Uruguay wasn’t exactly at the top of my to do list (to be honest I knew absolutely nothing about the place) but it was oh-so conveniently located between Brazil and Argentina (my originally planned next stop) so I figured, why not? To Uruguay I would go.
My first stop was Punta del Este, a ritzy beach town dubbed the “Miami of South America.” Supposedly Shakira vacations there…but Miami, my ass. The place was boring. January/February are the high season when the town is teeming with rich Argentinians there to bronze and club hop, but go just one month later (I went in March) and the place is a ghost town. I managed to somewhat entertain myself for three days (ALL the wandering) but outside the high season I can’t say I’d recommend.
Then there was Punta del Diablo, a small fishing village turned surf destination with not a whole lot to do besides chill. There’s some very average beaches and a concession selling fish and cheese empanadas (they’re all the rage). Those are the noteworthy sights.
I actually spent most of my time in Punta del Diablo at the hostel…because it was excellent. The place was like a compound with a full Iron Chef-style kitchen, evening yoga classes, a designated party room (so very Chuck E. Cheese), and a backyard fire pit perf for campfire singalongs. I spent my 26th Birthday here and considering it was with a bunch of strangers, it turned out to be an a-okay day. I biked some park, received a multilingual Birthday serenade, bought a pudding cup in the absence of cake, blew out someone’s lighter to make a wish, and finished the evening off in the party room where my requests for Bieber were generously accepted because, hey, it’s my Birthday.
There was also Colonia, a pleasant little UNESCO town that I spent the totality of one hour wandering (super cute but not much to do), and Montevideo, the country’s capital.
Montevideo is fairly picturesque, with many a church and many a local sipping maté…which is huge in Uruguay. Maté is essentially a (very) strong green tea that they sip from a cup with metal straw and the locals drink it 24/7. Every man carries a thermos with him (sometimes in a leather murse which just killed me) so the maté is always at the ready. I expected Uruguayans to be hyped from the constant caffeine hits but the people of the country are surprisingly chill. Maybe it’s the weed… (it’s legal here).
And finally, my favourite stop in Uruguay: Cabo Polonio.
Cabo Polonio is a beach-side hippie town full of colourful, ramshackle buildings that they shove far too many tourists into for their size and charge $20/night for accommodations with no electricity and little water. Overpriced…but it’s worth it.
Due to time constraints (I wanted to be in Buenos Aires in time for Lollapalooza) I had only one night to spend in Cabo Polonio and of course that one night it poured rain. But “poured” does not accurately portray the aggressiveness of said rain…it was intense.
You arrive to Cabo by truck and being the last person to board I got the worst seat possible for shelter from the elements. While the other 20 tourists in the truck got a little wet, I took a full-on bath. My sad, soggy gaze was met with many a sympathetic head nod as I jumped down from the truck into a knee-deep puddle.
Upon arrival to Cabo Polonio the entirety of the town was indoors hiding from the rain (playing cards, sipping maté, smoking the ganja…) but I (being already soaked beyond repair) decided to wander the town in (what may or may not have been) a hurricane.
But I loved the place from the get go. Tiny shacks with solar panels and gardens (and apparently the odd grow-op) dotted the grassy roads around the beach, and I was enthralled just staring at all the hippie houses and their creative ways of living. I’d heard tales of epic starry skies and phosphorescence, which I didn’t get to experience due to the weather, but Cabo Polonio was lovely anyway.
The downside? The dead animals. Walking along the beach I came across an alarming number of dead seals (you’d smell them before you saw them) and the morning I left I stumbled upon (tear) a dead penguin. Cabo Polonio: where animals go to die.
A week in Uruguay.