By Jena Davison, V!VA Editorial Intern
So, you think you can’t have a worthwhile beach getaway in South America during the fall or winter months? Think again. Uruguay’s coast is chock-full of interesting beach towns, and unlike popular neighbors Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay still manages to maintain a low-key, under-the-radar vibe, especially during the off-season months (April through mid-November). Going to Uruguayan beaches in the off-season will not only allow you to escape the hoards of crowds and the inflated summertime prices, but it will also give you the chance to see the beach towns stripped-down to their natural states.
During high season, many of these lazy beach towns dance to a more rushed beat. Their tranquil, anything-goes attitudes seem to transform into intense party scenes as soon as December comes along. If that is what you are after, you will have a great time, no doubt. But, if you are looking to clear your mind, to have the beautiful stretches of sandy beaches to yourself and to connect with local Uruguayans, going in the off-season is the sounder choice.
In fact, when these beaches are not crowded, you can get a real taste of Uruguayan hospitality; locals often invite people to stay in their homes or to join them for dinner or drinks. Plus, passing through these beach towns during the off-season helps support the local businesses, which tend to make the bulk of their money during the summer months. And, as if you need another excuse to hop on the next boat, bus or plane to Uruguay, an additional perk rests in the fact that you are bound to meet other likeminded travelers in these places, since many are purposefully coming in the off-season for similar reasons. So, although you may not leave with that golden tan you had hoped for and may have to bear some chilly nights, the beaches of Uruguay in the off-season still have a lot in store for those travelers willing to give them a chance.
Here are three cool Uruguayan beach towns not to be missed:
1) Punta del Diablo
With a permanent population of less than 1,000 people, Punta del Diablo is a small fishing and surfing village about 30 minutes from the Brazilian border. In the off-season, Punta del Diablo has a chilled out, hippie vibe, but come high season, the village is overrun with thousands of Argentine, Brazilian and foreign tourists as well as many Uruguayans from Montevideo. However, even in high season, it has a pretty relaxed feel and it attracts a more carefree, creative crowd than the more high-strung town of Punta del Este.
In Punta del Diablo, colorful cabañas are perched on sandy hills overlooking the ocean located a few paces ahead. Nameless dirt roads, on which people travel mostly via horse or on foot, crisscross through town. Located in the tiny town center is the bus station and a main strip of restaurants with similar menus offering Uruguayan food. Along the beach rests a small boardwalk where you can buy seafood-stuffed empanadas, knotted bracelets and ceramics. Punta del Diablo is also known for its spectacular surf, so here you can take surfing lessons or rent a board and surf independently. Besides surfing or just lounging on its three main beaches, visitors can visit the nearby Parque Nacional Santa Teresa by foot or on horseback, check out the Santa Teresa fortress, or simply relax on the sanddunes. There are no banks or ATMs here, but some hostels will give cash advances for a fee.
2) Cabo Polonio
Cabo Polonio is a tiny village about an hour from Punta del Diablo by bus. Since it is technically located in a national park, no cars or buses can drive into the town. Instead, you must be dropped off at the highway and take one of the registered 4x4s about 20 minutes through the park and along the beach until you arrive at the village. No new buildings are allowed to be built there and older buildings cannot be repaired without a hard-to-obtain permit. In fact, the government wants for the buildings to fall to the ground and for people to leave the area slowly.
Cabo Polonio has no roads or electricity. Since there are no lights at night, all of the restaurants, bars and homes are illuminated by candlelight, giving it a truly magical feel. This also makes for some spectacular star-gazing opportunities. The village itself is little more than a lighthouse and some artsy shacks scattered along the beach, which mingle with the few beachfront hostels, bars and restaurants that are there. However, it is also home to thousands of sea lions, so you can walk along the rocks to watch them lounging, swimming and communicating with one another. Cabo Polonio also has enormous sand dunes that you can climb and rest on, which will make you feel like you are more in the Middle East than in Uruguay. There are no ATMs or banks here, so come prepared with enough cash.
3) La Pedrera
Although it is often overlooked by travelers who tend to hit up more major Uruguayan beach towns, La Pedrera is a nice little beach spot that should not be skipped. About four hours northeast of Montevideo and a few hours southwest of Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo, La Pedrera is a tiny resort town that is known for its water sports. Its beaches—including the popular El Desplayado beach—are definite surfer magnets, especially during the summer. However, visitors can surf as well as windsurf, bodyboard and sport fish here pretty much all year round. Other activities include visiting the remains of ¨Cathay,¨a fishing boat that sunk in 1971, and exploring the colorful ravines of La Pedrera.
Like other beach towns on the coast, La Pedrera swells in population during high season, when parties and outdoor concerts commence and continue all summer long. Yet, to really enjoy its beauty and tranquility, and to surf in peace away from over-populated waters, visiting in the off-season is the way to go.