Uruguay’s one of those places that rarely makes it to the top of a bucket list. However those who make the effort will be rewarded with a safe, welcoming and above all beautiful destination. Time your visit for March and you’ll be there for the Uruguay cowboy festival at Tacuarembó. Why am I telling you now? The town’s limited accommodation options book up fast. You’ll need to make some reservations well in advance, unless you plan to camp.
Uruguay Cowboy Festival – Gauchos, Chaps, Musical Chairs and Ranches
Don’t forget to try Uruguayan Asado
Known locally as the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha, the festival’s has been going for about thirty years. Gauchos and their families flock to this tiny north Uruguay town, for a week of socialising and activities encompassing all aspects of ranch life. It’s here that you’ll jostle for space at the bar with horses and their riders. Chow down on delicious chorizo and juicy steaks at one of the many pop up asado restaurants. Kids barely young enough to walk command the respect of horses twice their height. That’s hardly a surprise where riding into town might be the only form of transport for those too young for a driving licence.
Watch Cowboys in Action at the Festival
All the action takes place around a lake just outside the town centre. Recreations of old-style ranches draw the curious. Myriad market stalls tempt those with cash to splash with traditional knives, leather chaps, soft felt berets and highly polished horse bridles. If you’re the kind of person that likes to dress the part, then it’s possible to buy the whole outfit there and then.
Only for the highly skilled – Musical Chairs on Horseback
The highlight of the Uruguay cowboy festival is without a doubt the rodeo, that takes place in the main arena. It’s a chance to hold your breath, whoop and cheer as everyone from seasoned gauchos to teenage girls demonstrate their skill. Bucking broncos tip their riders into the dirt in disgust at their attempts to tame them. Ladies riding in elegant wide skirts reveal a distinct lack of manners, as they weave between barrels and achieve impossibly tight turns. The most fun, for participants and spectators alike, is undoubtedly musical chairs – on horseback.
Check in to a Ranch for a Long Weekend
If a visit to the fiesta leaves you wondering whether you could hack it as a gaucho yourself, then there are a couple of ranches an hour or so out of town. You can test your mettle, at places like Panagea and Yvytu Itaty ranch. Pangaea is anything but a dude ranch, as I soon realised when I checked in for a long weekend. Visitors are expected to muck in – literally. Stay and you’ll be able to join in with ranch activities, such as herding cattle, administering medicine to sick animals and dipping for ticks. It helps if you have basic riding skills, but they’ll teach you to at least walk and trot if not. Boots and helmets are provided and the horses are docile. And after you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll be pleased to learn that the food is hearty and decidedly more-ish ranch fare.
Whether you’re up for a personal physical challenge, or looking for a tourist-free fiesta well off the beaten track; then this Tacuarembó, Uruguay cowboy festival won’t disappoint.