Uruguay Travel Guide
Culture of Uruguay
Uruguay may share many cultural traditions with neighboring Argentina, but there are some unique elements that set it apart. A history of Portuguese and Spanish colonization, the presence of African slaves, and European immigration, have created a strong cultural heritage unique to this small nation.
Candombe, now a UNESCO-recognized World Cultural Heritage, is a music and dance style with African roots. Candombe features distinctive drumming and dancing and is believed to be one of the first foundations of the tango. The Carnival is also very important in Uruguay culture and is another example of how African slave traditions have blended with Portuguese and Spanish colonialism.
Our Uruguay tours take you to Montevideo which, together with Buenos Aires, is considered the birthplace of milonga (music) and tango (dance). In fact, the famous Argentine tango singer Carlos Gardel was actually born in Uruguay, although this is hotly debated by Argentine and Uruguayan tango aficionados.
The gaucho, a rugged cowboy, is an important cultural figure in Uruguay, similar to the iconic cowboys in the US. Uruguayans are also fútbol (soccer) fanatics. The first World Cup was held in 1930 in Montevideo and Uruguay defeated Argentina to become the first World Cup champions in history – a matter of great national pride!
Uruguayans are laid back, warm, friendly and family-oriented. The rhythm of life in Uruguay, even in the capital city Montevideo, is very small town-esque and relaxed. It is no wonder Uruguay vacations are popular with so many South American jet-setters!
Top Uruguay Travel Tip – Culture:
Don’t be surprised to see government shops selling marijuana openly. In December 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalize the marijuana trade. The government believes legalization will end illegal drug trafficking, and President Mujica has been lauded by a Dutch Pro-Drugs Agency.
Cuisine of Uruguay
Discover a wealth of delicious dishes during one of our private Uruguay tours. The asado (barbecue) is a cornerstone in the cuisine of Uruguay – they are as much a key familial and social event as they are a gastronomic delight! In terms of per capita consumption of beef, Argentina is Uruguay’s only rival!
Uruguayan beef is of excellent quality and is prepared simply with coarse salt and by careful grilling over wood fire coals. Yerba mate is drunk almost obsessively by Uruguayans, especially during the Sunday asado barbecue. In the beach towns along the coast, fresh seafood and shellfish are grilled during the warm summer holidays and served with fresh seasonal preparations.
Uruguay tours are incomplete without sampling delicious street food items like the chivito, which are very popular with travelers in Punta del Este especially after a long night spent indulging in the city’s famous nightlife.
Why not try some typical Uruguay food?
- Chivito: a multi-layer steak sandwich, which is the emblematic street food of Uruguay
- Postre Chaja or Chaja dessert: layers of crunchy meringue, cream, sponge cake, dulce de leche or milk caramel and peaches
- Asado: beef grilled over burning coals, an Uruguayan staple
- Pizza por metro: literally translates to ‘pizza by the meter’; an Uruguayan take on the ubiquitous pizza, this is rectangular in shape and cooked in clay ovens
Top Uruguay Travel Tips – Cuisine:
- Uruguayans take yerba mate drinking to an unmatched extreme. On an Uruguay tour, you will notice the locals with thermos and mate gourd in hand at practically all hours of the day as they walk the streets, go shopping or ride bicycles or motorcycles.
- Recently the country has developed into a burgeoning wine region, producing primarily the Tannat variety. We recommend a private Uruguay wine tour so you can discover the surprising quality of Uruguayan wines for yourself!
The only documented inhabitants of Uruguay prior to colonization were the Charrua, who were driven south by the Guaraní culture of Paraguay. The Portuguese were the first to explore the region in the early 16th century followed by the Spanish. The Spanish founded the port city of Montevideo in the 17th century and attempted to curb the Portuguese expansion of Brazil.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the British tried to take over the Rio de la Plata region but were defeated by Criolloforces. These victories, combined with the influence of the Napoleonic wars, fueled the struggle for independence against Spain and Portugal, and finally in 1828, Uruguay won!
After independence, civil war tore the country apart for 13 long years, finally ending in 1852 – the same year slavery was abolished. Immediately afterwards, there was a strong rise in European immigration, particularly from Italy and Spain. Aided by an increase in exports, the economy grew steadily. The late 19th century ushered in an age of modernization, with railroads, banks, telephones, canals and a sophisticated port at Montevideo being built.
After World War II, consumption of agricultural products declined and Uruguay’s export-based economy faced hard times with inflation, unemployment, lower standards of living, and resulting civil unrest. The 1970s to 1980s were marked by harsh military dictatorship and the Dirty War. In the decades that followed, the country experimented with free trade and foreign investment until Argentina’s financial collapse of 2000, which devastated Uruguay as well.
Uruguay’s president José Mujica, who was elected in 2009, has been given the title of the world’s most humble president as he donates 90% of his salary to charities and small businesses. Mujica is championed for living simply, avoiding corruption, and for implementing several bold pragmatic strategies that have put Uruguay on the path of growth and stability and done much to encourage Uruguay tours.
Top Uruguay Travel Tip – History:
In the 16th century, Uruguay was a region of contention between Spain and Portugal. You can see influences of mid-17th-century Portuguese colonialism on your private Uruguay tour, especially in Colonia del Sacramento.
Language of Uruguay
Spanish is the official language of Uruguay. Uruguayans speak with an accent similar to Argentinean Spanish.
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