Uruguay: Summer Sun in Winter

My winters in Uruguay are very different than in my home state of Washington…

There, my December, January, and February routine comprised keeping the house heated, wearing a coat to go outside, and occasionally scraping ice off the car windshield to drive to work.

But in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite…

Now, in Uruguay, my December, January, and February routine includes keeping the windows open to let fresh air flow through my apartment, wearing a light shirt and flip-flops when I go outside, and staying up later as the days get longer. I spend more time at the beach, and more time riding my bicycle.

After a lifetime of associating July with summer and January with winter, it took a little getting used to!

And here, holiday festivities vary depending on where are in the country.

In Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital city, Christmas is celebrated much like it is in North America—even though it’s summer. It’s a day when businesses are closed, and people spend the day at home with family and close friends. Not having a family here, I spend Christmas in Montevideo with other expats.

However, in Punta del Este, Uruguay’s largest beach resort, it’s different. While there are people who live in Punta del Este, during the summer more than 90% are here on vacation. Most restaurants and businesses stay open. Families and friends share time together at the beach, and go out at night for a late steak or seafood dinner.

Whether I am in Montevideo or Punta del Este, I can count on an impressive firework display at the beaches to welcome the New Year.

Punta del Este is a popular New Year’s Eve destination for the rich and famous, who come in their own jets to attend the continent’s most exclusive private parties.

However, New Year’s in Punta del Este doesn’t require a rich man’s budget… The best New Year’s Eve party I have attended is the public street party on the west side of the Punta del Este Peninsula. Besides fireworks, there are food tents and live bands set up with people dancing in the street.

And January doesn’t mean a slow-down of events. The next summer event in Uruguay is Carnival. And it’s a big one! Uruguay has the longest Carnival celebration in the world, lasting 40 days.

While there are Carnival activities in many parts of Uruguay, the largest events are in Montevideo, with this year’s inaugural parade kicking off on January 24th.

The most talked about Carnival event is a parade called Las Llamadas (“The Calls”), which is based on African-Uruguayan traditions. The comparsas, or parade groups, are a spectacle to behold.

Here you’ll see a variety of the common (and sometimes unusual) parade characters—men waving large flags… a transvestite… an old man and an old woman… a man holding a stick or broom… a group of young barely-clad female dancers… and a troupe of traditional African-Uruguayan drummers.

The next Las Llamadas parade is scheduled to begin on January 31st—and runs for two nights.

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