Adventures in Uruguay — Part 2

Punta del Este

We'd heard that Punta del Este was the 'Miami of Uraguay’, so not knowing if that was a good thing or not we decided to spend just one night there to suss it out. On arrival, we found the description matched more or less exactly: the plush apartments, glassy sky scrapers and fancy shops were a drastic change from the small hippie towns we had left behind. After being dropped at the bus station we walked to Playa Brava beach where we could see the iconic 'Mano de Punta del Este' hand sculpture we'd seen frequently photographed on travel blogs. It was a little underwhelming in real life, but worth a picture during a sunset at the right angle.

One thing nearby that we were excited to see was the Casapueblo Hotel, so after wandering around the fairly uninteresting streets of Punta del Este we took a 30 minute bus ride up the coast and walked 15 minutes down hill to get to Casapueblo. Once the residence of the late artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, it now functions as a hotel, restaurant and art gallery containing many of his colourful abstract paintings and sculptures. The castle-like building was otherworldly, with brilliant white organic domes, turrets and balconies that jutted out from the steep cliffside where it overlooked an incredible ocean view.

Keen to find out more about the artist, we entered the museum and were immediately surrounded by Vilaró's expressive and colourful artwork as well as geometric sculptures and hand-painted pottery. It was a pure delight, a beautiful combination of cubist style with tribal influences from South America. We watched a 20 minute video about his adventurous expeditions he would embark on to inspire his work, largely revolving around the struggle of black populations, starting in Brazil and then spanning around the world.

After taking a final wander around the hotel balconies we decided to head down to the rocks below and take a swim in the clear, calm and incredibly inviting sea where we could get a perfect view of the entire building. Unfortunately there was no impressive sunset, but it didn't detract from what had been a truly memorable experience.


After speaking to fellow travellers and locals about Montevideo, we decided not to spend too much time in the capital as there were more exciting places ahead. We arrived in the early afternoon and strolled from the bus station down the grand yet tired-looking streets and dropped our bags at our hostel ‘Buenos Vibras’ (or good vibes!). We spent the evening drinking beers with other hostel guests and exploring a few of the many decent local bars in the area.

The following day we had a quick breakfast in the hostel before getting on our bus. In hindsight we felt we should have given Montevideo a bit more time so that we could explore what the city had to offer properly, but we were excited for our next and final stop in Uruguay: Colonia del Sacramento.

Colonia del Sacramento

Located two and a half hours bus ride from Montevideo, Colonia is a beautiful old town and UNESCO heritage site with cobbled streets, pastel-coloured houses, boutique art galleries and quaint cafes and restaurants spilling out onto the streets. It was a great place to amble around on a sunny day and enjoy a lazy lunch surrounded by Colonial history. 

We found a great little restaurant that served freshly made Paella, and we sat in the sunshine drinking wine and feeling like we were holidaying in the Mediterranean! After a rather disappointing view from the lighthouse (we wouldn't recommend paying, far to crowded!) we got a tub of Dulce de Leche gelato and found a patch of grass to chill on.

That evening we decided to head to Bistro Charco, one of the best restaurants in the area. It was a very stylish stone building with a dimly lit garden area and slick, minimal interior. We ordered steak and salmon, which were both beautifully cooked, accompanied with delicious Chilean Wine. We enjoyed treating ourselves after a week of much more basic hippie living!

We felt that a one nights stay in Colonia was more than enough to see everything, and although the town was very pretty in places, we found it didn't really compare with the overall beauty of Paraty's old town. It was still well worth a visit (especially as we had such great weather) and as we boarded the ferry to Buenos Aires we felt glad we'd had the chance to explore Uruguay's incredibly varied coastal towns during our trip.

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.