If you are lucky enough to hit Uruguay during January and February, sign up for an authentic Carnival tablado tour – it will be one of your most memorable experiences.
Uruguay celebrates the longest Carnival competition in the world. But don’t expect a street Carnival like in Brazil. The Uruguayan Carnival competition is held in the evenings on small stages known as “tablados” dotted throughout Montevideo.
Starting at the end of January, local Carnival groups compete for more than forty days in five different categories for the annual Carnival title.
Murga: Uruguay’s favourite Carnival genre
It’s pretty safe to say that today Uruguay’s most popular Carnival category is murga. Murga is a uniquely Uruguayan musical theatre genre, with very distant roots in Cadiz, Spain.
Murga groups are made up of seventeen members: thirteen singers, a director and three percussionists playing cymbals, snare drum and bass drum.
Costumes and make-up will remind you of Venetian Carnival and the murgas’ very particular singing technique guarantees goose bumps!
How to get to a Carnival tablado
To know where the best murgas are performing just check the Guru’Guay daily recommendation on a particular day from January 28 for at least the next forty nights. It’s easy to buy tickets for a tablado once you are in Uruguay and tablados are easy to get to.
However there is good reason to consider going on a private tablado tour with an English-speaking guide.
Murga: Social critique – it’s not just the spectacle
The murga takes to the stage to criticise and make fun of society, politics and important events that have happened during the previous year in largely a cappella song. This critique is a crucial and well-loved part of every show.
Many visitors who can’t understand the lyrics are just dying to know exactly what the murgas are singing about and to understand the jokes that have the audience rolling.
And noone can watch a murga without asking themselves about the background of the groups they are seeing – many of whom were part of the social resistance during the dictatorship of the 70s and 80s.
Even if you speak Spanish there is such a lot of Uruguayan slang flying around and so many references that only someone who’s spent the last year in Uruguay following the news and media closely would get.
Your insider guide to Uruguay Carnival
So I highly recommend visiting your first tablado with tour guide and local culture-vulture, Christine Dulin of Uruguay Autentico.
Christine is a German-American who has been living and working in Uruguay for the last five years. Christine’s partner is Uruguayan. The first time I came into contact with her she was sucking on a mate, one sure sign that this woman was virtually a local. She speaks excellent Spanish – as well as English and German of course– and has a real passion for local culture having worked at the Carnival Museum, as well as other emblematic spots and with local candombe drumming groups.
For Carnival 2017, she’s offering two tours as well as an opportunity to visit the Llamadas procession (coming soon).
Visit a Carnival tablado with a local
Date: From January 28 to February 28
Duration: Approx. 2.5-3h
The tour is for a maximum of two people. This allows Christine to really fill you in during the show itself. You’ll be sitting in the tablado audience and as you can imagine, if there were more people on the tour she’d have to raise her voice, bothering other audience members.
Where: At one of the different Carnival stages (= tablados) in Montevideo.
Starting time: The exact pick up time will depend on which tablado to visit. This depends on the line-up of the different tablados for the day which Christine will know just three days in advance. Normally, tablados start between 8 and 9pm.
- ride from your accommodation to the tablado and back from most central parts of the city
- Tablado tickets
- Interesting information about the Uruguayan Carnival
Price: 60 USD per person. If you are a solo-traveler, the price will be 120 USD.
Visit a neighbourhood Carnival rehearsal
If you arrive before Carnival starts, don’t worry, there’s still chance for a unique experience. Going to check out a murga rehearsal, like hundreds of locals do every evening before Carnival starts.
Rehearsals take place in local clubs and sports centres. Some are in the open air in public parks. It’s a relaxed atmosphere – at this point the murga groups are not wearing make-up or costumes – and Christine will tell you all about the history of murga and of the specific group you are seeing.
In general, this is a very good opportunity to catch a glimpse of a typical Uruguayan cultural event. Most locals love to come to the rehearsals with their families and bring their mate. Mate, pronounced MAH-tay, is a caffeine-based tea that locals drink with a metal straw from a gourd – the tradition is also popular in Argentina and in the south of Brazil – however, most Uruguayos take it to the extreme and take their mate and thermos flask everywhere they go!
Christine will prepare some mate and you can learn all about the ritual and the etiquette. And of course, you are invited to try.
There’s a chance to buy something to drink and typical street food.
Date: January 5-25
Duration: Apx 2.5-3 hours
Maximum number of participants: 2
Location: At one of the different venues where a Murga group rehearses in Montevideo
Starting time: The exact pick up time will depend on which rehearsal you visit. This depends on which day it is and on the final rehearsal venues of each murga. Normally, rehearsals start between 8 and 9 p.m.
- transportation to and from your accommodation to the rehearsal venue from most central areas of the city
- A glass of wine/beer/soft-drink per person
- Interesting information about Uruguayan Carnival
Price: 40 USD per person. Solo-travelers 80 USD.
How to book your tablado carnival tour
Find out more by writing to Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the Uruguay Autentico website.
Please mention that you found out about the tour through Guru’Guay. It really does help us!
Find out more about Uruguay and Carnival