Tacuarembó is a town in the Northern Interior region of Uruguay with approximately 50,000 inhabitants. It is popular for both being an important center for gaucho culture and for being one of the presumed birthplaces of Carlos Gardel, perhaps the most prominent figure in the history of tango.
From Porto Alegre in Brazil, companies Turil go all the way to Tacuarembó two times a week (leaves Porto Alegre Mondays and Fridays 23h15, 170 BRL or 50 USD, and goes back to Porto Alegre Sundays and Thursdays 21h30, 2.938 UYU or 103 USD, tip: buy all your tickets from the Brazilian version of their website). But it is cheaper to take a bus from Porto Alegre to Santana do Livramento (7h, 100 BRL or 30 USD), walk across the border to Rivera (don't forget to pass on the immigration post), and take a onward bus to Tacuarembó (2h, 240 UYU or 8 USD). From Rivera to Tacuarembó, the Mon-Sat timetable is: 4h30*, 6h, 7h, 10h, 15h*, 15h30*, 19h (* Sunday service).
Tacuarembó town is fairly small and easily walkable. However, a good number of attractions lie out of town and you'll need your own transport to reach them.
- 1 Carlos Gardel Museum, kilometer # 208 on route 26 (Go 23km south from the city of Tacuarembó via 26 route heading Paysandú.). Thursday to Sunday 8am to 5pm. Largely dedicated to presenting evidence that the tango legend was actually born in Uruguay (and not in Argentina or France, as usually believed), the museum has a nice selection of newspaper articles and other documents. It's a nice insight into a less formal era, when name, age, parents or nationality could easily be concealed. The museum buildings are a reproduction of the nearby estancia in which Gardel would have been born. 25 UYU.
- 2 Gaucho and Indian Museum (Museo del Indio y del Gaucho), corner of av. General Artigas and Av. General Flores.
- 3 El Hongo, corner of av. República Argentina and calle Manuel Rodríguez Correa. A giant work of public art that supposedly resembles a mushroom, created by Walter Domingo, an architect who created several other important works in Tacuarembó Department. With the work, Domingo wanted to represent the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- 1 Laguna de las Lavanderas (Washerwomen Lagoon) (head North until you cross the bridge). Besides being the heart of Gaucho culture during the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha, the lagoon is also a favorite place for locals to go drink mate in late afternoon
- 2 Valle Edén, kilometer # 208 on route 26 (Go 23km south from the city of Tacuarembó via 26 route heading Paysandú.). Valle Edén is a mountain range zone with a subtropical vegetation. The "arroyo jabonería" , "la gruta de los galpones" and the "Carlos Gardel" museum are must see places for tourists. There is wooden suspension bridge, an old train station and some railroad tracks too.
- 3 Balneario Ypora (7km away from Tacuarembó roundabout near the northern bridge). A lagoon surrounded by grass and some pine trees, popular on sunny days for some water fun, sun-bathing and drinking mate.
- Nearby is the Indian Cemetery which has been in continuous use since precolumbian times.
- 4 Cerro Batoví (25 km from the city of Tacuarembó take route 5 heading south to Paso de los Toros). The 224 meters mountain is a symbol included in the "Escudo del Departamento" (departamental shield). Its name Batoví means "virgin's breast" in the Guarani language.
Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha
This big event celebrating regional countryside life and customs takes place annually on the second weekend of March, on Lavanderas Lake. It remains a very traditional event, with most attendees being somehow connected to gaucho culture of Northern Uruguay.
Official website: https://www.patriagaucha.com.uy/
It is structured as a competition between gaucho culture groups, the sociedades criollas, most located in nearby villages. A group of them, Sociedades Participantes, competes for the fair big prize, while another group, Sociedades Invitadas, competes for the right to join the Sociedades Participantes on the year to come.
Tournaments counting points for the sociedades include:
- many types of horse and bull riding (rodeo)
- best rancho - which is a historically accurate reconstruction of some remarkable area relevant to the gaucho history, complete with buildings, furniture, artifacts and usually cuisine. Themes of choice are usually estancias of respected people, rural schools, rural train stations or even a cheese factories of 1800s or early 1900s.
- best dish - and you can buy vouchers at the fair central office (administración) to taste it as well!
- flor del pago (village flower) - the lady who'll represent the gaucho nation in other events. It's not a beauty pageant, she is instead selected for her horse-riding ability and eloquence
- little peasant (girl and boy) - best old times children presentation (they usually come riding their own horses even at tender ages!)
On the festival Saturday, all the sociedades (including those not competing) leave in a horse parade that crosses Tacuarembó town, from 9h to midday. Locals estimate between 3 to 5 thousand horses. Once finished, there's an act in front of General Artigas statue on the main square, after which is a great opportunity for pictures with gauchos and their horses.
On the festival Sunday, a gaucho mass is celebrated just outside the festival venue.
Entrance to the general area costs 300 UYU or less (inquire about discounts at the ticket office, since in 2018 tickets bought with BROU cards received a 2nd free ticket - up to 5 combos / 10 tickets per card).
The ticket is valid for the whole day. It's possible to leave the area and go back with the same ticket, just ask for the return voucher on your way out (but bear in mind these vouchers are only handed till 22h). Most people spend the day at the fair, leave in the evening (rest and take shower), and come back at night for the concerts.
Entrance to the rodeos vary with day/seat area, but could be as cheap as 100 UYU. There's an independent ticket booth for each tribune, so inquire prices and shade situation first.
Accommodation is a big issue during the festival, as there are few hotels available. The local custom is of either of renting an entire house or camping, but most people camp, which is an experience in itself. Two independently managed camping grounds are set up on each side of the Fiesta. In 2018, the price was 1.000 UYU (35 USD) a day for the right to use a 30m² plot of land, plus 300 UYU (10 USD) a day per person to cover facilities. These prices are thought with large groups in mind, as there are virtually no solo travellers in town, so if you're alone it might be negotiable.
Camping in green public areas nearby the festival area is not frowned upon during festival time, and it's free.
If you're feeling rich, some locals offer rooms in their houses (inquire at the tourist office as AirBnb is not a thing there yet), and in 2018 the going rate was 2.000 UYU or 70 USD a night.
Most festival goers have their own means of transport (horses or cars), so with the extra coaches put by the companies, there's no shortage of bus tickets even on what would be peak times (like on the evening of the last day). But do check which coach (coche) is yours, as there might be up to ten extra buses leaving at the same time.
March sees mild temperatures, with hot sunny days and chill evenings. Temperatures drop sharply once the sun sets, so if you plan to spend the whole day & night there, take a coat with you.
If you're camping, be prepared to cope with +10°C at night. And local knowledge says there's no Patria Gaucha without a day of rain, so plan accordingly.
- Hotel Plaza: Av. 25 de Agosto 247, Tel. +598 (4)63 27988, +598 (4)63 27989, offers nice basic equipped rooms, a triple costs 900U$ (07/2008, 30EUR, 47US$) per night
- Tacuarembo Hotel: Av. 18 de Julio 133, Tel. +598 (4)63 22104, +598 (4)63 22105, +598 (0)63 22945
- Hotel Central, ☏ . Av. Gral. Flores 300,
- 1 Hotel Carlos Gardel, Ruta 5 km 387.500, ☏ .
- Salto, one bus a day Mon-Sat 16h Sun 17h, 600 UYU or 21 USD.