Panchos!

Montevideo on a budget

Food

Expect a fundamentally European cuisine, with a few local flourishes. You can get chivitos, the local variant of the steak sandwich, plus milanesas (like a wiener schnitzel) and pasta dishes in most restaurants for around US$5.

Other options are hot dogs and hamburgers, found in restaurants and – cheaper still – from street vendors. There are a couple of vans selling hot dogs for $8 (40 US cents) a shot around Plaza Libertad in the Centre. You'll also notice empanada shops which sell pasties typically filled with meat and olives or ham and cheese for about US$1 each. There are plenty of options in the Old Town and in Pocitos. Iruña on calle Sarandí, corner Misiones, offers delicious take-out quiches. Take away pizzas usually cost no more than $30 (US$1.50) for a slice with a simple tomato topping or $60 (US$3) for a muzarella – a substantial cheese pizza with the only faintest smear of tomato.

Our favourite budget restaurant is Rincón de Zabala in the Old Town (see our restaurant reviews, here). On Plaza Libertad you should check out the friendly La Biennale, which offers a dish of the day and a drink for $112, or US$5.50 (they sometimes have music in the evenings). There is a cheap chivitería (chivito joint), plus a large pizzeria with regular special offers and an ice cream shop handily located next door, on Calle Ejido, between San José and Avenida 18 de Julio (Centre).

If you have a sweet tooth try any of Montevideo's massive number of bakeries. Croissants and the like are usually sold by weight. Street food is generally unexciting, but you can find churros (a Spanish variant on the doughnut) in a number of locations including Parque Rodó, and tortas fritas (like a fried biscuit, made of flour) by the beach.

Put off by the crowds at the Mercado del Puerto? Want to save a little money? Try the Mercado de la Abundancia on Calle San José at the corner of Lanza. There are several meat restaurants in this wonderful old market hall, which contrives to feel off the beaten track in spite of its location around the corner from the Intendencia (town hall). Perhaps the nicest option is El Esquinazo, which offers a steak and a glass of wine for $165 (US$8) at lunchtime on weekdays. As soon as they get the barbecue going in the morning you can snack on choripán (spicy grilled sausage in a bread roll).

Markets

Tristán Navaja market is rightly the most famous market in Montevideo, due to the sheer breadth of goods on offer (featured in our article here), but there are plenty of other places to pick up a bargain. Feria Villa Biarritz (Vázquez Ledesma and Leyenda Patria, Tuesday and Saturday) in Punta Carretas has a seemingly endless array of clothes, from cheap replicas to quality local-made goods and designer accessories, including costume jewellery. Meanwhile Feria Parque Rodó, next to the park of the same name, has handicrafts, clothing and food.

Accommodation/Hostels

Hostels in Montevideo are bunched in three main areas, Ciudad Vieja, Palermo/Barrio Sur and Pocitos. In Ciudad Vieja, the deceptively-titled Posada al Sur (dorms from $15, Pérez Castellano corner Washington, www.posadaalsur.com.uy, tel. 916 5287) is – despite its name – a cheerful hostel with dorm prices from US$15 per night, which includes a good breakfast, access to the rooftop terrace and super-clean rooms. The brand-new Green Hostel (US$15 for a dorm bed, 25 de Mayo corner Colón, www.thegreenhostel.com, tel. 916 9789) and Boulevard Sarandí Hostel (beds from US$14, Sarandí corner Zabala, www.boulevardsarandihostel.com, tel. 915 37 65) are also decent hostels in this area.

The Art Hostel in Palermo (from US$14, Gaboto corner San Salvador, www.palermoarthostel.com, tel. 410 6519/411 8366) is a huge building with large dorms and plenty of common spaces. Their newly-decked-out rooftop terrace is especially nice and has its own bar, open from Thursday to Saturday. El Viajero (US$17, Soriano corner Rio Negro, www.elviajerodowntown.com, tel. 908 2913) and Planet Montevideo (US$14, Canelones corner Paraguay, www.planetmontevideohostel.com tel. 900 0733) are recommended. El Viajero also runs hostels in Colonia, Punta del Este and La Pedrera.

Unplugged Hostel and Pocitos Hostel are both cheery places in the upmarket residential neighbourhood of Pocitos. Unplugged (US$14, Luis de la Torre corner Bulevar España, unpluggedhostel.com, tel. 712 1381) opened recently but has been getting good feedback, especially for its location; only 5 minutes walk to the beach. Pocitos Hostel (US$14, Sarmiento corner Aguilar, www.pocitos-hostel.com, tel. 711 8780) has energetic staff and regular barbecues.

Outside Montevideo: For good deals on hotel accommodation at the beach out of season (particularly November and early December, and April) check out the Sunday edition of the El País newspaper, which carries regular advertisements of special offers. Inexpensive coach trips to inland attractions, notably the thermal springs around Salto and Paysandú, are advertised at travel agents (there are a cluster on Calle Colonia around the Plaza del Entrevero, Centre) and even on flyers pinned to trees downtown.

Arts and culture

There are plenty of cultural activities taking place in Montevideo, many of which won't cost you a penny. The Subte exhibition space (Plaza del Entrevero) offers a constantly-changing programme of visual arts treats. Meanwhile, public museums are generally free or have a very low admission price. National Museum of Visual Arts at Parque Rodó offers a mix of photography and video as well as fine art, and the offer generally changes every month. The dynamic Centro Cultural de España (www.cce.org.uy; Rincón corner Bartolomé Mitre, Old Town) has exhibitions, talks and workshops. You may see exhibitions at various embassies advertised in the local press. Admission to these will almost always be free.

There are also possibilities for free or cheap cinema. The marvellous Efecto Cine group (www.efectocine.com) has been travelling around Uruguay for the past couple years showing a variety of films projected on a huge inflatable screen. For cinema buffs the Cinemateca Uruguaya (www.cinemateca.org.uy) offers seasons of films by European and Latin and North American directors, plus different genres – anyone up for a week of vampire flicks? They have screens all over the city with some showings for US$2, around a third of the price of a ticket to watch the new blockbuster at a multiplex.

Montevideo has a huge tradition of theatre with shows taking place in large auditoriums but also in social clubs and on bandstands on the streets. Street theatre is most common in the month before, and during, Carnival. The excellent culture page (cultura.montevideo.gub.uy) of the city government's website has details of many events. Look out for murgas (a mixture of comedy and music), parodistas and humoristas. Some of these events are free but most will cost US$2-5. It's all authentic Uruguayan entertainment.

Candombe is a hugely popular style of drumming in Montevideo. There are hundreds of different groups that, often accompanied by dancers, pound out an incessant rhythm as they move through their neighbourhood. It's something special and unlike any drumming style you will have heard elsewhere. See our article on La Melaza, a group of women drummers. The most famous group is Isla de Flores in Palermo, which performs every Sunday at 7 pm (Isla de Flores corner Gaboto). Tambor Brujo is a new group meeting every Friday in Pocitos (Charrúa corner Ponce, beginning at 8 pm) Pure Uruguay, and there's no need to dig into your pockets.

Football

Football is the national sport of Uruguay. For a country of its size, the national team has been hugely successful, and there is a massive rivalry between its two biggest clubs, Nacional and Peñarol, covered in our feature here. Additionally, it can be incredibly cheap to watch. The Estadio Centenario is the home of the national team and the venue for the Peñarol-Nacional derby. Tickets for international games are the most expensive and start at $200 (US$10). Prices for local matches, including many of Peñarol's home games, start at $100 (US$5). Tickets can normally be bought directly from the stadium or from the many Abitab shops that can be found around Montevideo. Bear in mind that the cheapest tickets are also the ones for the most popular areas. This shouldn't be a problem unless you are attending the clásico (Peñarol-Nacional derby) when for the sake of your ears it may be best to pay a little bit more. But we advise caution outside the stadium: the clásico has a history of violence between rival supporters.

Other options are the Estadio Luis Franzini, home of Defensor Sporting, and Nacional's Parque Central. These are cheaper still with tickets starting from $30 and $80 respectively. Tickets do not need to be bought in advance for Luis Franzini, just arrive a little before the game starts and pay on the gate.

There are very few accurate fixture lists for the Uruguayan league in English. The best one by far is at ESPN's Soccernet site. When buying tickets make sure you state which team you want to support. Some ticket sellers are can be a little "careless" when selling tickets to foreigners. If you want to sit with the main bulk of supporters ask for populares. These will also be the cheapest. Tickets are referred to as either boletos or entradas.