It’s carnival, and Montevideo has the longest carnival in the world. Well, other than in Cologne, Germany.
It started on Thursday January 19 at the inaugural parade, and from then every night for 40 nights there will be nightly shows called tablados which feature anything from 4-7 carnival groups. People often think that carnival in Uruguay will be just the same as carnival in Brazil and it couldn’t be more different.
I went to a tablado a couple of nights ago and it was so much fun to see children running around (one on a scooter!), getting their faces painted, gathering up coloured papers (treasure!) that had been thrown by some of the groups. Many of the spectators were sitting on blankets picnicking or drinking mate. But when the carnival groups came on stage, there’s a hushed silence as everyone respectfully listened—when they weren’t cracking up laughing.
Yes, I think you can gather that carnival in Uruguay and carnival in Brazil are completely different beasts.
I’m getting a lot of questions about where to go to see Carnaval and how to buy tickets. The big parades that are on now will be the Llamadas on Friday and Saturday 10th and 11th of February. You buy tickets in Abitab.
For a tablado, I think the easiest way to get tickets, especially if you can’t manage Spanish, it’s to buy at the tablado box office. If you want to avoid a line, go in the afternoon before the show starts and return later for the show.
Tablados normally start any time between 7.30pm and 9 pm and shows will go on until one or two in the morning. I know. Week days too. #GottaLoveUruguay
I’ve added which tablados I would recommend to a newcomer to this article on carnival events 2023.
And a bonus! I filmed going to a tablado so you can see what to expect.
Are you planning to hit carnival? It’s definitely worth it. My (gruff Welsh) dad was not a big one for ‘cultural events’ but he loved a tablado, especially to see and hear the murgas.
And of course everybody wants to see the comparsas (candombe drummers and dancers). The main event to experience comparsas is 100% the Llamadas.
A reader contacted me to say that her (Uruguayan) family were discouraging her from going to the Llamadas, saying they were dangerous. I told her that I’ve been many times, including with family from the UK, and have had an incredible time. It’s authentic Montevideo. However it is a big crowded street event. So do take the regular precautions that you would in any big event in a city that you’re unfamiliar with, and more so if you don’t speak the language.
I recommended that she check out my tips on how to blend into a street candombe procession because it’s helpful advice for the Llamadas too.
If you plan to go, I’d love to hear about it and do feel free to tag me @GuruGuay1 on social networks. It’ll be wonderful to see your photos.