Adventures in Uruguay — Part 1

Punta del Diablo

After a month of traveling down through Southern Brazil we were on to our next country: Uruguay. We’d read that the coastal area of Rocha was full of small hippie fishing villages disconnected from society, so naturally we were really excited to experience what Uruguay had to offer. From Florianópolis we took a 14 hour overnight coach that left at 2pm and dropped us at 4.30am on an empty road about 5km from Punta del Diablo, our first destination.

There were no buses or taxis at that time, so we had to take the hour-long walk into town. As we made our way, a group of friendly dogs joined our side and kept us company. Punta del Diablo only has dirt roads, and the small quaint houses with thatched roofs and individual character gave the impression that the place was lost in time. Walking through the town in the early morning light was the perfect way to see it for the first time. We arrived on a picturesque, empty beach (Playa del Rivero) just as the sun rose, with one dog that had decided to stay with us (we named her Sandy). After a spectacular sun rise, we took a few hours nap on the shoreside rocks and waited to check in to Hostel Mar de Fondo.

The hostel had a relaxed but social atmosphere, and was located, as most of the town is, a stones throw from the beach. We spent the first day strolling around the beach shacks, tropical cocktail bars and eating local delicacies such as Buñuelos de Algas (seaweed fritters) and Chivitos (a mega steak sandwich, and Uruguays national dish).

A 20 minute walk North of Playa del Rivero got us to the aptly named 'Player Grande', a large stretch of beach with more peaceful waters for swimming and only a few people there. That evening we ambled around the town and found a small, bustling restaurant for dinner with live guitarists and decent wine. Even though we only had a couple of days in Punta del Diablo, we felt totally at home there, and loved the chilled atmosphere and beautiful, uncrowded beaches.

Cabo Polonio

As the Summer season had just ended, the direct buses that link Punta del Diablo to Cabo Polonia weren’t running, so we had a slightly longer journey to our destination with two separate busses. Once we arrived in Puerta del Polonio station we had to get a huge heavy-duty dune buggy through the hilly sand dunes to get to the town. It was an exhilarating and bumpy ride through the scenic national park before the sandy road opened out onto a beautiful white beach with roaring waves and in the distance, the tiny town of Cabo Polonio. 

Once we reached the settlement the magic of town became apparent. Locals had each built themselves small, brightly coloured and very charming eco houses from repurposed and recycled materials. Our beach-side hostel Veijo Lobo was no different, nestled amongst small shacks and the odd cafe, complete with a rainbow tin roof and hammocks swinging outside. As we'd arrived off-season the atmosphere was very peaceful, and we enjoyed soaking up the carefree atmosphere that makes Cabo Polonio so attractive to visit.

At night it got a bit more chilly; after only a month of tropical temperatures we had forgotten what being cold felt like! However, it was a great opportunity to head to the local shop, pick up supplies and test out the rustic kitchen before wrapping up and chilling out in our wonderful little hippy house.

The next morning we headed to the lighthouse to get panoramic views of Cabo Polonio, and more excitingly to watch the sea lion colony that resides here. The colony reaches the thousands, and from the lighthouse you could see them resting on their rocky island, patrolling the seas and taking it in turns to go fishing.

On our last day we decided to take advantage of the cooler weather, so we grabbed the sand board from our hostel and head to the dunes. We were excited to test our previous (and modest) snowboarding & skateboarding skills on the sand and we spent a fun few hours sliding down the deserted dunes. That evening we caught up with a group of travellers we’d previously met in Punta del Diablo for some drinks at their hostel on the beach, and enjoyed a night of listening to the crashing waves and getting into the swing of life in Cabo!

Both hippy towns, Punta del Diablo and Cabo Polonio, resonated charm and had incredible coastal settings. It was interesting to see how the local Uruguayans lived such simple, sustainable lives, and after our visit we could completely understand why they would choose to. Getting back on the 4x4 dune buggy to the station we felt a little sad, but we were also pleased to get our first taste of Uruguay's beautiful coastal towns, and eager to see what else the small yet progressive country had to offer. 


The Old Town

After catching a boat from Ilha Grande to Angra des Reis, we traveled 2 hours south by local bus to the picturesque town of Paraty. We learnt that the old town was inhabited by Portuguese settlers in the 16th century after the discovery of gold, becoming an intrinsic port between Minas Gerais and Rio de Janerio. The wealth that had once poured into the town was apparent through the stylish, well-built houses and churches typical of the Colonial era. We spent the best part of the day ambling through the colourful cobbled streets soaking up the beautifully adorned houses, horse drawn carts and coffee shops around the historic town centre.

Happy Hammock Hostel

Having heard from a few people that Happy Hammock was a very special hostel, we were pretty excited on the 15 minute boat ride from Paraty. We were taken to a palm-lined pier leading to a gorgeous house set into the hills. Being an eco-hostel and due to it's remote location there was only 2 hours of electricity a day and no wifi (which for us was a blessing). Each night our hosts Patrick and Julia prepared delicious meals for us and the other guests, giving a relaxed and homely vibe to the place. We loved spending lazy evenings on the balcony chatting and drinking with the like-minded guests, swinging in hammocks, paddleboarding and swimming in the crystal clear bay.

Anniversary Meal at Banana da Terra

The penultimate evening fell our 5 year anniversary, so we decided to stay in Paraty and treat ourselves to a dinner date night. We wandered over the large cobbles of the old town where restaurants had lined the streets with tables and had a drink listening to a fantastic guitar trio playing traditional South America music.

We then headed to Banana da Terra, a Brazilian-French fusion restaurant tastefully designed and with an even tastier menu. We'd enjoyed trying the Brazilian food during our trip but it was refreshing to taste traditional dishes with the lighter touch of French gastronomy. From a beautifully soft seafood starter, well-cooked steak and sea bass for mains to a fruity dessert in a league of its own we left extremely happy customers!

Cachoeira Toboga Waterfall

As we were in Paraty the next morning we decided to a catch local bus to the Cachoeira Toboga, a natural waterslide with smooth algae covered rock. It was brilliant fun! The water was lovely and refreshing and the slippery rocks and fast-flowing water provided hours of fun. Equally as entertaining was watching the young local boys take run ups and surf down on their feet. Unsurprisingly, we came nowhere close to anything that impressive!