Montevideo is a compact, charming city and the capital of Uruguay. It has very nice beaches on the River Plate, beautiful parks and some architectural gems. Travelling on business in Montevideo is fairly straightforward, with the airport being only thirty minutes away from the Old Town (Ciudad Vieja), where many financial companies and government organisations are located. It is very likely that business in Montevideo will take you mainly to the Old Town, the City Centre, and possibly the newer business centres of Buceo, Pocitos and Punta Carretas, where the World Trade Centre is based.
You might also visit one of the free trade zones, such as Zonamerica (near the airport) or Aguada Park (off the city centre). It is a fairly safe city for business travellers and there’s plenty of food options, delightful cafes and cultural events. You can travel easily by taxi, Uber or private hire cars (remises). Montevideo can seem expensive, especially when compared to other Latin American cities. You can reach Montevideo directly from Europe and the US, and it’s only a 3-hour ferry ride or 30-min flight from Buenos Aires, on the other side of the River Plate.
December to March is usually sunny and hot (about 30-33 degrees celsius during the day) with the odd summer thunderstorm. Formal business attire for women usually means trousers or skirts (not too short) with blouse/shirt (fairly similar to Western Europe). I recommend you bring a cardigan because air-con can be overused! And definitely a light raincoat.
March to May and September to November is usually mild (20 to 25 Celsius degrees) and June to August is Winter, where temperatures can reach just above freezing, particularly in the mornings.
local business etiquette and customs
Meetings might be arranged, cancelled with little warning or start late. The more your local contacts are exposed to international business, the more punctual they will be (always arrive on time). There can be a lot of chit-chat, which is an intrinsic part of relationship building. Uruguayans prefer to do business with people they know and trust, and they will probably ask you personal questions (marital status, children, age, religion…), it’s up to you how much information you disclose (if it’s too much, just say “wow, that’s a lot of questions!” and most people will apologise and back off). Remember that Uruguayans, like most Latin Americans, are not terribly used to young women in particular being in charge – they’ll take it, but they’ll ask a lot of questions!
One kiss on the right check is the norm between women and even between women and men. If you prefer just shaking hands, be firm about it and extend your hand first. Men normally greet with a handshake or a pat on the back. People in Latin America in general are more “tactile” than in the UK/Northern Europe, so expect some (very moderate) physical contact.
Dress code for women is similar to Western Europe, avoid short skirts and low necklines. You’ll find that Uruguayans, unlike Brazilians, for example, are quite conservative and discrete with their attire (dark and plain colours usually, you hardly see bold stamps here).
There’s no need to worry about any legal restrictions about women in particular. Uruguay is probably Latin America’s most liberal country and women’s rights are protected.
travel and transport
Road safety can be challenging in Montevideo, at least compared to British standards (more similar to Spanish/French/Italian standards). Careful at zebra crossings, most aren’t respected. Also bear in mind that fellow drivers might not indicate and will change lanes often and unpredictably. There’s zero tolerance to drink driving and there’s plenty of new speed cameras all over the city!
I’ve never heard of any problems with women in taxis. I find them uncomfortable, though (they have a thick glass screen between front and back seats) so I prefer using Uber. You can also hire a private car, called “remis”. To get from the airport to the city, your only option is an airport taxi, which are clean and safe, and you can pay by credit card.
dining and bars
If you stick to the city centre, old town and other business areas, you’ll find that food is good even if a bit expensive (compared to other Latin American cities, definitely cheaper when compared to the UK!). Food safety is actually very good in Montevideo.
Some personal recommendations:
Old City: Sin Pretensiones, Jacinto, La Parrilla del Solís (for beef, something we’re world-famous for, and tannat, our signature wine), La Corte (on Plaza Matriz, this was the centre of the city’s life in colonial times under the Spanish), Café Bacacay and I also love the café at the Solis Theatre. The harbour market (Mercado del Puerto) is also perfect for lunch but might be better if you go with someone else (I volunteer!) and only during daytime.
World Trade Centre area (Buceo): La Vaca
Punta Carretas/Pocitos: La Perdiz (book in advance, great for evenings, great meat and wine), Un Secreto (café), Pecana (cakes are to die for), Francis, Bar Tabare, and for drinks I really enjoy Bardot.
You’ll find that for lunchtime you’ll feel comfortable at all these places on your own. At dinner time it’s trickier and it might be better to stick to a hotel restaurant or a shopping centre food court.
women’s networks and events
beauty and fitness
If you stay near the coast in areas such as Pocitos, Punta Carretas, Buceo or Carrasco, you can go for a run along the promenade (“rambla”) which is crowded with runners early in the morning and in the evenings. I personally wouldn’t run in a park unless you’re pretty sure it’s safe. Most international hotels will have gyms (the fitness are at the Radisson is particularly impressive).
Uruguayan businesswomen, like most businesswomen in Latin America, are very well groomed (tidy hair, nails polished, make up, pedicures in summer) and there are plenty of salons around (a lot cheaper than in the UK), although most don’t open until 9am, so if you have an early morning meeting you’ll struggle to get your hair done. If you go for a special party or event, particularly in the evening, it might be a good idea to pop into a salon (“peluquería”) for a “lavado y brushing” (wash and blow dry), it is fairly inexpensive, takes about 30-40 minutes and it will be noticed!
safety and emergency services
Emergency Number: 911 (police/fire brigade)
Montevideo is normally pretty safe but some petty crime exists. Common-sense precautions apply: keep to well-known and well-lit areas, don’t carry valuables/over-the-top jewellery with you, take a photocopy of your passport around but not the original, split your credit cards across bags, take little cash with you. I personally wouldn’t open my tablet or computer in a public space (café, square, etc).
AMBASSADOR: Gabriela castro-Fontoura
My name is Gabriela and I’m delighted to be the Maiden Voyage Ambassador for Montevideo, the city I was born and raised in. I did the International Baccalaureate in Montevideo and then I left to study Economics in the UK (Durham University), where I lived for 13 years (Durham, Yorkshire, Cardiff, Edinburgh). While living in Yorkshire, I set up a consultancy business called Sunny Sky Solutions, to make it easier for companies from all over the world, but particularly from the UK, to do business with Latin America. I have been back in Uruguay since January 2013 and I’m enjoying what I love most about this place: my family, friends and a slower pace of life that still values time with others and personal connections. I am married, with two kids and love films, travelling, dining out, chatting to friends at some local cafe and meeting people from all over the world.
Feel free to contact me through email on firstname.lastname@example.org or through twitter @uklatinamerica.