Argentina and Uruguay

In January ’04 we took a self-directed trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and to Montevideo and Punta del Este, Uruguay. We experienced a delightful and safe adventure at a very reasonable price.

In Buenos Aires we stayed at Hotel Lafayette (Reconquista 546, Buenos Aires, Argentina; phone 011-54-11-4393-9081 or fax 011-54-11-4393-2728), located only a short distance from the major walking/shopping street Lavalle. The price for a deluxe double at this 4-star hotel was $43 per night including taxes and breakfast.

While in Buenos Aires we visited the sepulcher of Eva Perón in the Cementerio de la Recoleta (Av. Guido y Junin); took a guided tour of the opera house Teatro Colón (enter at Tucuman 1171), given daily except Monday for $2.50 per person; attended a tango show at El Viejo Almacén (Av. Independencia y Balcarce; phone 011-54-11-4307-7388) for $50 per person including dinner and transportation, and drank a ganzia batida (sweet white vermouth and lemon juice shaken with crushed ice) at Café Tortoni (Av. de Mayo 829).

On Sunday we visited the San Telmo antique fair in the Plaza Dorrego, a “must see” for antique enthusiasts. Unfortunately, we missed the free tour of Casa Rosada, the Presidential Palace in the Plaza de Mayo, because it is only offered Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.

We shopped at Gallerias Pacifico (Av. Florida y Cordoba), where leather goods are an exceptional value. We ate in Puerto Madero, an old warehouse dock now converted to new upscale shops and restaurants.

Two dining experiences stood out: Pepe Pomo (Junin 1763, Recoleta), where for only $2.50 we had the best spaghetti putanesca I have ever had outside my own kitchen (ask for our waitress, Sol), and Tierra de Parrilleros (Olga Cossettini 851, Madero Este), where the grilled meat (lomo a punto, or tenderloin medium-rare, $4) was out of this world (ask for our waiters, Facundo and Miguel).

The wines of Argentina, from the Mendoza region, were world class. We especially enjoyed the Malbec, which usually was under $3 a bottle in the restaurants.

We typically paid $30 for dinner for two with wine and tip. We also found the empanadas (cheese or beef) to be great snacks when skipping a big meal.

We next traveled across the Rio de la Plata by hydrofoil to Montevideo, Uruguay. The trip by Buquebus (Av. Antártida Argentina 821, Buenos Aires, Argentina; phone 011-54­11-4316-6400) took about three hours and cost $50 per person one way.

In Montevideo we stayed at the centrally located Balmoral Plaza Hotel (Plaza Cagancha 1126, Montevideo, Uruguay 11100; phone 011-598-2-902-2393 or fax 011-598-2-902-2288). Including taxes and breakfast, this 4-star hotel charged $58 per night for an executive double.

The major attractions in Montevideo included the Mercado del Puerto. Once the old port market, it now consists only of eating establishments, the most delightful of which serve you grilled meats at the counter while you’re seated on a stool ($5 or so).

Before lunch at the Mercado (they’re not open for dinner), try a medio y medio at Café Roldos. It’s a delicious mixture of sparkling Moscato wine and white wine.

Incidentally, the unique red wine of Uruguay is made from the Tannat grape. It has been affectionately called “the beast.” We found that it lives up to its name and is best when blended with Merlot.

In Montevideo we met Cesar Arrizala, a tour guide for D’Ana Transportes y Turismo (Guayaqui 2960, Montevideo, Uruguay; phone 011-598-2-709-0374 or e-mail

After having a city tour ($15 per person) conducted by Cesar, we arranged for him to take us to Punta del Este ($25 per person) and later return us to the airport in Montevideo ($25 per person) for our trip back to the United States. Cesar is one of the most delightful people you will ever meet in your travels and we highly recommend his services.

In Punta we stayed at the Best Western La Foret (Calle La Foret y Pascual Gatta, Punta, Uruguay; phone/fax 011-598-42-481-004). The price for a double room was $102, including taxes and breakfast; this was reduced to $76 beginning Feb. 1.

The hotel is about one mile from the major shopping area, which was a very comfortable walk. Again, as in Buenos Aires, the main shopping attraction was unique leather goods at outstanding prices.

We had several memorable meals in Punta. Saint Tropez at the Conrad Resort & Casino served a wonderful lamb osso bucco with risotto al dente that was perfection. Dinner for two with wine cost $80.

The seafood and salad bar at Blue Cheese (Rambla Artigas) were superb, as was our waiter, Daniel. Lunch for two with wine cost $30.

Not once on this trip did we feel uncomfortable. The people we met were helpful and friendly. It was a great trip and we look forward to returning soon.

San Jose, CA