While not the first location on most individuals' list of places to visit, Uruguay is increasingly becoming more renown. This small, South American nation is something like the Vermont of South America. It constantly tops South American indexes due to its lack of corruption, highly democratic society, and low levels of inequality. It has legalized marijuana, has had same-sex marriage for quite some time, and 95% of its electricity is renewable in origin.
Much like Argentina, its larger cousin to the south, Uruguay is well known as one of the most queer friendly parts of Latin America. Naturally, we thought it would make a great destination on our queerly nomadic travels. Here's our digital nomad guide to Montevideo, Uruguay's capital.
We'd give this city 2 out of 5 stars for nomad friendliness. We found the food, short-term housing options, and public transit to be lacking. Co-working spaces were good, and the internet was reasonably fast. The city was not too pleasant to walk around in, with few green spaces and public gathering areas, and a car-centric culture that made walking around as a pedestrian unpleasant. The beach was nice, though difficult to get to. Prices were high for Latin America, and we found there to not be a culture of working in coffee shops. We felt reasonably comfortable with being queer in public, though we only saw two queers while there. All in all, we think there are other places that are easier to live in as a digital nomad.
Uruguay produces some of the best beef in the world. Eating barbecued beef out was definitely one of the highlights of the trip -- Finn in particular enjoyed it, having lived in South America for a good chunk of their childhood and missing the delicious beef that can be enjoyed at these latitudes. On the other hand, we found the rest of the food to be lacking. There wasn't too much international diversity in the food available: most everyone seemed to serve some combination of a chivito (beef, mayo, ham, bacon, tomato, lettuce, and mozzarella on a plate or as a sandwich), empanadas, pizza (a different beast than Italian pizza, picture a softer crust and whiter, blander cheese), or *fainá* (a chickpea based flatbread that we found fairly bland). Grocery stores in our neighbourhood (at the edge of Aguada) did not have much variety in vegetables, and we were bored silly with the food selection after just a few weeks. On the other hand, Pocitos and Punta Carretas looked like they had grocery stores with a wider selection.
We found the public transit in Montevideo to be lacking. Bus routes are few and the buses themselves tend to run late and be rather packed. Additionally, a significant number of the neighbourhoods we hung out in felt unsafe for pedestrians, even compared to other major Latin American cities. We ended up taking taxis to get around.
Where to Stay:
Due to the lack of public transit, staying in the right neighbourhood is a priority. We stayed at an Airbnb in a neighbourhood that was fairly isolated from the rest of town, and ended up not having the greatest time in Montevideo and feeling that it was not a great fit. We recommend staying in Pocitos or Punta Carretas. Most coworking spaces are in these neighbourhoods, they are close to the beach, have a few coffee shops, and most of the more international restaurants can be found there. These two neighbourhoods are also more walkable, with cute sidewalk cafes and family-owned bakeries peppering the streets. Avoid Ciudad Vieja, parts of el Centro, and areas on the western side of Avenida Libertador, near the docks, particularly if you don't speak Spanish. These are all fairly dangerous parts of town, confirmed both by Uruguayans we met, as well as walking around them during the daylight hours.
Cost of Living:
All in all, we found Uruguay to be quite expensive, especially compared to the rest of South America. It's a small market, with little participation from foreign companies that might make some goods and services cheaper. South America is a huge place, and importation of goods to Uruguay is expensive. There's also little competition within Uruguay itself for certain markets: we noticed when shopping at the store that most stores we shopped at only carried a single pasta brand, a single rice brand, etc. In addition, the Uruguayan peso has strengthened in recent years, offering foreigners less purchasing power.
There are a few coworking spaces. We ended up finding one that we really liked (Co-Work). It was a good place to work, with a lively community, though few lunch options nearby. We'll post a full review of the coworking space in the coming weeks.
As the only country (that we know of!) that has declared a plaza to sexual diversity, we hoped that Montevideo would be some kind of gay mecca. The truth fell a little short of that: while we didn't have any uncomfortable or unsafe anti-queer experiences, we also only saw queers a couple of times -- a (cute!) queer girl working at a coffee shop with an upside-down triangle tattoo, and then the same girl holding hands with another girl in the neighbourhood near our coworking space (in between the Pocitos and Buceo neighbourhoods). We were surprised that we didn't see any other queers given the country's reputation for gay-friendliness: Uruguayan queers, where are you? :)
We were incredibly amazed at just how phenomenally, phenomenally nice everyone in Montevideo was! It had more of a small-town feel. We had some difficulties with our Airbnb and were amazed by the number of people who helped us out with phone calls, directions, and even helping us move our stuff when we were in a pinch.
Montevideo was quite dog unfriendly, which is not uncharacteristic of the Latin American region. No Nomad Hound to any restaurants or coffee shops, or on any public transporation. Some aggressive stray dogs roam the street and tried to attack him. Also, it's a country that is categorized as suffering from high levels of rabies and screwworm infestations. Both of these things made our process of returning with Nomad Hound to Europe quite challenging and necessitated extra paperwork and stopping in a country with low levels of rabies before being able to return to Spain, otherwise, he wouldn't have been able to come back. I unfortunately didn't find out about this until we were in Montevideo, though we I know that we need to check requirements for traveling with a dog to a country, as well as for leaving the country, before choosing our travel destination.
All in all, Montevideo was an interesting place to visit, but it didn’t seem to be the most digital nomad-friendly city. If you're looking for a city with a stronger digital nomad work culture and excellent food in Latin America at a cheaper cost, I recommend Mexico City.