A helter skelter was the first fairground ride to appear on the banks of the River Plate 125 years ago. It wasn’t until over a decade later that the 42 hectare park, initially called Parque Costera and then Parque Urbano, was landscaped by two French architects. By 1904, there was an artificial lake, a fairytale-style castle, and a bar selling… fresh milk!
Nowadays Parque Rodó (pronounce it par-kay roh-DOH), which is also the name of the surrounding neighbourhood, is the barrio with most statues and monuments in the whole of the city. Confucius looks out over the beach. Neptune nestles under a low-hanging tree. And a host of other attractions for all ages.
Funfair – the kitsch 50s one for grown-ups, and a cute one for little ones
The waterside funfair (juegos mecánicos in Spanish) is a step back in time. You have not ridden such a kitsch ghost train since you were 10. But you will have to make it quick. The Montevideo government and business community don’t understand that people will pay to experience nostalgia.
The Ghost Train (tren fantasma) was sold off in 2014. The helter skelter was sold off a year earlier. Let’s hope that the iconic Gusano Loco (which translated literally as the Crazy Worm) doesn’t go the same way.
Off season the funfair opens on weekends and public holidays only.
A children’s funfair for the under 10s is on the other side of the park (the corner of Blvr Artigas and 21 de setiembre) and opens during the day. The roundabouts and mini Gran Prix track are charming. Our son took seven friends on seven rides there for his seventh birthday.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon
There is a street market on Sundays but it primarily sells cheap clothing and is mainly of interest to locals. There may be interesting street musicians playing around the lake though – or even ON the lake.
Also on Sundays there is a small farmers market on 21 de setiembre between the Defensor Sporting Club and the children’s funfair if you are looking for economically-priced organic produce including fruit, vegetables, cheeses, preserves and ecological household cleaning products.
On Sunday early evening, join La Melaza, Montevideo’s only all-woman candombe drumming troupe (cuerda de tambores), at their weekly open-air drumming session. Join them just before sundown on the corner of on Blanes and Gonzalo Ramirez streets by the steps. Their route takes them along San Salvador. Just follow the sound of drums.
TIP Don’t attend the drumming if you are on a tight schedule. Drumming processions are lazy, impromptu affairs. They start when everyone is gathered, not at a particular time. They process slowly. Half way through everyone stops for a break, buys beer at a store to drink on the pavement, has a smoke…. until they get started up again and process back to the starting point. (Join La Melaza on Facebook)
Things to do in Parque Rodó
- Stroll the park with hundreds of mate-drinking locals (you can always spot a Uruguayan abroad, other South Americans drink mate, but only Uruguayans do it in the street).
- Hire a pedalo and paddle around the tiny lake next to the castle, which was originally built to be purely ornamental but since the 1930s has housed a children’s library. The pedalos are periodically decorated by different local artists.
- Have a go on the dodgem cars
- Visit the Museum of Visual Arts on the corner of Tomás Giribaldi 2283 and Julio Herrera y Reissig. It has Uruguay’s biggest collection of art and is free. Open most afternoons from 2pm to 7pm including weekends.
- Take photos of the stunning art-deco Mercosur Parliament building, formerly the Parque Hotel, on the rambla
- Go the beach. Playa Ramirez is a good beach for small children as the water is very shallow.
- Check out the outdoor photo exhibition close to the casino. The exhibit constantly changes and usually includes Uruguayan photographers and occasional international exhibitions.
- Have a pizza or chivito at the classic Rodelu bar.
- Watch the sunset from the beach and then walk back to where you are staying along the rambla. Montevideo has 25 kilometres of unbroken rambla (or boardwalk) stretching from the port in the Ciudad Vieja to Carrasco near the airport.
The Goddess of the Sea celebrations each February 2
On February 2 each year don’t miss the Imenjá celebrations – a special day of worship of the Goddess of the Sea. The best place to go is Playa Ramirez, the beach at Parque Rodó, before sundown. This is part of Afro-uruguayan heritage and the Umbanda religion practiced in Brazil and Uruguay.
Check out the series of photos I took for our guesthouse page which also include photos of the Mercosur Building in the background.
How to get to Parque Rodó
It is 45-50 minutes walk along the rambla from the Ciudad Vieja. And the same from the beach at Pocitos.
Numerous buses go to the park which also has a terminus there next to the casino.
Cover photo: Vince Alongi