Carnaval in Uruguay – The longest Carnaval in the World

Carnaval in Uruguay

Uruguay is proud of having the Longest Carnaval in the World, and with good reason. During this endless party that starts mid-January and ends mid-March, music, fantasy and color are the stars of the show. Yes, you read that right, that’s more than 45 days of Carnaval. In this post we’ll review Carnaval in Uruguay and get to know what else is special about it besides its duration.

Carnaval in Uruguay

This never-ending party opens in Montevideo, Capital City of Uruguay, with a parade through 18 de Julio Avenue in which the main Carnaval groups take part (parodistas, murgas, humoristas, revistas and troupes of “negros and lubolos”), which conform the Official Carnaval Contest.

Two weeks after the next big party happens, one that mainly involves the traditions of the african-uruguayan community: The “Llamadas Parade” (Desfile de Llamadas in Spanish), where the protagonists are dozens of troupes that play and dance to the rhythm of “Candombe”, while going through Isla de Flores Street in Sur and Palermo neighbor hoods.

Uruguayan Murga – Music, Laughs and Social Criticism

carnaval in uruguay - murga

A big part of the Carnaval in Uruguay is based upon the art of “Murga”. While the term is used in different performances across the globe, Uruguayan Murga is unique in its style and execution.

This artistic expression has its roots in Cadiz, Spain, and arrived to Montevideo around 1909 when, according to the verbal tradition, a modest Zarzuela company arrived to the country with aims at performing at Casino Theatre. Seems like they couldn’t gather enough people to attend their shows so some of their components formed a sort of satirical act, called “Murga La Gaditana”, going out to the streets singing to collect money.

carnaval in uruguay - cadiz

Next year, a local group that used to participate in Carnaval called themselves “Murga, La Gaditana que se va”, to make fun of what happened last year with the Spanish artists and from that point onwards the word “Murga” is used to name the kind of acts that gather together choral acts, theatrical performances and music, which lyrics have a high component of comedy, social satire and politics

The genre evolved to the present moment, where near two million people gather during the Uruguayan summer to attend the different venues where Carnaval performances happen, both public and private.

Desfile de Llamadas and Candombe

carnaval in uruguay - candombe

Candombe, the other big genre that can be found only at the Uruguayan Carnaval is made up of the so called “String of drums” and different dancers and singers that impose a rhythmic roar that reaches directly to the heart of the viewers.

With a ritualistic origin and a much more commercial present, never losing the traditions that gave birth to it, the “Desfile de Llamadas” of Montevideo Uruguay is the maximum expression of Candombe, where more than 40 troupes parade for two nights full of music, light, and color.

It is so attractive that people from all over the world get to Uruguay just for this event that happens two nights a year, in such a small South American Country. If there’s an exclusive and uncommon event in the world, that is without a doubt, the “Desfile de Llamadas”.

Carnaval Outside the Capital City

Carnaval is not only a Capital City thing. Outside of the metropolitan area of Montevideo, in cities and small towns on the countryside Carnaval vibrates at the same intensity. In Artigas, the Samba rhythm turns the big Lecueder Avenue into a Sambodromo with more than 20.000 viewers every day. After the parades, party continues at clubs in the city that goes until noon. It resembles those of Rio de Janeiro but with rules, music and its own unique style.

The biggest parade in Salto City has its place on Uruguay Avenue and gathers more than 25.000 people. Carnaval in Paysandu is also worth mentioning because it’s the only one outside the capital city that also participate in the official contest.

Just to mention others, we can name Maldonado with the Official Piriapolis Carnaval Parade, the “Encuentro de Tambores” in Punta del Este and the Closing Parade. In Canelones you can find also an Official Llamadas Contest while Flores celebrates the annual Murgas Contest and Carnaval Closing party as well.

History of Carnaval in Uruguay

Carnaval – A Story about Slaves and Pirates

The celebration of Carnaval in Uruguay has an origin in the Colonial era, more precisely during the XVIII century, a moment in which Montevideo’s Port started to work as a station for selling slaves and transport them even further along the Americas.

Merchants from several parts of Europe came and went every week and with them came their uses and fashions. From Venetian courts, the tradition of putting on a costume once a year and dance on the streets, everyone as an equal, started spreading and became very popular among the population, mostly consisting of Spanish immigrants.

As nobility was somewhat small in this lost part of America, minstrels with their dark and spicy humor had an undisputed place in street performances, without the pressure of falling from Grace with their King.

Finally, slaves also added in their music, which sounded in any place they were “stored” to be sold later. Initially in pain, tribes from all of Africa mixed Islam and Voodoo to generate a new expression, Candombe. Years went by and the sadness and uprising became dancing and joy, fusing, especially in montevideo, with other expressions of comedy and music.

Carnaval in Montevideo – Start of an Endless Party

During the first decades of the newly proclaimed republic, the Carnaval in Uruguay was celebrated with fancy dress balls, horserides across the city, water games and more. At the end of the decade of 1870, the troupes or societies of “Negros and Lubolos” started joining up as well but it was until the 20th century that they also brought along Candombe.

Across the 20th century the troupes consolidated in all festivities around Carnaval in Montevideo, also joining the Official Carnaval Contenst and other venues.

At its beginning, the Carnaval parades were very long and started at Plaza Consticucion, went through several stress across Ciudad Vieja and then ran through 18 de julio avenue until Cagancha Square, then coming back to the starting line.

Between the end of the 19th Century and the start of the 20th, Carnaval became the longest in the world, with more than 60 days of length. Starting from January, going through February and lasting until mid-March, the groups present their shows in multiple scenarios as well as the Official Contest that takes place in “Teatro de Verano Ramon Collazo”.

History of Llamadas and Candombe

African descendants used to celebrate Carnaval in Montevideo long before they were allowed to join the official celebrations. They used to sing and dance along the streets in their neighborhoods.

As a tribute to the past, people gather two nights a year to celebrate the “Llamadas” (the Calling) across Sur and Palermo Neighbothoods. The name came as a tribute to the slaves that died calling out for their homeland during the colonial era.

The “Llamadas” stared on 1956 and from that moment onwards they became a classic show in Montevideo. They are also celebrated in smaller cities where Carnaval is also important.

The “Llamadas” is a parade in which men, women and children of all ages take part of and runs thousands of meters at the rhythm of Candombe’s constant drumming.

At the front of each troupe participating in the event you can see their banner, an emblem distinguishing them from the rest. Then come the flags and right behind them a set of fantasy evoking artifacts such as moons, starts, half-moons, lights and more, all under the expert hands of the artists. These icons make reference to Islam and VooDoo, the two religions that most of the African slaves followed.

Right after the front group, you are introduced to the Gramillero, an actor portraying an old man of white, long beard and a suitcase or bag in his hand. His devilish dance make note of the character’s origin from the Voodoo tradition, alongside the Mama Vieja, an old black woman moving her hips as if she was a youngster.

Afterwards, the “Escobero”, a man depicting the “cleaner of negative vibes” that the street might contain, followed closely by dancers and drummers, who add rhythm and joy but also order to the whole troupe’s movements.

Llamadas Parade

During the 1950’s, the popularity of the Llamadas was so high that the event just sprouted spontaneously at any street at any moment, so the authorities at the time programmed a specific show called “Llamadas Parade”. In reality, it was also an excuse to bring in another big show to Montevideo’s Carnaval which, by the time, was already very popular and bright.

The first official Llamadas Parade was in February 1956. It was a success for both tradition and the new commercial take of the arts. In 1978, a bit before the demolition of “Conventillo Medio Mundo”, the show was moved to happen along 18 de julio Avenue but in 1984, after democracy returned to the country, it returned to its original course.

From that point on, the Llamadas Parade has become one of the biggest shows of Carnaval in Montevideo and in Uruguay, becoming one of the country’s main cultural attractions.

FAQ about Carnaval in Uruguay

What time of the year is Carnaval in Uruguay?

Carnaval in Uruguay extends from mid-January until mid-March, spanning most of the Uruguayan summer. The Official Carnaval Contest in Montevideo also goes along that timeframe.

Where can I find show venues for Carnaval in Uruguay?

There is a variety of “Tablados” in Montevideo (scenarios where Carnaval troupes present their shows). You can also attend some of the Carnaval Parades that happen across the country.

How many people attend Carnaval in Uruguay?

While there’s no official count of all attendees, mostly because there are many public venues and shows where no entry fee is collected nor visitors are registered, there’s an estimation that across the two months of Carnaval more than two million people attend at least 1 show related to Carnaval. This is more than half the population of the country!

It’s also estimated that Carnaval produces more revenue in 2 months that the annual revenue of the Uruguayan Football Champtionship.

Which hotels are the best to stay at during Carnaval in Uruguay?

Montevideo has amazing hotels and no matter what your budget is I’m sure you can find a nice play to stay at. In order to help you we created a list of the best hotels in Montevideo, so make sure you check them out.

Final Words

Carnaval in Uruguay is a mass cultural event that moves millions of people every year from January until March. Besides the country’s inhabitants there is not a lot of people in the world that know the impressive display and environment that can be sensed in the country during this time of the year, so I’d like to invite you come over and experience it for yourself.

Carnaval in Uruguay is one of the hidden cultural wonders of this planet and you can enjoy it too!

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