One of my favourite and most common occurrences whilst travelling is hearing about places I never knew existed. Half of the areas I saw the first time I went to New Zealand were unknown prior to my arrival and the same happened in Paraguay when I heard about a little place in nearby Uruguay. Cabo Polonio.
How to get to Cabo Polonio
Cabo Polonio is a tiny beach community with a distinctively hippie feel, around 250km from Uruguay’s capital Montevideo along the Rutas del Sol. The most popular way to reach it is via bus from either Montevideo or Punta del Diablo, which can take around 4-5 hours depending on the day (or driver) and costs a little over £15. However, the bus only stops on the main road and it’s another 7km to Cabo Polonio itself. That’s where the local transport comes in.
The only way to travel over the dunes to the village is by 4×4 trucks. Of course you can walk the distance, but with the undulating route through the sand dunes and a heavy backpack to carry it could take a couple of hours.
When to visit Cabo Polonio
What you’ll find in Cabo Polonio will very much depend on the season. In the peak of summer, when all the holiday homes are full, there could be as many as 6000 inhabitants. Whereas during the winter months there’s never more than a couple of hundred hardy souls trying to survive until the warmer weather. The middle of the year also brings bad weather. Cold winds and rains as Cabo Polonio sits on the wild Atlantic coast. Great for fishing but unprotected from the elements.
What you’ll see in Cabo Polonio
Make sure you have enough money with you for food, accommodation and travel before you arrive in Cabo Polonio as there are no ATMs in the village. Most places will accept US dollars, so either that or Uruguayan Pesos.
The village is made up of an assortment of small shacks. There is a shop, but, as you might expect in such an isolated location, they have limited resources, and everything will be more expensive than you’d pay in the rest of the country. There are enough places to eat but it does depend on when you visit to how busy it is. Outside of the summer months there’s much less of a crowd but less options too. The closer to winter it gets, the more places close down until the bulk of the tourists return.
For accommodation you also have plenty of choice for which shack you’d like to stay in. (Were you expecting 5-star resorts in a village the bus doesn’t even go to?) I stayed in Viejo Lobo hostel, which was superbly easy to find as it’s not only directly next to the stop where the transport terminates, but it has a bright multicoloured roof with ‘HOSTEL’ written in large two-metre-high letters.
The hostel was basic, but they did have a decently stocked kitchen and even supplied mosquito nets over the beds. However, the showers were limited and we had Wi-Fi for about an hour each day. But when you’re in a place like this who needs an internet connection. Instagram will wait for a few days.
Cabo Polonio is about as remote a place as you can find with running water without going too far off the beaten track. Sometimes it’s good to just disconnect and explore your new surroundings. The first afternoon I met a Dutch girl and a guy from the US. We went for a walk around the coast, exploring the beaches and watching the seals on the rocks by the lighthouse. A local joined us and told us about his hut on the beach and his impressive shell collection. Later, sat looking out over the beach, we were treated to the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen. Set against the remote backdrop I saw four or five different colours as the sun disappeared over the horizon. Later that evening, sat around the campfire listening to some live music, I looked up and was again astonished at what I saw.
I’ve seen a sky full of stars in other locations devoid of light pollution, but this place was something else. I could see the Milky Way stretched out before me. It was something truly incredible to behold.
The following day I went for a stroll along the long wild beach before spending the afternoon relaxing on the sand chatting to some more new friends. I cooked pasta in the evening but lacking any real ingredients in the local shop I was forced to settle for ketchup as sauce, before relaxing in a hammock listening to the nearby ocean. After another night star gazing around the campfire I woke early on my last morning, determined to enjoy the ocean while I could. With the Atlantic barely two minutes from my bed, I pulled on my shorts and enjoyed a swim in the refreshingly cold water. The only person daft enough to be in the sea at that time and in that temperature.
The last thing I did in Cabo Polonio was climb the lighthouse (20 Uruguayan Pesos or 40p) to get a view out across the small village with the seals playing among the rocks below. From up there you really get an understanding of just how isolated they are. The wild coastline disappears with civilisation nowhere in sight. After that the 4×4 trucks arrived to take us back to the main road, where we could purchase our tickets for the bus further along the Rutas del Sol.
Cabo Polonio is one of the more unique places I’ve visited and, as is often the case with the best things, I only found out about it by chance. But in just a few days I had an experience with some incredible sights and memories. It’s definitely a place not to be missed.