Reflections in the Sand

Off Season Tips in Uruguay: Punta del Diablo and Cabo Polonio

After spending a week in Montevideo, it became time to see what else Uruguay had to offer.

The answer?  Ummm, lots.

Having been accosted by some women promoting the eastern coastline of Rocha, my travelling buddy Julia and I decided to take them up and see what was happening around there.

Our destinations:  Punta del Diablo and Cabo Polonio.

Punta del Diablo
Punta del Diablo
Cabo Polonio
Cabo Poloni


Boarding a bus one day at 2pm, we drove for six hours to arrive at Punta del Diablo, our first destination, some three hundred kilometres away (Uruguay, like many other South American countries, does not always enjoy lovely sealed roads).  However, the tardiness hardly mattered, as the views were wonderful.  Not spectacular in the realm of cascading waterfalls and deadly canyons: But with beautiful farmland, greenery and huge open spaces always ending in horizon, who can complain?

We spent a week in Punta del Diablo and Cabo Polonio in mid July during the off-season and were thrilled to have both places almost to ourselves.

Punta del Diablo

Punta del Diablo is a charming little seaside village, home to some 500 permanent residents, but swelling to 30,000 visitors when summer and the obligatory beach parties hit.

It’s a perfect world for long walks down seemingly never-ending strings of beaches.  There are several walks you can set off on, all over two hours and many stretching to six or seven.  The beaches are mostly unspoilt, however unfortunately, the currents in the area often cause penguins and seals to lose their packs and wash up on the shore.

Washed up baby seal
Many baby seals lose track of their packs and are washed up along Rocha’s coast line.

For city kids like me, this was a horrible, sad sight…whereas for those of us more used to the circle of life, it was just the way things were.

If you pack a full lunch, walking up to the Fortaleza de Santa Teresa is an excursion doable in a full day.  Or, take the bus there (tickets at the village terminal) and walk the three hours back after exploring the well-preserved ruin.

Lichen
Detail of stone work at the Fortaleza Santa Teresa
Sunset Fortaleza Santa Teresa
The sunset almost caught us as we were leaving the Fortaleza…

With the abundance of closed restaurants and bars each bearing that special sort of “wild west” painted-on-wood motif, it’s clear that the on-season tourist has their hands full with options for where to eat and drink into the wee hours.  The off-season punter will have to work a little harder for their tukker; however there is a general store stocked with most anything you’d need to whip up something at your hostel.

Reflections in the Sand
Reflections in the sand, Playa Grande

Cabo Polonio

Another fabulous choice for relaxation and exploration in the off-season, Cabo Polonio is located 60 south of Punta del Diablo.  Reached by jeep from the park entrance, in July, it is a land which everyone forgot.  Even smaller than Punta del Diablo, the Cabo is nestled between the base of its still functioning lighthouse and a series of sand dunes rising up from behind it.  A place where people quietly exist, tend to their animals and laundry and wash everything down with a good mate.

View of Cabo Polonio
The view of Cabo Polonio as seen from the lighthouse – mate in hand, of course!

Boasting only some 50 permanent residents, it is a place where no one has any secrets – and tourists, if they stay too long, will be forced to give theirs up!  However, in the on-season the place is unrecognisable; swelling by to some 30,000 summer stayers as well as 2,500 daily through visitors arriving and leaving on the same day.

The sand dunes can be reached easily on foot an hour or so walk up the beach and themselves provide many beautiful viewpoints from which to see the village.

Footprints on Sand Dunes
Exploring the sand dunes near the Cabo…

A walk up to the lighthouse is also well worth your afternoon, especially if you are a little bit nimble, a bit of a rock-hopper and don’t mind exploring the rocks along its western side.  If you are lucky, as an added bonus, the local colony of sea lions will be there, barking and fighting with the best of them.

Lighthouse: Cabo Polonio
Cabo Polonio’s Lighthouse as seen from the rocks at its western side…

If you have time to spare, use it in Cabo Polonio.  Besides numerous hammocks located near hostels and lodgings, the beaches are dotted with abandoned life-saving huts (not necessary when no one is intense enough to brave the icy waters) and are perfect places to sit, read, write or simply watch the water.

Perfect for beach side walks and good meals in the warmth of your hostel, Punta del Diablo and Cabo Polonio score 10/10 for off-season relaxation.

GETTING THERE

  • Buses between cities and towns in Uruguay can best be found through Montevideo’s bus terminal website.  Connections to smaller villages, or less frequented locations should be sought “from the horses’s mouth” at the terminals themselves in smaller towns.
  • Connections between Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo are made at Castillos, about 30km between the two towns.
  • Cabo Polonio is a nature reserve, and therefore entrance incurs a minimal fee (About $175 Uruguayan pesos).  Buses to the park entrance also leave from Castillos.
  • Hostels:  El Diablo Tranquilo, our hostel in Punta del Diablo, while usually teeming with tourists was currently housing only five of us in total, a blessing (for us!) which allowed everyone to become fast friends and learn about the exciting, nomadic lives of Yuri and Sol, the current managers.  Prices range from US$20 – $50 depending on the season.
  • El Viejo Lobo in Cabo Polonio was almost like staying at a friend of a friend’s place.  Luis the manager showed us the cape, taught us to make pizza dough and watched movies with us…over a mate, of course.  Prices range from US$9 – $50 depending on the season.
  • For a more independent experience, private homes (almost huts) can be rented on Cabo Polonio – a common choice for the on-season.  Be aware that they will cost you anything upwards of US$150 – $400 a night, and are not serviced.  Water must be sourced throughout the day and electricity is not common.
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