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Another "I'm visiting Uruguay for the first time" thread

Another "I'm visiting Uruguay for the first time" thread

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Old May 6, 18, 11:06 am
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Another "I'm visiting Uruguay for the first time" thread

I read every FT post mentioning Uruguay last night (and most external links that were suggested) and still have some questions. As a background, I am visiting South America for the first time, am female and traveling solo in Uruguay for about 5 days in May, and pretty much do not speak Spanish. My main purpose of the trip is to relax, learn some local history, enjoy the culture and food.

ITINERARY HELP: I would like to see Montevideo on the weekend (dine, relax on the rambla, shop antiques and local crafts, weekend flea market, see the tango, museum/sights, and eat some more), Colonia del Sacramento on a weekday, and explore the rural areas inbetween on a weekday, maybe horse riding (I will stay in that rural area for a couple of nights). I am also trying to decide whether I should spend time in Carmelo or in Punta del Este. It appears that the draw of both of them is the beach. I have seen Punta del Este described as sort of a Biarritz of Uruguay. What is Carmelo compared to? Is Carmelo more luxury and Punta del Este more party-like? I am not a partier but love beautiful beaches and local culture. My inclination would be to go to both, but I am only there about five days and not sure if it would be rushing to do all of that. (When I tried to hit like 15 places in Italy in about 12 days, a very wise FTer admonished me to take it slower and I have found that invaluable advice.) Current itinerary is:

Day 1: Arrive MVD in the morning, get rental car, Punta del Este, Jose Ignacio, La Barra
Day 2: Rural areas between MVD and Colonia del Sacramento, maybe horse riding
Day 3: Colonia del Sacramento, Carmelo
Day 4: Montevideo
Day 5: Montevideo, flight out in evening

WHERE TO STAY IN MONTEVIDEO: I have read that several people stayed at the Sheraton, but also read that it is not central to much, and according to the below US State Dept travel advisory, there are robberies and thefts there. I read suggestions to stay at Four Points but from a map, it looks like that is also not near much? Also, I cannot tell which neighborhood the Four Points is in and if it is safe, I read that it is recommended to stay perhaps in Pocitos on the water instead of downtown Montevideo because it is more enjoyable, but then read on the travel advisory that there are even burglaries and robberies there in Pocitos (see below). I have elite status with Marriott/Starwood and also Hilton so would like to stay within those properties if possible (Sheraton, Four Points, Hilton Garden Inn), but safety is my #1 concern followed by I guess hoping for an upgrade, helpful service, etc. (I do like that the Four Points is 70% cheaper in points the night I am considering staying there, but that alone is not a deciding factor for me.)

WHERE TO BUY: I am interested in purchasing some items that I can use to furnish my home - maybe a locally woven wool blanket or rug, maybe something silver for the dining room, maybe something leather, etc. I am also interested in antiques for the home. Does anyone have any recommendations for shops to visit to find antiques and local crafts?

SIESTA TIME: I read that it is after lunch, but then also read that it is about 5-8 or 7-9 PM before dinner. If shops and restaurants close for this, approximately what time should I plan for them to be closed - late afternoon or evening?

TANGO: I read about Baar FunFun as a place to see a tango show. Any other recommendations?

US DOLLARS VS. UY PESOS: I have read that much of Uruguay accepts USD. Is this also true in smaller towns like Colonia del Sacramento? I am not sure how much of my money should be converted to UY Pesos or if I can get by on USD alone.

SAFETY/SECURITY: Many threads here state that as long as one exercises normal precautions, one should be fairly safe. However, there has been mention of not underestimating the street violence and in fact one FTer had an attempted robbery. The most recent entry (I think updated January 2018) on the US State Dept. website is listed below. I do want to see the old town and definitely have lunch at the Mercato del Puerto. I have read that it is busiest on weekends, so I assume that makes it safer. Any tips on how to do old town and the Rambla safely but alone? Are the downtown flea markets safe to shop in alone?

"Crime: There is a high level of crime in Montevideo, and street crime in particular is common throughout the capital city. Maintain situational awareness and practice good personal security at all times. Even in areas with large numbers of tourists, such as Ciudad Vieja, the Rambla, and areas around the U.S. Embassy, armed robberies of both individuals and businesses occur, along with carjackings and auto thefts. Thefts, burglaries and robberies are common in upscale residential neighborhoods as well, including Punta Carretas, Pocitos, and Carrasco. Montevideo continues to experience armed robberies at business establishments, and criminals may use improvised explosives to conduct robberies or to steal from ATMs. Criminals break car windows to steal valuables from vehicles that are parked or stuck in traffic. Sometimes, robbers approach their victims on motorcycles to rob them. . . During the summer months (December-March), many cities in Uruguay experience an increase in the number of petty street crimes, residential burglaries, and robberies, especially in beach towns such as Punta del Este, la Paloma, Cabo Polonio, la Pedrera, and Punta del Diablo."

Thanks for any suggestions or advice!

Last edited by sinfonia; May 7, 18 at 9:11 am
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Old May 7, 18, 2:28 pm
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Even though we are having a worringly mild autumn in the uttermost part of the Earth (it's 23C in Buenos Aires as I write), expect Punta del Este, La Barra and José Ignacio to be empty during your visit. There's a long weekend in Argentina on 25-27 May and quite a few porteños own houses in Punta, so some restaurants and bars may open then, especially if temperatures stay in such tropical levels, but other than that, the place will be quite deserted.

Carmelo is a very small yet picturesque town with a few good hotels that cater to porteños as weekend getaways. Given your interests ("local culture"), I would stick to Montevideo, Colonia and Carmelo. The beaches on the western side of Uruguay are not too bad (this is not the Mediterranean by any standards but still nice and relaxed) and there's a lot more "culture" than in the East.

I usually follow the UK Foreign Office's travel advices. In the case of Uruguay, the picture they show is quite acurate. The US State Dept. exaggerates things in my experience.
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Old May 8, 18, 12:48 pm
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Marambio, thanks so much for your reply and the helpful information. I will check out the UK Foreign Office's website and consider focusing on the west coast.

Thanks again!
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Old May 8, 18, 5:00 pm
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Originally Posted by sinfonia View Post
WHERE TO STAY IN MONTEVIDEO: I have read that several people stayed at the Sheraton, but also read that it is not central to much, and according to the below US State Dept travel advisory, there are robberies and thefts there. I read suggestions to stay at Four Points but from a map, it looks like that is also not near much? Also, I cannot tell which neighborhood the Four Points is in and if it is safe, I read that it is recommended to stay perhaps in Pocitos on the water instead of downtown Montevideo because it is more enjoyable, but then read on the travel advisory that there are even burglaries and robberies there in Pocitos (see below). I have elite status with Marriott/Starwood and also Hilton so would like to stay within those properties if possible (Sheraton, Four Points, Hilton Garden Inn), but safety is my #1 concern followed by I guess hoping for an upgrade, helpful service, etc. (I do like that the Four Points is 70% cheaper in points the night I am considering staying there, but that alone is not a deciding factor for me.)
The Four Points is very safe and you can easily walk down 18 de Julio, it's right next to city hall... But depends a bit on _what_ you want to do. Taxis are also aplenty, make sure to get an app like Tappsi or EasyTaxi to hail one. Sheraton is a hit or miss when it comes to service. One thing to note is that the Four Points would be a luxury hotel in say the USA, not the often run-down things you see in the USA. They'll also happily arrange an airport transfer.

PArking there is a bit cumbersome, so if you rent, let them know ahead of time, since there's only limited space underneath the property and the next-door parking is a bit awkward for first-timers. I found MVD easy to navigate in a car the multiple times I've rented a car there at the airport, mind you that the opening times of the rental agencies are awkard there.
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Old May 9, 18, 9:39 am
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Originally Posted by jupper View Post
The Four Points is very safe and you can easily walk down 18 de Julio, it's right next to city hall... But depends a bit on _what_ you want to do. Taxis are also aplenty, make sure to get an app like Tappsi or EasyTaxi to hail one. Sheraton is a hit or miss when it comes to service. One thing to note is that the Four Points would be a luxury hotel in say the USA, not the often run-down things you see in the USA. They'll also happily arrange an airport transfer.

PArking there is a bit cumbersome, so if you rent, let them know ahead of time, since there's only limited space underneath the property and the next-door parking is a bit awkward for first-timers. I found MVD easy to navigate in a car the multiple times I've rented a car there at the airport, mind you that the opening times of the rental agencies are awkard there.
This is great information. I will, in fact, be renting a car so will definitely touch base with the hotel ahead of time so that I can hopefully secure the space beneath the property. How is the parking situation in Montevideo in general? Is it worthwhile to leave my car at the hotel and take taxis around town or will I be able to park around town? I am hoping there are not those ZTL type of zones that you find in Florence, Bologna, etc. where much of the public is not permitted to drive in the heart of the town.
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Old May 9, 18, 10:22 am
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Originally Posted by sinfonia View Post
This is great information. I will, in fact, be renting a car so will definitely touch base with the hotel ahead of time so that I can hopefully secure the space beneath the property. How is the parking situation in Montevideo in general? Is it worthwhile to leave my car at the hotel and take taxis around town or will I be able to park around town? I am hoping there are not those ZTL type of zones that you find in Florence, Bologna, etc. where much of the public is not permitted to drive in the heart of the town.
Why not explore Montevideo by foot/taxi/Uber and then pick up the car when leaving the city? I agree Montevideo is straightforward for drivers, but I always find it more comfortable to avoid driving in any big city and just using the car when leaving for the countryside. Montevideo has a fairly decent public transportation system (buses only), and Uber is available in Uruguay. Also, the hop-on/hop-off bus is something I recommend doing.
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Old May 9, 18, 10:46 am
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Originally Posted by Marambio View Post
Why not explore Montevideo by foot/taxi/Uber and then pick up the car when leaving the city? I agree Montevideo is straightforward for drivers, but I always find it more comfortable to avoid driving in any big city and just using the car when leaving for the countryside. Montevideo has a fairly decent public transportation system (buses only), and Uber is available in Uruguay. Also, the hop-on/hop-off bus is something I recommend doing.
Sorry to thread jack. Question on Uber, is it available from the airport to the old city?
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Old May 9, 18, 11:35 am
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The end of May is not normally beach weather...so far the autumn has been very wet . Not cold so far but that will come.

I agree with other posters Punta is quite sad in the low season . Colonia is a bit better and Carmelo is busy at the weekends

The beaches in MVD are actually pretty good in season . Pocitos Beach is a great place to walk in the summer . I have never paid too much attention out of season.

You might want to look at the Hyatt Centric , which is right on the riverfront ...it is quite new maybe just over a year old.

Driving in the city is OK but taxis and Uber can be much easier and not too expensive . Parking can be a problem depending on the area you are visiting although all the shopping malls have big parking lots.

Uber works quite well , although I am not too sure what happens at the airport . The airport taxi service is good but quite expensive.
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Old May 10, 18, 10:50 pm
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Originally Posted by Marambio View Post
Why not explore Montevideo by foot/taxi/Uber and then pick up the car when leaving the city? I agree Montevideo is straightforward for drivers, but I always find it more comfortable to avoid driving in any big city and just using the car when leaving for the countryside. Montevideo has a fairly decent public transportation system (buses only), and Uber is available in Uruguay. Also, the hop-on/hop-off bus is something I recommend doing.
I guess after reading the US travel warning, I was not certain if I might be walking through one of the 13 or so districts they highlighted as areas that might be avoided, but I will consider it since it sounds like taxi and Uber are also so easy to catch there. That would certainly make things easier without a car there. Thanks for the suggestion.
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Old May 10, 18, 10:54 pm
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Originally Posted by malagajohn View Post
Punta is quite sad in the low season . . .

You might want to look at the Hyatt Centric , which is right on the riverfront ...it is quite new maybe just over a year old.
Okay - that is interesting that Carmelo gets busier on the weekends. Actually, the Hyatt there in Carmelo looks quite enjoyable. What about Piriapolis? Will that also be dead in the low season as well?

Thanks for the Hyatt Centric tip. I'll look at it!
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Old May 11, 18, 9:13 am
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Originally Posted by sinfonia View Post
Okay - that is interesting that Carmelo gets busier on the weekends. Actually, the Hyatt there in Carmelo looks quite enjoyable. What about Piriapolis? Will that also be dead in the low season as well?

Thanks for the Hyatt Centric tip. I'll look at it!
I find Piriápolis to be depressing in the high season, in the low season even more so. But that's my personal opinion
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Old May 11, 18, 9:28 am
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Colonia seems to normally be low key and relaxing (you can walk everywhere, with the lighthouse, a small art museum, some other museum between the town and they hydrofoil port, and generally the waterfront and historic district being of interest), but you should try to avoid weekend times when many people from Buenos Aires come to visit, although check whether the museums are closed on certain days of the week. IIRC there's a Sheraton in a newish building on a side street close to downtown.

Don't forget to explore local wines. There is a wine region and wine industry in Uruguay, but not much of interest is exported.
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Old May 29, 18, 8:52 am
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Thanks to the FTers that weighed in here to give advice for my Uruguay trip. Having just returned, I am looking forward to one day returning again. It is a beautiful country full of very kind people.

Having now taken the trip, I decided to come back here and answer my own questions from my original post in case it may help others who are considering a Uruguay trip:

ITINERARY HELP: I wrote:

I would like to see Montevideo on the weekend (dine, relax on the rambla, shop antiques and local crafts, weekend flea market, see the tango, museum/sights, and eat some more), Colonia del Sacramento on a weekday, and explore the rural areas inbetween on a weekday, maybe horse riding (I will stay in that rural area for a couple of nights). I am also trying to decide whether I should spend time in Carmelo or in Punta del Este. It appears that the draw of both of them is the beach. I have seen Punta del Este described as sort of a Biarritz of Uruguay. What is Carmelo compared to? Is Carmelo more luxury and Punta del Este more party-like? I am not a partier but love beautiful beaches and local culture. My inclination would be to go to both, but I am only there about five days and not sure if it would be rushing to do all of that. (When I tried to hit like 15 places in Italy in about 12 days, a very wise FTer admonished me to take it slower and I have found that invaluable advice.) Current itinerary is:

Day 1: Arrive MVD in the morning, get rental car, Punta del Este, Jose Ignacio, La Barra
Day 2: Rural areas between MVD and Colonia del Sacramento, maybe horse riding
Day 3: Colonia del Sacramento, Carmelo
Day 4: Montevideo
Day 5: Montevideo, flight out in evening


Response: I was too ambitious in my planning. I do tend to stop quite a bit while driving to take photos, so that eats up some time, but arriving at 9 AM and expecting to see Punta del Este, Jose Ignacio and La Barra all in one day is do-able if you just want to see something and move on, but to actually experience and enjoy these places, it is not do-able, especially in autumn when the sun sets by 5:30 or 5:45 PM. Even in the off-season, to fully appreciate Punta del Este, you need a full day to walk around, see the beaches, the shops, Los Dedos, soak in the beautiful views, watch the sunset, and experience the great food. It is, in my opinion, well worth visiting even in the off-season. I am sure it is a different and more energetic vibe in the summer but it was thoroughly enjoyable even in late autumn. You could spend another day on sleepy and quaint Jose Ignacio and cute La Barra.

As for Piriapolis, while it was rather quiet in the off-season, it was still lovely and worth a visit for the beautiful views and kind people one meets in town. Many shops were boarded up for the season here, so there was not as much to do, but just walking along the rambla and visiting places like Hotel Argentino made it worthwhile.

Also, I had heard that Carmelo is quite beautiful where the vineyards meet the water, but when I said that to locals, they were perplexed why I was going and told me that "beautiful" was not the word they would use to describe it. I pressed on and drove up there but never found the beautiful part. In a desperate attempt to find the beautiful part before the sun was to set, I tried to use Google maps to guide me to the Hyatt in Carmelo which I knew must be in that "beautiful" part, but alas, Google maps kept sending me down the same dirt road that was fenced off and offered no other options. The sun finally set and I gave up as I would not be able to see the beautiful part anyway at that point. There may be quite lovely parts of Carmelo, but what I saw was just a busy town.

As everyone here has said, Colonia del Sacramento is a true gem. I cannot say enough about this charming little town. One could easily stroll and linger here all day long.

WHERE TO STAY IN MONTEVIDEO: I wrote:

I have read that several people stayed at the Sheraton, but also read that it is not central to much, and according to the below US State Dept travel advisory, there are robberies and thefts there. I read suggestions to stay at Four Points but from a map, it looks like that is also not near much? Also, I cannot tell which neighborhood the Four Points is in and if it is safe, I read that it is recommended to stay perhaps in Pocitos on the water instead of downtown Montevideo because it is more enjoyable, but then read on the travel advisory that there are even burglaries and robberies there in Pocitos (see below). I have elite status with Marriott/Starwood and also Hilton so would like to stay within those properties if possible (Sheraton, Four Points, Hilton Garden Inn), but safety is my #1 concern followed by I guess hoping for an upgrade, helpful service, etc. (I do like that the Four Points is 70% cheaper in points the night I am considering staying there, but that alone is not a deciding factor for me.)

Response: I guess like anything else, it all depends on where you want to be and what you want to do. I booked the Four Points and had intended to stay there two nights, and they did upgrade me to a king one -bedroom suite which was nice. The hotel property was stylish and comfortable, and the breakfast was fine. However, they had major issues with their temperature control during the first day and night (heat did not work and it just continued to get colder) and I decided to cancel my second night there and move over to the Sheraton at Punta Carretas. I am so glad that I did. The Four Points was actually quite a good location for the things that I wanted to do that first day which was some shopping and visiting downtown landmarks, eating down at Marcado del Puerto, going to a club for local music and tango, etc. All of these things were a (seriously!) $2-4 USD Uber ride from the hotel so I ended up just leaving my car at the Four Points and taking Uber all over downtown. The hotel location was central enough to these places but still in a safe area of town. However, when I moved over to the Sheraton, I saw a whole different side of Montevideo that was so relaxing and enjoyable. Walking along the rambla there starting near the Sheraton and walking all the way to downtown, or riding one of the (free) bikes the Sheraton offers the other direction up toward the zoo or through Pocitos - it was an enjoyable way to wrap up a visit to Montevideo. While the Sheraton could not upgrade me to a suite the first night, they did upgrade to a 1 bedroom king suite the second night that I tacked on there and the suite was large and comfortable. My original concern based on posts I read here on FT was that the Sheraton was by itself without anything else to see there near it. That is just not the case. It is not near downtown - that is true (though it is an hour walk from downtown). But it is in the middle of a residential area where people live, go to eat, shop, and walk their dogs. It was right in the middle of where I wanted to be at that time. As for safety, the area near the Sheraton in Punta Carretas is definitely safe. While the US State Department information is helpful to consider, I think I was unnecessarily overconcerned.

WHERE TO BUY: I wrote:

I am interested in purchasing some items that I can use to furnish my home - maybe a locally woven wool blanket or rug, maybe something silver for the dining room, maybe something leather, etc. I am also interested in antiques for the home. Does anyone have any recommendations for shops to visit to find antiques and local crafts?

Response: There was a great antique store in La Barra, and the Montevideo flea market was definitely an experience to be had. But the wool at Manos del Uruguay really was tremendous and leather shops can be found around as well. There were plenty of shops around to purchase locally made items.

SIESTA TIME: I wrote:

I read that it is after lunch, but then also read that it is about 5-8 or 7-9 PM before dinner. If shops and restaurants close for this, approximately what time should I plan for them to be closed - late afternoon or evening?

I never encountered this. I was told that stores in towns like Punta del Este do not close during those hours, but in some other parts of Uruguay, these hours are observed. I still never figured out what time the hours were. I think maybe it is more observed in the smaller towns in the countryside.

TANGO: I wrote:

I read about Baar FunFun as a place to see a tango show. Any other recommendations?

The hotels all recommend a place called El Milongon to see tango. It is a dinner show. I did not attend so cannot say for sure but I got the impression that it was sort of like the Medieval Times of tango, but I may have gotten the wrong impression. I believe the price was about $65 USD. I ended up going to Baar FunFun which presented local folklore music and tango music (without the tango dancing) until about midnight, and then after midnight, had a bit of tango dancing and candombe music. The tango dancers were quite good - they danced only three songs but were very skilled. If you Google enough, there are tango classes all around town but it was difficult to get current information as they seem move around and change quite a bit.

US DOLLARS VS. UY PESOS: I wrote:

I have read that much of Uruguay accepts USD. Is this also true in smaller towns like Colonia del Sacramento? I am not sure how much of my money should be converted to UY Pesos or if I can get by on USD alone.

Response: I really never encountered any place that did not accept USD, even at the toll booths, but it was sometimes just much easier to use UY Pesos, so it was worth taking out some local currency at the bank, but I did not need more than $3000 UY Pesos for the whole week.

SAFETY/SECURITY: I wrote:

Many threads here state that as long as one exercises normal precautions, one should be fairly safe. However, there has been mention of not underestimating the street violence and in fact one FTer had an attempted robbery. The most recent entry (I think updated January 2018) on the US State Dept. website is listed below. I do want to see the old town and definitely have lunch at the Mercato del Puerto. I have read that it is busiest on weekends, so I assume that makes it safer. Any tips on how to do old town and the Rambla safely but alone? Are the downtown flea markets safe to shop in alone?

"Crime: There is a high level of crime in Montevideo, and street crime in particular is common throughout the capital city. Maintain situational awareness and practice good personal security at all times. Even in areas with large numbers of tourists, such as Ciudad Vieja, the Rambla, and areas around the U.S. Embassy, armed robberies of both individuals and businesses occur, along with carjackings and auto thefts. Thefts, burglaries and robberies are common in upscale residential neighborhoods as well, including Punta Carretas, Pocitos, and Carrasco. Montevideo continues to experience armed robberies at business establishments, and criminals may use improvised explosives to conduct robberies or to steal from ATMs. Criminals break car windows to steal valuables from vehicles that are parked or stuck in traffic. Sometimes, robbers approach their victims on motorcycles to rob them. . . During the summer months (December-March), many cities in Uruguay experience an increase in the number of petty street crimes, residential burglaries, and robberies, especially in beach towns such as Punta del Este, la Paloma, Cabo Polonio, la Pedrera, and Punta del Diablo."

Response: Some of this is just silly. The rambla is fine. There are plenty of people all around and most people around you are more concerned about getting their dog walked than your wallet. As for Ciudad Vieja (old city), I saw enough of it from the Uber ride over to Mercado del Puerto. As for eating at Mercado del Puerto, I was advised by my hotel not to drive there because my car windows might get smashed, so I used Uber on a Saturday afternoon and it was fine, but I went directly to the Mercado del Puerto and then directly back. I was told by the Uber drivers not to walk the port area alone and especially never at dark. The flea market itself was fine and safe. Like anywhere else with a lot of people, you keep your hand on your wallet, but there was no fear of being mugged there. And Pocitos and Punta Carretas definitely seemed safe.
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Old May 31, 18, 1:39 am
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Thanks for letting us know how it went. The State Department always errs on the side of caution with the crime, and in most places if u use the same precautions as in the U.S. it's OK.

I just got back from Buenos Aires for the first time on an ATL-EZE, SCL-ATL open jaw, and am thinking next year of doing MVD instead of EZE, since Sky Airline also flies MVD-SCL. So I might be a beneficiary at some point. Except for the beach (and presumably Patagonia), May is still a reasonable month weather-wise for that latitude, and I've also found it to be good for flight-award availability.
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Old May 31, 18, 1:53 am
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Great report - thanks!
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