Much livelier than its Buenos Aires counterpart, Montevideo’s late-summer Carnaval is the cultural highlight of the year.

At Parque Prado, north of downtown, Semana Criolla festivities during Semana Santa (Holy Week) include displays of gaucho skills, asados (barbecues) and other such events.

In the last weekend of September or the first weekend of October, Montevideo’s museums, churches and historic homes all open their doors free to the public during the Días del Patrimonio (National Heritage Days).

For 10 days in October, tango fills Montevideo’s streets and performance halls during the Festival 'Viva El Tango,' organized by Joventango.

Don't Miss: Carnaval in Montevideo

If you thought Brazil was South America’s only Carnaval capital, think again! Montevideanos cut loose in a big way every February, with music and dance filling the air for a solid month.

Not to be missed is the early February Desfile de las Llamadas, a two-night parade of comparsas (neighborhood Carnaval societies) through the streets of Palermo and Barrio Sur districts, just southeast of the Centro. Comparsas are made up of negros (persons of African descent) and lubolos (whites who paint their faces black for Carnaval, a long-standing Uruguayan tradition). Neighborhood rivalries play themselves out as wave after wave of dancers whirl to the electrifying rhythms of traditional Afro-Uruguayan candombe drumming, beaten on drums of three different pitches: the chico (soprano), repique (contralto) and piano (tenor). The heart of the parade route is Isla de Flores, between Salto and Gaboto. Spectators can pay for a chair on the sidewalk or try to snag a spot on one of the balconies overlooking the street.

Another key element of Montevideo’s Carnaval are the murgas, organized groups of 15 to 17 gaudily dressed performers, including three percussionists, who perform original pieces of musical theater, often satirical and based on political themes. During the dictatorship in Uruguay, murgas were famous for their subversive commentary. All murgas use the same three instruments: the bombo (bass drum), redoblante (snare drum) and platillos (cymbals). Murgas play all over the city, and also compete throughout February in Parque Rodó at the Teatro de Verano. The competition has three rounds, with judges determining who advances and who gets eliminated.

The fascinating history of Montevideo’s Carnaval is well documented in the city’s Museo del Carnaval. Another great way to experience Carnaval out of season is by attending one of the informal weekend candombe practice sessions that erupt around town throughout the year. Three of the best neighborhoods for observing these are Palermo, Barrio Sur and Parque Rodó. For a list of regular weekend practice sessions (complete with links to participating comparsas' Facebook pages), see www.descubrimontevideo.uy/es/candombe-por-los-barrios.