Uruguay's only real metropolis has its share of glitzy shopping avenues and modern office buildings. But few visitors come here specifically in search of urban pleasures. This city of 1½ million doesn't have the whirlwind vibe of Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires, but it's a fine old city with sumptuous, if worn, colonial architecture, and a massive coastal promenade that—as it passes fine beaches, restaurants, and numerous parks—recalls the sunny sophistications of the Mediterranean. In fact, if you've been to Buenos Aires, Montevideo may strike you as a smaller, more manageable, less expensive incarnation of Argentina's capital.
Built along the eastern bank of the Río de la Plata (River of Silver), Montevideo takes full advantage of its location. When the weather's good, La Rambla, a 22-km (14-mi) waterfront avenue that links the Old City with the eastern suburbs and changes names about a dozen times, gets packed with fishermen, ice-cream vendors, and joggers. Around sunset, volleyball and football games wind down as couples begin to appear for evening strolls. Polls consistently rate Montevideo as having the highest quality of life of any city in Latin America. After one visit here, especially on a lovely summer evening, you just might agree.