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How to Roadtrip Uruguay’s Coast

Friday: Pick up a car in either Montevideo or Punta del Este then follow the poky coastal Route 10 and watch as the surrounding architecture fades from Beverly Hills-esque summer retreats to the kinds of pop-up art shacks you might find at Burning Man. Try to time your arrival to the Laguna Garzón before 6pm so that you can take the free puddle-jumper barge which will ferry you and your car across a thin spit of water. If you miss the boat, prepare for a much longer but equally charming reroute.

Punta del Diablo

In this case, turn around and head back the way you came, taking a right on the Camino Sainz Martinez, a well maintained dirt road. Along the way you’ll pass rust-colored Hereford cattle, fluffy sheep, and flocks of rheas -South America’s smaller ostrich cousin- as well as the stately Estancia Vik, the luxury resort/ranch and presumed owner of said photogenic livestock.

Flock of Rheas

Pick up Route 9 towards Rocha, passing through more sprawling farmland dotted with cattle and their attentive cowboys. Roll down the window and listen for the unmistakable squawk of monk parakeets as they chatter in the trees.

Your destination has minimal facilities so take the opportunity in the town of Rocha to refuel and withdraw cash. Make up time by continuing on Route 9 all the way to Punta del Diablo.

“Stop the Mega Port!” Curiously written in English, Punta del Diablo

Once a small fishing village, today Punta del Diablo is popular with bourgeois bohemian tourists who appreciate the area’s hippie vibes and artisan community. In summer, the tiny community of year-round residents swells when hundreds of vacationers fill up the many rental houses, hostels, and posadas. Book accommodation in advance if you don’t want to be left scrounging for a place to stay at the last minute. The popular El Diablo Tranquilo, has a warm atmosphere and inviting bar that attracts a laid-back backpacker crowd.

For dinner, amble over to the candlelit, driftwood-accented dining room at Posada Rocamar, which serves local wines and dishes like pumpkin ravioli and dulce de leche crêpes.

Dulce de Leche crêpes, Posada Rocamar

Saturday: Take the morning to explore Punta del Diablo’s wild beaches and wilder architecture.

Beach, Punta del Diablo

Sea Anemone, Punta del Diablo

House made out of old containers

Hit the road again, this time heading south on Route 9. Turn off on Route 16 towards Agua Dulces then pick up Route 10. You’ll pass the Laguna de Castillos, which offers ample opportunities for fishing, boating, and birding. When you see a sign for Parque Nacional Cabo Polonio, pull over into the parking lot. The park entrance marks the sole access to Cabo Polonio, a ramshackle beach community cut off from electricity, telephone lines, and the world by miles of protected sand dunes. Cars are not permitted to cross the dunes. There are however, spartan 4X4s (replete with nylon straps for looping your arms to brace yourself for the bumpy ride) that shuttle passengers back and forth from the park entrance to the “town” center.

4X4 dune crossing to Cabo Polonio

Once in the town center, pick up any necessary provisions at the store (the one and only) and make your way along sandy paths to Cabo Polonio Hostel, a cheap and cheerful shack with private and shared dorm style accommodation. Whip up a meal using the communal kitchen and enjoy the quiet that creeps in at this edge of the world.

General Store, Cabo Polonio

Sunday: There aren’t many sites in Cabo Polonio. There are the residences themselves, which range from solid cottages to driftwood shacks. There is the lighthouse. And then there is the thriving community of sea lions that lounge on the rocks by the lighthouse. Remember to bring a handkerchief or scarf to protect your nostrils from the stinging pungency of all those blubbery basking beasts.

Sea Lions, Cabo Polonio

Lounging horse, Cabo Polonio

While waiting for the 4X4 shuttle back to civilization, sample freshly baked beef and corn empanadas at the food stalls in the town center.

Beef and corn empanadas, Cabo Polonio

Once back on the road, break up your return trip to Montevideo by making a pitstop in La Pedrera for a picture-perfect pitcher of beer and a chivito sandwich, a traditional Uruguayan dish of beef, lettuce, mayonnaise, egg, ham, and red peppers on a bun.

Pitcher of Beer, La Pedrera

Chivito Sandwich, La Pedrera

Practical Info:

On the drive: Montevideo is a very easy city to navigate, so getting there and away in your rental car requires little more than making sure you keep the ocean on your right (leaving) or your left (returning). Full disclaimer: we actually took the bus from Montevideo to Punta del Este where we rented our car but then returned it in Montevideo. Once you’re out on the coast, fill up on gas whenever you can, as stations tend to be scarce.

Punta del Diablo: El Diablo Tranquilo Hostel offers private rooms from $28 USD. Telephone: +(598) 4477-2519. Email: staff@eldiablotranquilo.com. Posada Rocamar also has rooms, but it is considerably overpriced for its Spartan furnishings (a bean bag chair? come on). Better just to go there for dinner.

Cabo Polonio: Access to the beachside community is through the national park, where you’ll buy your roundtrip tickets for the 4X4 ride across the dunes. For more information and shuttle times, check out the local tourism site. Bring extra food with you, and don’t forget a flashlight. Cabo Polonio Hostel offers very rustic rooms from $35 USD. Traveler beware: if the idea of socializing with dirty hippie backpacker types wigs you out, this isn’t the place for you. In fact, Cabo Polonio isn’t really the place for you.
The NYTimes Style Magazine recently published an article about Cabo Polonio and its semi-legal status as a squatter haven, and also a poetic video montage of the village entitled Utopia in Motion.
When to go: Late Spring and early Fall offer mild weather and fewer crowds.
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59 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’ve never encountered a flock of rheas in my life — how cool is that?

    Fun post. Perhaps someday I’ll follow these step-by-step directions on my own!

    🙂

    December 21, 2011
    • Sophie #

      Those funny animals totally made our little detour worthwhile. I highly recommend this drive. Most of the time we were the only car on the road so it was a really low stress experience. Honestly it was perfect!

      December 21, 2011
  2. And I suddenly craved for crepes

    December 21, 2011
    • Sophie #

      I hear ya. They were pretty tasty!

      December 21, 2011
  3. Great photos. Thanks for sharing your adventure. Connie
    http://7thandvine.wordpress.com/

    December 21, 2011
  4. Rae #

    Amazing!

    December 21, 2011
  5. Pics are amazing and the food looks delicious. Sounds like you had an awesome experience.

    Val

    http://valentinedefrancis.wordpress.com

    December 21, 2011
    • Sophie #

      I definitely did. That weekend is always going to play back in my head like a really beautiful music video. Like Cee-Lo Green’s “No One’s Gonna Love You” except minus the depressing break up at the end.

      December 21, 2011
  6. Marvelous to see! 🙂

    December 21, 2011
    • Sophie #

      Thank you Green Acres! 😉

      December 21, 2011
  7. Great! Heading to Uruguay at some point in March. Will refer back to this post when I’m in the area. Thanks, freshpressed (:

    December 21, 2011
  8. Sophie #

    Wonderful! Glad I could help, buen viaje!

    December 21, 2011
  9. Oh I LOVE roadtrips. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. Your writing is so rich and beautiful:)

    Those freshly baked empanadas sound like the perfect treat to have on the road:)

    December 21, 2011
    • Sophie #

      They were! Perfect road fuel.

      December 22, 2011
  10. Gorgeous food pictures. What an awesome diversity of experiences. Thanks for putting this out there.

    December 21, 2011
  11. I was only able to go to Cabo Polonio. It is always nice to hear about people traveling around that area. It was unbelievably gorgeous.

    December 21, 2011
    • Sophie #

      It was of sad to only be in Cabo Polonio for one night, but then I got the feeling that if you stayed too long you might never leave. It’s tempting to just drop off the face of the earth for a while.

      December 22, 2011
  12. I had a chivito sandwich in Miami Beach, FL! It looks just like the one you had 🙂 This trip would be a get-away-from-it-all, very inviting 🙂 Congrats for being Freshly Pressed

    December 21, 2011
    • Sophie #

      I’m glad to hear you found them in Miami because I have been craving them ever since I got back. Miami is a lot closer for me than Uruguay!

      December 22, 2011
  13. those crepes made me drool on my keyboard a little bit. sounds like a great adventure…i’m jealous! will have to make plans of my own soon. thanks for sharing!

    December 21, 2011
  14. Great pictures!! What camera using?

    December 22, 2011
  15. Looks fantastic, and I LOVE that top photo with the seafoam making crazy patterns on the beach. Thanks for sharing! x

    December 22, 2011
    • Sophie #

      Thank you! This is going to sound weird but I imagined hundreds of little Aphrodites about to be born from all the foam. It made the scene somehow mythical.

      December 22, 2011
  16. Uruguay is on top of the list for traveling. Thank you for posting this. 😀

    December 22, 2011
  17. Lovely photos! Condé Nast Traveler did a great piece on Uruguay a few months back that compelled me to want to travel there. Thanks for sharing.

    December 22, 2011
    • Sophie #

      Me too! That piece, as well as the article about Cabo Polonio in the New York Times, really inspired this trip. I actually tore out that Conde Nast article and brought it along with me for the ride!

      December 22, 2011
  18. I was in Uruguay about two summers ago – took the bus from Montevideo to Punta del Este, but I wish we’d been able to go further! Your pictures make me want to go back – or at least eat some empanadas or anything with dolce de leche 🙂

    December 22, 2011
    • Sophie #

      And I in turn want to go back and give Punta del Este a fair visit. This particular trip was more about exploring the less popular coastal outposts, but I’d love to experience the energy and night life in Punta del Este some time.

      December 22, 2011
  19. Empanadas… Thank for you such a detailed story, hope to visit these places sometime soon!

    December 22, 2011
  20. Great post, gorgeous photographs. Would love to see Uruguay one day.

    December 22, 2011
  21. First, congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    I loved your post, gorgeous photos and …. a plan! I have several friends here in Tenerife who hail from Uruguay and are always talking about its beauty – now I understand better AND moved it right up to almost top of my bucket list! There is, I guess, the added advantage as yet that it isn’t on those lists of South American travel that everyone has, so it must be quieter and less “touristy”. Thanks for sharing this!

    December 22, 2011
    • Sophie #

      It is definitely less touristy when it comes to American or European visitors, but there are loads of Argentinian and Brazilian tourists who spend their summer holiday on Uruguay’s beaches. Timing is crucial too. We were there in early November and there were hardly any other tourists to speak off, but once all the kids get out of school for summer I think places really start to fill up.

      Also, I started perusing your blog and I’m really enjoying it! I like to think of myself as an island girl at heart, even when I’m totally landlocked.

      December 22, 2011
  22. Uruguay is one of the places I have earmarked for possible retirement so thanks for this post. If you make it to Ecuador make sure to post on it as well:)

    Mark

    minimalistlifestyle.wordpress.com

    December 22, 2011
    • Sophie #

      Will do! Don’t know when I’ll get to Ecuador but I know I WILL get there one day and there is a certain peace to that.

      January 5, 2012
  23. Damn that sandwich really looks wickedly good! I’m going out to buy some loaf right now. Nice article!

    December 22, 2011
  24. these photos are absolutely gorgeous. great work, and congratulations on being freshly pressed! i especially love the third photo… excellent composition!

    December 22, 2011
    • Sophie #

      Thank you! Yeah that dog makes the photo. Without him it would be fairly flat.

      January 5, 2012
  25. Nice trip.

    December 22, 2011
  26. operarose #

    Very interesting post and great photos! I am tempted to try to plan a trip to Uruguay next year while I’m living in South America. I’m going to take a look at your other posts now to see where else you’ve been in this continent!

    December 22, 2011
    • Sophie #

      I’m so envious you’ll be living down there! I completely fell in love with all the countries we visited, especially Uruguay. I have other destinations on the horizon but I have half a mind to blow them off and just move down to some spit of sand in Uruguay instead!

      January 5, 2012
  27. I really enjoyed reading this blog. Your photos & descriptions make me want to follow.

    My wife & I are planning some extensive travelling & it’s good to see an example of an excellent travel blog! Keep blogging

    December 22, 2011
  28. arbohl #

    Sounds like quiteab adventure! That chivito sandwich looks amazing! Congrats on being Pressed 🙂

    arbohl.wordpress.com

    December 22, 2011
  29. Malou Prestado #

    I enjoyed reading your blog and looking at the lovely pictures.

    December 23, 2011
  30. Wow sounds like a great trip! I have yet to make it to Montevideo (only have been in Colonia for the day). Nice blog and very fun to read.

    December 24, 2011
  31. this looks amazingly beautiful…a trip to uruguay might me necesary for a sun get away while I freeze my behind off here in northern italy or once I sinally take the leap and have a year of nomad-ness!! Congrats on the feature, but I see why…great tips I will definently use if I am ever inthose parts!!

    December 24, 2011
    • Sophie #

      I think a year as a nomad sounds like a fantastic idea! In the meantime I hope you’re keeping warm with lots of rib-sticking Italian food. Come to think of it, that sounds pretty damn good too.

      January 5, 2012
  32. This is a great post! Love the photos and the itinerary! You have really captured the travel spirit in this post. I am trying to do something similar on my new blog that I started only a couple weeks ago. Mine is still a work in progress.

    December 25, 2011
    • Sophie #

      I guess you could say most blogs are a work in progress. That’s the beauty of them, their gradual evolution as new posts are composed and new readers are stirred to comment. On that note, thanks for dropping by and contributing with your remark!

      January 5, 2012
  33. mrsoaroundtheworld #

    very useful and this trip is certainly on my bucket list!

    December 27, 2011
  34. sounds like a plan! the food looks delicious!

    December 28, 2011
  35. The food looks really delicious … Yum!

    December 29, 2011
  36. Joe Labriola #

    Tasty and informative 🙂

    December 29, 2011
    • Sophie #

      I aim to please 😉

      January 5, 2012
  37. LOVE the colors!!!! Love the container home.

    December 30, 2011
    • Sophie #

      Isn’t that cool? I want to go back there and check out the finished project.

      January 5, 2012
  38. I have never heard of Rheas – they look a lot like Australian emus

    December 31, 2011
    • Sophie #

      Yes I think they are closer in size to emus than they are to ostriches.

      January 5, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. added to bucket list: How to Roadtrip Uruguay’s Coast « Melissa J Kelly
  2. Paracaidismo – Potholing en Punta del Este (Uruguay I) | Paracaidismo I Skydiving

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