New tourism routes explore hidden side of Montevideo

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TRAVEL GAZETTE – Do you know that Uruguay’s capital Montevideo considers itself the most gay-friendly city in Latin America?

The city has just unveiled new tourism routes that explore aspects of the capital many residents probably aren’t familiar with, let alone foreign visitors.

One route follows practitioners of Umbanda, the syncretic Afro-Catholic religion that originated in neighboring Brazil before spreading to Uruguay. Another, called Jewish Roots, traces the path of migrant Jews who fled war-torn Europe and settled in this corner of South America.

Learn why Montevideo considers itself the most gay-friendly city in Latin America on the LGBT tour, uncover cryptic Masonic symbols carved into colonial-era buildings centuries ago on the Esoterica tour, or wheel around the city on a bike tour.

Montevideo Mayor Daniel Martinez says the “innovative” routes, launched last week, aim to boost tourism by providing more “options for those who visit.”

The city of 1.3 million inhabitants also wants to attract high-spending segments, such as members of the gay community, who spend an average of 17 to 23 percent more than their heterosexual counterparts, according to city officials.

The new routes “also mean employment,” said the mayor, adding the capital has ranked as Uruguay’s leading tourism destination for the past two years.


A Heritage route spotlights the old town district, while a Religious circuit takes visitors to the city’s most iconic churches and temples.

Jewish Roots takes in historic buildings and synagogues, and offers even more specialized visits that feature different aspects of Jewish community life in Montevideo, such as the cemetery.

Visitors on the Umbanda route will meet with the “high priest or priestess known as Mae or Pae.”

Mae Susana Andrade said, “we thought of it as a good opportunity to show the Afro cults, which are not always well understood.”

The LGBT circuit includes sites popular with the local gay community, including hotels, restaurants, bowling alleys and saunas, officials said.


Elizabeth Villalba, director of tourism for the city, said officials plan to keep expanding the offer of routes.

“We selected these circuits because they seemed to be the most novel to introduce,” but “we will be seeing other routes later,” she said.

National Tourism Director Carlos Fagetti said some 3 million travelers arrived in Uruguay in 2015, and one million of those visited Montevideo.

To create the routes, he said, “we put together the (historical) resources the city has and we turned them into a tourism product that can be enjoyed by those who visit us.”

Jose Saavedra, director of Economic Development for the city, described the routes as “added value for our city (and) our productive segment.”

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