Uruguay has long wrestled with the notion of national identity. A country that struggled for centuries to free itself from its overbearing neighbors, it’s now one of the most open-minded, multicultural nations in South America. Montevideo – Uruguay’s magnetic capital – is home to some incredible museums that showcase this mish-mash of cultures. Check out the best museums in town for everything from Uruguay’s own gaucho tradition to European Renaissance masterpieces.
Museo de la Historia del Arte
Art and artifacts from all over the world have found their way to the east wing of Montevideo’s Intendencia – the home of the impressive MuHAr. Egyptian mummies sit alongside Chinese watercolors and Samurai swords in an exhibition that spans 3,000 years of human innovation. Don’t miss the museum’s prized collected of Maya-Guatemalan textiles, detailing the identities of communities long lost to history.
Museo Andes 1972
The infamous 1972 plane crash that took the lives of 29 Uruguayans on the remote slopes of the Andes is immortalized in the moving Museo Andes 1972. Photographs and debris from the site of the crash tell the tale of the 16 survivors who lived through unimaginable horror before being rescued 72 days later. Take Kleenex and a strong stomach along with you to this harrowing, humbling exhibition about the strength of the human spirit.
Museo Andes 1972, Rincón 619, Montevideo, Uruguay, +598 2916 9461
Museo de Artes Decorativas
Discover Uruguay’s collection of European treasures at Palacio Taranco – an early 20th century mansion, designed by French architects Charles-Louis Girault and Jules-Leon Chifflot. The archaeological collection at Museo de Artes Decorativas spans the Grecian, Roman and Persian empires, while its paintings come from Spanish Baroque artist Diego Velázquez and Dutch Golden Age master Bartholomeus van der Helst, among others. It’s worth a visit for its ornate interiors alone.
Museo de Artes Decorativas, 25 de Mayo 376, Montevideo, Uruguay, +598 2915 1101
Museo del Gaucho
Uruguay’s answer to the cowboy, the gaucho is a legendary figure in the nation’s proud history. Museo del Gaucho perfectly captures this rustic, countryside culture with an exhibition of traditional gaucho gear, including horse tack, ponchos and decorative mates – the quintessentially Uruguayan accessory. Learn all about how the country was built on the backs of these old-time ranchers and their enormous herds of cattle. The skilled silver and leather work on show is a real treat.
Museo del Gaucho, Avenida 18 de Julio 998, Montevideo, Uruguay, +598 2900 8764
Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales
Works by some of the most revered artists in the world grace the halls of Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales in Parque Rodó. This early 20th century museum is perhaps the most artistically significant in the whole country. Well-known pieces by Picasso, Henry Moore, Paul Klee and Goya are housed alongside paintings by Uruguayan masters Blanes and Figari. Rotating exhibitions might focus on typography or the use of waste materials. Catch a guided tour for an in-depth look at some of the museum’s masterpieces.
Museo del Carnaval
No other place in Montevideo captures the soul of the city quite like Museo del Carnaval. This tiny, colorful museum showcases spectacular drums, costumes and masks from over 100 years of carnaval celebrations, as well as video and audio recordings of February’s parades, Las Llamadas. Located right next door to Mercado del Puerto, stop by for an hour before lunch for a truly Uruguayan day out.