When I am asked, “What is your favorite place in Uruguay, the answer invariably is Cabo Polonio.” It’s a little slice of Heaven on Earth.
Like Heaven, it is also very difficult to get to-you have to pay attention to what you are doing or you’ll miss it.
My friend Vicky and I had decided to rent-a-car in Montevideo because we were visiting several beaches on this journey. (See renting a car in Uruguay for more information.) However, if you intend to just visit Cabo Polonio for a few days, it is much easier to take the bus from Montevideo if not but for one simple reason: The bus driver knows where Cabo Polonio is!
The drive from Montevideo is about 3-4 hours…the bus may take a little bit longer. After you pass the international hotspot of Punta Del Este, you are about half way home and the highway narrows to one lane with beautiful countryside all around you–beautiful countryside unimpeded with any signs about where Cabo Polonio might be. La Paloma is the largest beach city near Cabo Polonio so just follow the signs to La Paloma. Once outside of La Paloma, you have about a 1 hour drive.
If you drive for longer than one hour, you have passed Cabo Polonio or you drive way to slow! Coming up from the La Paloma area, Cabo Polonio will be on your right and there is a sign, but it’s very small. Don’t be afraid to ask people where it is–“¿Dónde está Cabo Polonio?” if you feel that you have gone to far.
Once you arrive in Cabo Polonio, you have really not arrived in Cabo Polonio. This is one of the reasons that it is my favorite place in Uruguay. Cabo Polonio is not accessible by car or bus. When you see the sign for Cabo Polonio from the street, you are greeted with a few huts, houses, and shacks of those people who will take you from the road into the city of Cabo Polonio…about 10 kilometers through stunning forests and sand dunes.
These people normally take you into Cabo Polonio by truck (see picture below). However, depending on the season, you can also ride horseback into Cabo Polonio. Vicky wanted to ride horseback and I did too.
However, we were taking this trip in the beginning of November-a somewhat risky time weather-wise. November is the beginning of the warm months but she has her menstrual cycles and can change without warning. Luckily, we caught the good time of the month and the weather was perfect!
Fortunately, we found a family that offered horseback rides into Cabo Polonio at this time of year. We were escorted by Valentino, a young 12 year old who schools in Montevideo during the week and works with his family here on the weekends. I asked young Valentino if he knew that he was the namesake of a famous Latin Lover. He looked at me quizzically…I am only 12. Be patient young Valentino, your time will come!
The horseback ride was a phenomemonal experience and worth well more than the $30 that it cost. I recommend it to everyone who visits Cabo Polonio. You ride through pastures, forest, and finally long sand dunes to your arrival in Cabo Polonio. Interestingly, after we arrived, young Valentino just unsaddled the horses and patted them on the butt.
“Don’t you have to take them back?” I asked young Valentino.
“No”, he responded, “they know their way back.”
For having reputedly such small brains, these horses were well-smart…like big homing pigeons.
Before the horses left, they roamed the streets for a little while as do many other animals, and people, in Cabo Polonio. With no electricity, no paved roads, no 24-hours Nautilus, no Starbucks, no Internet cafes, no nada, Cabo Polonio is just a place to meander and relax.
As we are wont to do, Vicky and I exchanged that knowing glance that speaks a clear sentence: “How ‘bout a cocktail?” We did not know where we were going to stay. Many folks labor endlessly visiting many places in order to make informed decisions. Vicky and I visit the watering hole, meet people, and get valuable information with very little exercise.
In this instance, we asked our waiter for a cocktail, and then asked him: “Do you know anywhere around here that we can stay?”
“You can stay here. We have one room left and it overlooks the ocean.”
Do be careful with this approach. This worked because it was early November; it would not have worked in December, January, or February when Cabo Polonio gets overrun with people on their summer break. In fact, I recommend Cabo Polonio during the off-season. In the peak season, Cabo Polonio loses peak form. Tranquility and serenity give way to debauchery and mayhem….which, come to think of it, is not bad either.
Also, as we were cocktailing, a man approached us who spoke Spanish but in a Frenchy kind of way…because it turns out that he was French. He sat down and conversed with us for a bit. He decided, after visiting Cabo Polonio about 3 years back, to give up his thriving Internet business in France and move to Cabo Polonio to relax and pursue his other hobbies, one of which is photography. He created a photo-book of Cabo Polonio that you may want to purchase if you visit. He sells them directly or they can be purchased at the lighthouse. The book captures the essence and fluidity of life in Cabo Polonio.
Could you give up your civilized life and move to a lazy beach community with no electricity? Would you ever want to? I asked the Frenchmen, in retrospect, “would you do it again?”
He said: “It’s not for everybody…this type of life. But for me, it’s perfect. I was living a high-paced life and stressed all the time. I didn’t realize just how unsatisfied I was until I came here. Now I do what I love in a place that makes me feel good everyday. Would I do it again? Absolutely…only I would have done it much sooner.”
The hotel that we stayed in was fantastic. There are only two hotels on the island (I think) and they are situated on the coast right next to each other. Our hotel informed us that the electrical generator would be turned off at 9pm and that there were candles in the room that we should use when the lights go out.
Imagine: A whole city with absolutely no lights at night. We snuck out of our hotel at about 11pm in search of signs of life. We stumbled upon a group of people in a room playing music and drinking. We spent a few hours with them listening to live music and sharing spirits. On our way back to the room, we paused to look at the sky filled with stars. There is no star gazing quite like here…the city with no lights. Truly amazing.
The next day we visited the light house, stood atop the hill where you can see both coasts of the peninsula, and met many people from all over the world.
I cannot say enough good things about Cabo Polonio-it may not only be one of my favorite places in Uruguay, but anywhere.
Do you remember the old Seinfeld episode, when George’s strategy to achieve inner-peace was to shout “Serenity Now!”
You’ll find it on a visit to Cabo Polonio.
Other Notes and Links:
- Kelly Westhoff writes a detailed piece on Cabo Polonia entitled: Cabo Polonio, Uruguay: In Search of the Fabled Ombu Tree
- Uruguay promotes Cabo Polonio through their website: http://cabopolonio.com/
- “Peace Frog” writes about his visit to Cabo Polonio in his travel blog.
- There is somewhat of a music video of Cabo Polonio on YouTube. It’s rather…somber. If you’re a fan of Yani, Zamphir master of the pan flute, or, if you go to sleep with the gentle sounds of the waves, you might enjoy it
- Visit here to check the bus schedules from Montevideo to Cabo Polonio. As always, buses leave from Tres Cruces in Montevideo.
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