An Expat Account of… Cabo Polonio—An Untouched Paradise
One of the great things about living in Uruguay is that with the country’s manageable size and great highways, whenever my wife and I want a change of scenery, all we need to do is get in the car and go.
Right now we live in Montevideo. We have a two-year-old baby named Sebastian, and just like us, he loves to get out into wide-open spaces, so in Uruguay it isn’t hard to find destinations that makes us all happy.
Hands down the most natural beautiful setting in Uruguay is Cabo Polonio. Every now and then you finds a spot were there is a spiritual presence about it. For me it is always in places that are virtually untouched by human hands. Cabo Polonio is like that.
To get Cabo Polonio, take the Interbalneario to the turn-off for La Paloma. When you get about a kilometer from La Paloma, you take a left toward La Pedrera on Highway 10. Follow the highway past La Pedrera to where you see a series of four-wheel drive trucks, not pick-up trucks, big trucks parked on the right side of the highway with signs that say “Transporte Cabo Polonio”.
This is where the road ends and the adventure begins. You need a special permit to enter the Cabo Polonio area by vehicle, so you have to park your car there and take a ride with one of the transportation companies that specialize in taking passengers to the village of Cabo Polonio. It costs about $8 round trip per person. All of the companies will get you there, but the best ones are located at the entrance road to the cape, so don’t stop at the first one you see. Wait until you see the road to the right and a sign with an arrow to Cabo Polonio. The companies there have nicer vehicles, and seem to be better organized.
The ride over the dunes is short, 20 minutes, but impressive. You’ll pass pine forests and rolling dunes, and if you’re lucky, you’ll even see deer and owls along the way.
After crossing the dunes you reach a wide white beach with crashing blue waves. At this point you realize you are now in a remote but beautiful place. In the distance, is the first view of what appears to be the perfect fishing village, something like what you might find in Nova Scotia. All the buildings are painted white, and rest on a small rocky cape with a tall white lighthouse that dominates the landscape.
The trucks hug the coast as they head toward town passing a scattered few rustic cabins made of wood, cinder blocks, and whatever else the owner could find to build their personal paradise. Most if not all of the homes in Cabo Polonio are owned by squatters. There is a small area in the cape where the locals claim the homes are legal, but even that sounded dodgy. Some of the homes are for personal use, but most are to be rented during the tourist season between January and February. The homes costs as little as US$5,000 and as much as US$60,000 to build. They rent for US$40 to US$120 a day during the high season depending on the quality. There is no electricity or water in Cabo Polonio, so remember these rent houses range from fairly nice to downright shabby. The better homes have wells, and use solar and wind power for energy. The government has tolerated the invasion for fifty years, so it is unlikely the squatters will be evicted any time soon. Although, I have been told they have bull-dosed a fair number of the shacks in recent years.
When you reach the town itself the truck drops you off at a roundabout, which is for practical purposes the town center. There are several stalls where flower children sell their wares: bathing suits and souvenirs. Needless to say it is a laid backed atmosphere.
The primary activities in Cabo Polonio are relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere. There is a huge sea lion colony next to the lighthouse. Being from Texas, I was not used to seeing sea lions. I spent hours watching them fish, fight, and sunbathing. Drinking beer at sunset is fantastic, and sunrise walks are incredibly peaceful. It is worth the trouble to walk up the steep stairs at the lighthouse for a glimpse of the cape from above. From there, you get a good idea of the immensity of the scene, the remoteness of the area, the size of the sea lion colony, and the variety of colors of the ocean. The lighthouse itself is pretty cool too. The light in the lighthouse came from England 130 years ago and is in perfect working condition. The lighthouse keeper will be happy to show you how it works.
Other than the rent houses, there are only a couple of places in town to stay. One is La Perla del Cabo and the other, Posada Mariemar. Both are rustic but clean, and have private bathrooms. The nicer of the two is La Perla del Cabo. It has slightly nicer rooms, and the food is much better. Try the “bunuelos de algas” (algae fritters). Ask for the room upstairs that is separate from the rest and closest to the water. It’s actually right on top of the water. Both hotels are open year round, but their construction is very light, so remember it can be fairly nippy during the winter months (June – August). The price of the rooms in both hotels is US$40 per day in off-season and US$120 during the high season.
To get to the hotels from where the transport company drops you off, head southeast toward the lighthouse side of the cape down the main street. It is a narrow, sandy, and the only street in town, so you can’t miss it. Both hotels are a couple of blocks from there on the ocean side of the street.