting to schlocky chain hotels.
Travelers do have one great option, though, in the Hotel Plaza Fuerte, which has recently undergone a renovation. When I stayed there, everything was getting a little frayed and worn, but now the furnishings are all black-and-white with sharp lines and distinctive patterns so that the little hotel looks like the equivalent of a miniature South American version of a W Hotel. They even call their two room categories “Concept Suites” and “Capital Suites,” which go for $140 and $155 per night respectively. Clearly they are learning the tourism market fast.
The rooms only have full beds, but you’ll also find flat-screen TV’s with cable, free WiFi access, a safety deposit and minibar. The other great fact about the rooms, since this is a historical building, is that most are two-story suites, so you feel like you have some actual living quarters. The hotel also has the usual amenities like concierge, buffet breakfast, a terrace bar, and laundry and dry-cleaning upon request.
The major selling point, though, is the central location in the Ciudad Vieja (Old City). The lobby is a block away from Montevideo’s main square, the typically named Plaza Independencia, and its offshoot, Avenida 18 de Julio, one of the city’s main commercial arteries. Montevideo is often compared to Havana because of the colonial splendor of the old city that is slowly fading into dilapidation. But there is still plenty to see, like the 19th-century cathedral and Cabildo, or town hall, in the Plaza Constitución, which is named that because Uruguay’s constitution was first signed there.
I highly doubt that Montevideo will ever become a first-class destination, but for a quick visit en route to points more interesting, it is a lovely little stopover with sunshine and charm to spare.