It is normally the case that South American capital cities are prefixed with adjectives like “bustling” or “energetic” whenever digital nomads espouse their virtues. Indeed, a great part of the allure of living and working in destinations like Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Caracas is that they are just so vibrant, dynamic and drop-dead exciting.
So what do you do when you find yourself craving an altogether more laid-back metropolitan experience on this party-loving continent? Is there such thing as a big capital city in South America that is sedate as well as scintillating?
Indeed there is – you just need to look in between Brazil and Argentina in the beguilingly beautiful and supremely laid-back country of Uruguay to find it.
Located at the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Rio de la Plata, Montevideo offers wandering online workers a decidedly less frantic Latin American experience than the likes of Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. That’s not to say the Uruguayan capital is dull; in fact, there are a number of places within the city which personify the terms “bustling” and “energetic." It’s just that the amiable inhabitants of Montevideo – and of Uruguay in general – prefer to keep to a distinctly less hectic beat; it’s as if they are deliberately savouring the time they have.
And why wouldn’t they?
With it’s European vibe, high standard of living, low crime rates, great weather, low taxes, wide ranging healthcare and friendly locals, Montevideo has pretty much everything a person could want to enjoy a happy and healthy life. Throw in some epic monuments, to-die-for steak restaurants, stunning urban plazas, pristine beaches and an ever-burgeoning arts and culture movement and you soon begin to appreciate that there’s a helluva lot to be savoured here...
So, if you fancy taking some time out from some of the continent’s more glamorous capitals or just like the idea of seeing a different side to urban Latin America then Montevideo definitely the place to head.
Here’s how to make the most of the city when you first arrive:
Step 1: Get Settled
When you first arrive in Montevideo, chances are you’ll spend your first few days or weeks staying in a hostel. Most of the city’s hostels are to be found in either Pocitos (east of the city centre) or Ciudad Vieja (the old city centre), and tend to feature free Wi-Fi as well as a complimentary breakfast. Although the hostels in Ciudad Vieja are within walking distance of the port and have a number of really good bars nearby, Pocitos is generally the preferred option as it has a more pleasant feel and offers direct access to the beach and La Rambla, the famous 22km boardwalk which runs alongside it.
Not that long ago, rental apartments (for single digital nomads anyway) used to be relatively thin on the ground in Montevideo. Fortunately, things are a little different these days so finding a place of your own to crash in for three/six/nine/12 months is a pretty easy thing to do. Asking staff at your hostel can often be a good strategy as Montevideo is one of those of cities where the neigbourhood grapevines work better than superfast broadband. If you prefer to carry out your property hunts online then the likes of Airbnb, and sometimes Craig’sList are good places to get started.
You should be aware that you’ll more than likely have to pay a guarantee before you sign any rental contract. This is normally a deposit of three or four months rent which is held in-trust by a responsible third party, such as an public notary (escribano). As long as you adhere to the terms and conditions agreed in your contract, you’ll get this money back when your rental term ends and you return the key to the property owner.
Montevideo isn’t a massive city by Latin American standards so it is pretty easy to assess each of the neighbourhoods (barrios) on their respective merits. The most central areas of the city are:
It is generally the case that most ex-pats and wandering online workers now make a beeline for the last four entries on this list as these barrios have become known as ’choice’ places for visitors to live in Montevideo.
Step 2: Get Around
Aside from the area surrounding the port in Ciudad Vieja (avoid after dark), Montevideo is a very safe city to walk around. Moreover, neighbourhoods like Palermo, Pocitos and the old city centre are a real treat to explore on foot as they are blessed with some of the finest colonial architecture on the continent, a feature which at times makes you feel like you are strolling around Marseille, Lisbon or Barcelona.
If you want to cover any real distance then you’ll need to take advantage of Montevideo’s cheap and efficient - yet sometimes less-than-user-friendly - bus and tram network. The challenge with the buses is that there are no route maps at bus stops and the layout of many of the routes is ’quirky’ to say the least. Just to make things even more interesting, the street signs at some junctions are often hard to notice (or don’t exist at all) and the buses themselves tend to get packed during rush hours. Suffice to say, you should do more than just a token amount of research before embarking on a bus journey away from the tourist areas, especially if you are less than confident in your ability to speak and understand Spanish. If you have a modest understanding of Spanish then it is worth checking out the GoogleMaps-type resources available at sites like Cómo ir and MontevideoBus.
Although Montevideo’s plentiful black-and-yellow taxis are cheap when compared to other cities, they are still far more expensive than getting around by bus. All taxis in the city are metered, although this doesn’t mean the figure displayed will be the amount you pay as cabbies here have to cross-reference a chart (often displayed on the window between you and the driver) to determine the final fee. This is because there are two tariffs: one for weekdays (the cheaper one), and one for nights, weekends and holidays (the slightly more expensive one). As with the buses, it can be helpful to have a decent grasp of Spanish when travelling by taxi.
Although there are a few hills to negotiate along the spine of the city, cycling is a feasible way to get around Montevideo. Biking up and down La Rambla is an especially pleasant way to pass a few hours and take in some mighty fine coastal vistas.
Step 3: Get Online
Getting online – and maintaining the connection - is much easier than it used to be in Montevideo. Reliable connections and decent (cyber)cafes were pretty few and far between even five or so years ago; today getting online is a breeze as most of the hotels, hostels, restaurants and bars in town now have little stickers in their windows to entice you in with their free (or purchase related) Wi-Fi. If you enjoy the working environs of a coffice then do yourself a favour and head for Centro around the Plaza del Entrevero, and in the streets around the main University building in the Cordón district. Ciudad Vieja and some of the beach suburbs also have a lot of very chilled-out cafes and eateries where free Wi-Fi is part-and-parcel of the menu. If you want to hook up somewhere where you can be sure no-one will bat an eyelid even if you don’t make a purchase the whole time you’re there then head for one the city’s McDonalds restaurants – the staff there couldn’t care less!
Free Wi-Fi is also available at some key municipal areas, such as public parks, bus terminals, and popular tourist sights.
If you enjoy the meet-and-greet nature of working in a co-working space then you’ll be pleased to know that Montevideo has a number of recently opened options dotted across the city. Those in the know say that the uber-cool environs of Synergia Cowork, located right in the heart of Palermo in a remodelled industrial warehouse, is the pick of the bunch. You can check it for yourself by scanning the website (here) or by heading down to Avenida Gonzalo Ramírez.
If you like the thought of spending a prolonged period of time in a stylish, elegant city which looks European, feels South American and includes some very welcome lifestyle elements of Asia (to a digital nomad, anyway) then Montevideo should be high on your hit list. After a few short weeks or months of living here, you too will be able to sip mate (a type of Latin American tea) in shady boulevard cafes, speak Rioplatenese Spanish to bus drivers, devour the finest steak meals on the planet, and tango to your heart’s content until the wee early hours; just like a local.
Just don’t be in a rush. Remember, everything here needs to be savoured...
If you’ve spent some time living and working in Montevideo then we want to here about it. A few moments are all it will take to share your thoughts in the comments box below so go on, share your experiences and let us know what you think.