A Wall Street banker in Montevideo

Roberto worked in the international banking world for 20 years. Then he gave it all up to return to his home town of Montevideo and live in the Old City.
By Karen A Higgs
Gelber closeup
Last updated on October 21, 2016

Roberto lived a nomadic life in high finance and the international banking world for twenty years. This year he gave it all up to host travellers in Montevideo’s Old City.

Roberto Gelber was born and brought up in Montevideo. However after graduating in finance he left Uruguay in 1999 on a career path that took him to Suriname, Curaçao, Amsterdam where he ran a large European trading desk and finally to New York City.

While in the US in 2011, a personal and family crisis came during  2011. Back then, he decided to give a different focus to life, mainly to give his small daughter a different example of what is important. He returned to Uruguay in 2013 and finally left the banking sector this year.

Back during his nomadic years, he’d bought a run-down 1920s three-storey French-style building on Sarandi street. Sarandi (pronounced sa-ran-DEE) is the main pedestrian street through Montevideo’s Old City. The renovation process took a year but now Nomade Suites is open to guests and getting great reviews like:

“In the heart of the Old City, the South American version of Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighbourhood, or Berlin’s Neukölln, you will find the raw and real city vibes. The Old City is an up-and-coming neighbourhood, with a lot of nice spots to discover! Roberto’s apartment is in a very cool renovated old house, close to the old harbor area. He gave the house a special touch by combining new style with the old interior.”


“It breaks my heart to give away such secrets, but this is a great hideout in the old town with unbelievable roof top views.”

Why choose the Old City?

Roberto fell in love with the Old City on his return to Uruguay. In fact he lives there himself just around the corner from Nomade Suites. He loves the fact that it is surrounded by water and full of historical buildings and museums.

As well as being the historic part of Montevideo, the Old City – known as the Ciudad Vieja in Spanish– is the heart of import and export, finance and government so it’s bustling during the week and quiet on weekends.

“Nomade Suites is in a more residential part of the Old City,” says Roberto. “So at night it’s very peaceful, except for Saturday evenings for an hour around sunset when the local candombe troupe parades down Sarandi complete with drummers and dancers.”

Peace and quiet is one of the big reasons Roberto gave up a career on Wall Street to focus in more free time for himself and a better quality of life. “I am Uruguayan and I was lucky enough to be born in Uruguay,” he smiles. He’s also expanded into property on the coast which he also rents to visitors.

“Uruguay’s remarkable because it is quite a developed country but globalisation hasn’t really reached here yet. There’s space, there’s peace and quiet. People are moving here from elsewhere but very slowly. Hopefully they won’t for the next fifty years!”

Roberto’s secrets of Ciudad Vieja

When the big cruise ships dock in the port of Montevideo on the north side of the Old City, thousands of passengers flood off the ship and as if on auto-pilot make their way up Colón street (the stress is on the last syllable, co-LON, before you ask), a street named after Christopher Columbus.

Clearly a huge urban planning fail. Colón is probably the ugliest street in the whole of Montevideo. But, says Roberto, it’s home to two little-known gems.

Es Mercat – the best fish restaurant in Montevideo

So says Roberto who recommends putting yourself in the hands of the owner, also called Roberto, and letting him choose your dishes. The Guru tried it and is now a convert – check out her review of Es Mercat.

Best place to watch the sun set in the Old City

Roberto recommends a visit to the Escollera Sarandi (prounced es-koy-ZZHHeh-ra sa-ran-DEE) – an old stone jetty jutting out from the far end of the Old City peninsula. You just follow Sarandi street right to the very end, that’s where the jetty starts. The escollera is the haunt of numerous amateur fishermen and women. From it you have a wonderful view of the Old City and the bay of Montevideo.

More reading on Ciudad Vieja

Best neighbourhoods to stay in Montevideo Check out the Guru’Guay analysis of Ciudad Vieja and see if it’s the perfect barrio for your stay

Safety in the Old City  The Old City is nowadays one of the safest neighbourhoods in the entire of Montevideo

The Old City is Montevideo’s top destination for foodies. Check out our Top Picks to see places we highly recommend.

Sunset over Montevideo Given that Montevideo’s coast mainly faces south, there are not very many locations from which to watch the sunset over the water. I have my own sunset recommendation which is from Playa Ramirez, the beach in Parque Rodó.

Photos: Guru’Guay, Montecruz Foto, Roberto Gelber




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