The Most Important Gaucho Festival in Uruguay

Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha: a group of gauchos waiting with their horses under shade trees for their call into the arena.

Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha: a group of gauchos waiting with their horses under shade trees for their call into the arena.

In all likelihood, you have never heard of a place called Tacuarembó! It’s a rural town in the north-east of Uruguay. For most of the year Tacuarembó is a sleepy town, not much different from any other country town in Uruguay. But come early March there’s activity everywhere as the town is about to hold its annual Gaucho Festival.

In the rolling hills along the Cuchilla de Haedo, Tacuarembó is gaucho country. Not your ‘we pose for pesos’ types, but your real-deal ‘we tuck our baggy pants into our boots and slap on a beret just to go to the local store’ crew.

Quoted from Lonely Planet Online , who don’t mention the Gaucho Festival at all!

The Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha is famous throughout South America as the most important event to celebrate the Gaucho heritage & culture in Uruguay.* We visited this year (2016) and it was the 30th annual festival. It’s always held in early March and runs for 5 days. Around 6,000 to 8,000 visitors attend the fiesta every year, but the site is so large that it never feels overwhelmingly crowded.
For more practical information please see the end of this post.

The gaucho festival is held at the edge of town in a park surrounding the Laguna de las Lavenderas (the Lagoon of the Washerwomen, which refers to its historical use). The site accommodates the gaucho compounds, a large arena, an open plaza with a stage for live performances, several large restaurant shelters, countless food stalls and other vendors. There’s also room for hundreds of horses, a small camping area, vehicle parking, and other associated facilities.
Site plan of the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha in Tacuarembo.

Site plan of the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha in Tacuarembo.

The "Fiesta de la Partria Gaucha" in Tacuarembo is Uruguay's largest gaucho festival with thousands of participants in this 5-day event. It has been held every year since 1987, in early March. Well worth a visit to experience real gaucho culture in the heartland of gaucho country!

The “Fiesta de la Partria Gaucha” in Tacuarembo is Uruguay’s largest gaucho festival with thousands of participants in this 5-day event. It has been held every year since 1987, in early March. Well worth a visit to experience real gaucho culture in the heartland of gaucho country!

A young rider trying to stay on a bucking horse in the arena. This is the bareback event; there was also a similar event with saddle.

A young rider trying to stay on a bucking horse in the arena. This is the bareback event; there was also a similar event with saddle.

The Gaucho Compounds Erected for the Festival

Activity at the site must start some time before the festival begins. All participating and invited gaucho teams set up elaborate compounds. The ones erected by the the regular participants consisted of a fenced-in yard with several solid structures. These were small to medium-sized buildings, sometimes consisting of several rooms, constructed from natural stone or bricks! One was built from tightly stacked turf. Many had simple rammed earth floors, others paving or even floorboards. All had rainproof roofs. Can you imagine the labour and dedication going into these compounds?
Link to a nice photo gallery of the building process on the official festival site.

A gaucho compound. This one belongs to one the regular "participating groups" and even had a deep ditch dug around it.

A gaucho compound. This one belongs to one the regular “participating groups” and even had a deep ditch dug around it.

Every year the compounds of all participating groups are in a competition, judged by the visiting public, hence the effort put into them. The compounds of the invited groups were smaller and usually had only one or two huts, often made from sticks covered with mud, or other simple materials.

A gaucho compound. This one belongs to one of the "invited groups", La Pampa, and is a little less elaborate.

A gaucho compound. This one belongs to one of the “invited groups”, La Pampa, and is a little less elaborate.

Nevertheless, all buildings were furnished with antique furniture and paraphernalia, which recreated an ambience of gaucho life. Each compound also had a large fire pit with seating around it, and enough space to tie up some horses. Additionally, we noticed the occasional historic cart or makeshift workshop.

In comparison the vendors’ wooden structures and on-site restaurants looked simple, although they too were made from strong timber beams, which were dug into the ground and supported solid roofs.

For those who wanted to stay around the stage and watch performances, there were unfortunately no seats and the ground was rather dirty and moist at night. For Uruguayans it wasn’t a problem because everybody is used to bringing their own folding chair and setting it up in front of the stage, ready for the evening. For visitors from afar, who have arrived with only a suitcase or backpack, this is not really a convenient solution.

A view inside a furnished room of one of the gaucho compounds.

A view inside a furnished room of one of the gaucho compounds.

In one of the gaucho compounds we discovered this building made from turf blocks.

In one of the gaucho compounds we discovered this building made from turf blocks.

The Festival Programme

Overall, the festival is unfortunately heavily geared towards locals. For us as foreigners, with poor Spanish, some things remained a mystery. Not that we didn’t enjoy our visit, but we would have loved to have more information and background knowledge about individual things that were happening around us.

The programme is only in Spanish, which might not normally pose a major problem, but it’s laced with so many typical regional gaucho specific terms that every online translation tool failed. If there had been anyone at the festival information who spoke some English, or other common foreign languages, it would have been really helpful. But alas, there wasn’t!

Some days we also got the impression that the programme wasn’t much more than a loose guideline, with events either starting late or already finishing when we arrived at the programmed time to see them. The stage programme was only in list form, with no times given for individual performances.

Gaucho Fiesta: the main stage at night. See all the different folding chairs people bring?

Gaucho Fiesta: the main stage at night. See all the different folding chairs people bring?

What Else to See During the Festival

We didn’t find it a major problem that the programme leaflet let us down on occasion, because there was always something else to see. We spent countless hours wandering around the gaucho compounds, peeking into the buildings, admiring the dedication which went into the assembly of them, or just waiting for the perfect snapshot.

And then there were all the stalls selling gaucho paraphernalia: hats, belts, clothing, shoes, elaborately decorated knives in leather sheaths, saddles, saddle blankets, spurs, stirrups, and every imaginable kind of horse bridal and lasso. Some of this stuff seemed to be of genuine high quality and was being snapped up by the visiting gauchos – several stalls were sold out by Sunday! But a lot seemed to be more of souvenir quality, suitable as stylish accessories for the visiting public; probably 70-80% of all visitors wore some kind of gaucho-themed outfit.

Gaucho festival: one of the stalls selling gaucho paraphernalia at the fair.

Gaucho festival: one of the stalls selling gaucho paraphernalia at the fair.

You need some endurance to see all that the festival has to offer. The action in the arena started every morning between 8 and 9am. There was a lunch break from around 12 to 2pm, then more happening in the arena until sundown. Performances on the stage started at 8pm and seemed to last into the wee hours of the morning! The first 2 nights we camped a good kilometre away, and were woken by loud music coming from the festival site after 2am. Friends, who camped just outside the festival site, told us that many of the revellers left at around 6 o’clock in the morning…

Early evenings were an interesting time to visit, particularly during the first days. Several of the participating gaucho groups put on small performances in front of, or inside, their compounds. There you could get really close to the action.

Personal Summary & Information

In hindsight I would say that we probably enjoyed the first couple of days the most. We were still fresh and everything we saw was new and exotic to us. This feeling was bolstered by the fact that there were less people. When we wandered around the gaucho compounds we were sometimes the only visitors inside, which allowed for better photo opportunities.

Entrance to the arena was free of charge as it was sparsely visited. Yet we were able to see enough of the horseback action to satisfy our curiosity. These might not have been the acclaimed international champions performing at their best, like on Saturday and Sunday, but some rides were nevertheless just as exciting.

So keep this in mind if you fail to secure accommodation for the main weekend! Entrance to the entire site is free for the first day, entrance to the arena remains free for the first two days, the ‘must-see’ gaucho parade through town starts early on Saturday morning. Once this is over you’ve probably ‘had your fill’ of memorable, typical, gaucho events…

* The festival in Tacuarembó is only rivalled by a similar festival in Argentina where, north of Buenos Aires, the small town of San Antonio de Areco holds a gaucho festival each November.

Photos of our latest calendar “Gaucho Fiesta”

The cover of of our latest calendar: GAUCHO FIESTA.

The cover of of our latest calendar: GAUCHO FIESTA.


All images below are part of our NEW CALENDAR!
This calendar is printed on demand in A3-format with large quality photos (no watermarks on calendar images)!
Calendar Cover: this gaucho takes it easy, mate cup with the typical silver straw in one hand, thermos with hot water to refill the cup in the other...

Calendar Cover: this gaucho takes it easy, mate cup with the typical silver straw in one hand, thermos with hot water to refill the cup in the other…
Please note: you can order this calendar any time of the year and set a starting month!

Calendar - January: a young woman looks on whilst two older gauchos have a chat across the fence.

Calendar – January: a young woman looks on whilst two older gauchos have a chat across the fence.


Calendar - February: a young paisanita in the arena talks with her dad in the audience.

Calendar – February: a young paisanita in the arena talks with her dad in the audience.


Calendar - March: a collage of 4 shots, gaucho riding a bucking horse in the arena

Calendar – March: a collage of 4 shots. A gaucho on a bucking horse in the arena.


Calendar - April: a group of gaucho musicians on the back of a horse drawn cart. They were waiting in the rain to join the gaucho parade through Tacuarembo.

Calendar – April: a group of gaucho musicians on the back of a horse drawn cart waiting to join the parade.


Calendar - May: typical gaucho cooking on the open fire. Above the fire hangs a cauldron to boil a meaty stew, next to the fire the meat is roasting on the 'asado' grill. Note the bone stools on the left!

Calendar – May: typical gaucho cooking on the open fire, with a cauldron and meat roasting on the ‘asado’ grill next to it.


Calendar - June: traders at one of the Guasquero stalls. Guasqueros (a very Uruguayan word) make bridals and ropes for horses from cured cow or sheep hides.

Calendar – June: traders at one of the Guasquero stalls. Guasqueros make bridals and ropes for horses from cured cow or sheep hides.

Calendar - July: a group of youngsters, all dressed in traditional gaucho clothes, hang around a compound.

Calendar – July: a group of youngsters, all dressed in traditional gaucho clothes, hang around a compound.


Calendar - August: a gaucho wife, sitting on her horse with the traditional wide skirt flared out across the horse's rump.

Calendar – August: a gaucho wife holding her daughter; her traditional wide skirt flared out across the horse’s rump.


Calendar - September: during the festival was a competition between young gauchitos and paisanitas from all participating gaucho groups.

Calendar – September: during the festival was a competition between young gauchitos and paisanitas.


Calendar - October: one of the team compounds had a complete blacksmith workshop set up, and occasionally somebody would forge a horseshoe.

Calendar – October: one of the team compounds had a complete blacksmith workshop set up.


Calendar - November: a group of gauchos standing in the morning sun and drinking some mate, the herbal brew (similar to tea) which is so typical of Argentina, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil.

Calendar – November: a group of gauchos drinking some mate, the herbal brew which is so typical of the region.


Calendar - December: unfortunately the annual parade coincided with a heavy rain shower. These two gauchos search some shelter under trees until the worse is over and the parade resumes.

Calendar – December: unfortunately the annual parade coincided with a heavy rain shower. These two gauchos search some shelter under trees.

All images above are part of our latest CALENDAR , which can be ordered to begin with any month of the year. Selected images can also be ordered as

For more products visit our SHOP at redbubble.com . All products are printed on demand, redbubble has printing locations in the USA, Europe, and Australia – so delivery is often very quick! Last calendar order in Australia took 5 days from ordering to receiving the calendar.


More Practical Information

We paid 1,300 Pesos per person for our tickets, which was a little over US$40. This included 4 days of entrance to the festival site and 3 days of reserved seats in the rodeo arena. You can buy individual day passes. These were 200 Pesos for entrance to the festival site and 250 for reserved seating at the arena. So we saved 250 Pesos by purchasing the all inclusive pass. Only cash payments are accepted.

It’ll probably be difficult to find accommodation in Tacuarembó on short notice for the main festival weekend, so book well in advance! We would imagine that for Wednesday and Thursday nights you might be more successful to find something on short notice.

There are several camping options:
Two camping fields are really close to the fiesta. One is right inside the fenced festival site, where friends paid 900 Pesos per night to park their small camper van. Another is a little further away where friends with a tent paid 300 Pesos. Consider in both cases: toilet and shower facilities cost extra, and it will be noisy all night…

Another option is to camp around Balneario Iporá, about 6 Kilometres from the festival site. This is a large artificial lake with green spaces and forest around. There is an established campground with facilities, or informal camping around the lake shore. We moved here after the second night near the fiesta; you could still hear the music in the far distance but overall it was much quieter! Biggest drawback: you need some form of transportation to get to it – there’s no public bus.

The weather in Tacuarembó in early March (early autumn) is still mostly very pleasant. But we had two days with short, but heavy, rain showers. Looking through photos online from previous years, this seems to be normal. When it’s overcast, temperatures will be in the low to mid twenties Centigrade, with a fresh breeze. Otherwise daytime temperatures can go as high as 32°C, but in the evenings it cools down quickly to 12°-15°C. So take sun protection for in the daytime, and a light jacket for the evenings.

One thing we have to praise the organisers for is the toilet facilities. They are plentiful, well spread out and you never find long lines. All have attendants during opening hours, cost 10 Pesos to use, and are kept fairly clean.

The official website of the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha provides more updated information closer to the festival, plus a list of all hotels in town. [only in Spanish, but more than you can find elsewhere]

This year’s [2016] festival programme
This year’s [2016] arena programme and lists of participating and invited gaucho groups

The official poster of 2016's Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha in Tacuarembo, Uruguay

The official poster of 2016’s Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha in Tacuarembo, Uruguay

Several of the participating gaucho groups build chapels within their compounds.

Several of the participating gaucho groups build chapels within their compounds.

Have you ever attended a similar festival, which celebrates a local culture so foreign to you? What was your reaction?
Please tell us in the ‘comments’ below!

Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with nearly 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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36 Responses

  1. Frank Q says:

    Great article. My mom’s family is from Tacuarembó and I actually lived in Uruguay (Montevideo, the capital) between 1992 and 1997. During my time there, I never visited the festival for a variety of reasons. This past February/March, I had a chance to go back to Uruguay and along with spending time with some old friends in Montevideo, I have to say that this festival was the highlight of the trip. I was staying in the nearby town so was able to make multiple trips to the venue. I personally enjoyed the massive parrillas they would set up at night with every kind of meat you can imagine on them. The food was amazing. So simple, yet so enjoyable. I am looking forward to visiting it again in the future – hoping to bring my kids along with me next time.

  2. Janet Millard says:

    Really great article! I’m in Peru with the United States Peace Corps right now, and I’m going to plan to attend the Gaucho Festival in 2017! Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Marcia says:

    You’re right: I’ve never heard of Tacuarembó but this festival sounds like something I’d enjoy. Hopefully, one of these days, I’ll make it there.

  4. It’s great when you get to experience local festivals when you travel. You’re right Tacuarembó was not a place i’ve heard of but it’s one i’ll have to keep in mind for when I finally visit South America. This festival sounds like fun. Think i’d go for the camping option :)

  5. Would love to go to the annual Gaucho Festival, and learn more about the culture. Plus it would be fun!

    • Juergen says:

      It’s certainly a unique experience. After our visit I would now recommend to read up on Gaucho culture and traditions before going. We will create another blog post about this in the “not so distant” future…

  6. I have read about the Gaucho of Argentina, but I did not know they were also present in Uruguay. I love horses and after reading this article I would really enjoy going to a festival like this. Love the Gaucho compounds.

    • Yasha says:

      Gaucho culture is present in northern Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil. So it was originally an area of South America rather than a particular country. The compounds were certainly a highlight for us.

  7. Natasha Amar says:

    What a lovely experience to see a local festival like this, even if it was entirely in Spanish- only tells you it is not geared towards tourists and is in fact authentic (never mind if that is an overused word in travel writing at the moment). I’ve celebrated a local spring festival in a small Spanish town which involved a community lunch with a 100 people- and it was amazing! Even if I had no idea what the conversation around the rather large table was about.

    • Yasha says:

      I agree with you. And I also think this is a very appropriate use of the work ‘authentic’. I’ve decided that I will use such words whenever they are appropriate.

  8. Dana says:

    It looks like a great festival! I’m even impressed with the compounds. The price is also reasonable which would make it easy for my entire family to enjoy all 4 days.

    • Yasha says:

      We were surprised at the price, although in hindsight we could have just gone for a couple of days and seen almost everything. But it was always tempting to go back for more. We were exhausted at the end of it!

  9. Oh I would totally love this. Looks fun and I like that it is so “western”. ;) Uruguay is on my list of places to visit as well. Love the native costumes and your photos are nice and crisp.

  10. Tacuarembó wasn’t even on my radar, but is now due to the festival. Would be an amazing event to visit. Good advice regarding accommodation, get in well in advance!

  11. We have not traveled to Uruguay yet and this Gaucho Festival will probably come second or even third to visiting Montevideo, which is a city I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s great to learn about it though and see all your fantastic photos. It’s great to know the local culture and to learn how they celebrate their history and their way of life.

    • Yasha says:

      Uruguay is a lovely little country and we continue to discover new things of interest here. It is very laid back, even in Montevideo, which is often called the most relaxed city in South America. We love it.

  12. I must admit I didn’t know what a Gaucho festival was. I thought it was something to do with cattle. One day I will visit South America and take in all the amazing culture and maybe visit the festival. It sounds a great price for three day.s Thanks for the informative post – I’ve learnt something new today.

    • Yasha says:

      That’s always one of our aims: to share new things with people which inspires them to come and see this wonderful continent. Thanks for your comment.

  13. Valerie says:

    The atmosphere of the gaucho festival seems similar to that of our small county fair/rodeo but on a bigger scale. I LOVE that each gaucho team builds a compound. It really celebrates everything about a gaucho and their way of life.

    • Yasha says:

      It was quite enlightening for us to visit. We got to see history in action. The compounds were one of the best parts of the festival, I thought.

  14. Karen says:

    Although it’s a long way off before we can do so, we really hope to visit South America by car or camper someday, and this is exactly the kind of event we hope to see.

    • Juergen says:

      As Nike says: Just do it! Although events like this are not that easy to find and plan for. This festival doesn’t receive much publicity by the Government Tourist Information…

  15. Corinne says:

    Juergen, I want to go. Everytime you post, it makes me drool for South America. This seems very down-home rodeo to me. I would love to see what the differences are. Great post.

    • Juergen says:

      Well, Corinne, then our post achieved it main objective: tempt others to explore South America! Our other objectives are: encourage ‘slow travel’ and show the beauty of ‘overland travel’.

  16. budget jan says:

    The photos look great and a Calendar is an excellent way to show case them.

  17. We went to several rodeos over the years when we lived in Montana and I remember them as being lots of fun. However, I love that the annual Gaucho Festival in Uraguay celebrates so many facets of gaucho living including the expert horsemanship and traditional homes built with sticks, stones and turf blocks. The everyday and festive clothing, the well-cared for horses and different styles of housing help give a glimpse of how traditional gauchos lived. You captured the action beautifully in your photos. Makes me think we quit our travels in South America too soon!

    • Juergen says:

      This was a very special experience. We kinda waited around in Uruguay for the date to arrive but it was really worth it. And we have come to enjoy Uruguay more than we expected.
      BTW: nobody says that you cannot come back to South America! I know you only experienced the north, so there’s much more to see.

  18. Our daughter is all about barrel racing rodeo competition in the U.S., so I loved this post! This event is such a wonderful combination of vintage authenticity with the stone structures of the various compounds to the traditional silversmithing on the wearables and the equine competitions. You’re right that “it” is lifestyle and tradition. Just fabulous!

  19. Donna Janke says:

    The bucking horses, activity in the arena, parade and gaucho items for sale of Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha reminded me somewhat of the annual rodeo held in the small town I grew up in on the Canadian prairies. The partying and music until the wee hours and trying to understand what the unpublished schedule was with limited Spanish reminded me of attending Carnaval this winter in Pedasi in rural Panama. And yet the Gaucho Festival sounds completely different than both of those. I think the gaucho compounds might have been the highlight for me if I’d attended this festival. They are very interesting.

    • Juergen says:

      We were reminded of rodeos in the north of America, although all we know about them is from television. Yet the gaucho festival felt somehow completely different as everybody dressed up for it and transformed it almost into a setting from a long forgotten past (mind you: almost everybody with their cellphone in their hand)…

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