From Valizas, we crossed the ever-changing dunes of the national park to reach Cabo Polonio (El Cabo), where the wind carries the cries of sea lions and where dolphins surf by the shore. Lit mainly by sun and candlelight, the darkness of the night is only interrupted by the rhythmic sweep of the lighthouse beam. A breezy 2-hour walk brings you off the grid to one of the wildest parts of Uruguay's coast. Read on for details.
Good to know:
- Distance: 5.1 miles (8.2 km). GPS log.
Duration: 2-3 hours
- Bring water. There are no water sources until you reach Cabo Polonio.
- THE SUN IS NO JOKE and there is no shade. Bring sun protection (sunscreen, hats, etc.) and start your hike early or after
4PMto avoid the effects of the strong sun. Remember that major hole in the ozone layer over the South Pole? Yep.
- Bring headlamps or flashlights. There's no electricity in town, so this helps for navigating after dark.
- Bring cash. There are no ATMs.
- Bring tampons/pads. I don't think I saw a place to purchase these products.
On New Year's Eve, we decided why not start the new year with an adventure to Cabo Polonio? Vincent had visited a few years ago and
Fast forward through all the NYE
- A two to three-hour hike.
- Wait for the next bus to take you to Cabo Polonio's visitor center and take the 4x4 truck to bring you to the beach town. If you don't want to hike, you should actually buy a Rutas del Sol ticket to Cabo Polonio, not Valizas, this would remove this extra step.
- Face the tough competition and hitchhike to Cabo Polonio's visitor center, then take the 4x4 truck. The last option was the least appealing, it required a walk back to the main highway, stiff competition and also at midday there likely very few cars headed that way.
We decided to head to Valiza's beachfront cafe La Proa to grab a bite and think through our plan. In this area, the must-order is Buñuelos de
By 4:30 PM, the heat subsided and the shadows mellowed, we decided it was time to start our hike (the sun is no joke here so time your hike carefully). We grabbed a generously proportioned
Once we padded ashore the dunes seemed to stretch on forever, only punctuated by the ant-like people playing across its surface. Here you can go as the crow flies, cutting straight across the dunes for a shorter route, or you take a longer route that hugs the coast. I recommend the former, as it gives way to a diverse landscape and gives you a chance to explore some of the tallest dunes in South America (there are literally
As we hiked, the wind was literally wicking the sand off the dunes, casting a dreamy glow and quickly covering up each step we took. Here they call them '
Two hours later we neared the town, our place (which is unfortunately no longer on Airbnb) was one of the first houses we passed. The house had a structure for aerial silks and felt simultaneously more luxurious than people had described for what you'd find in El Cabo, but also basic for a $95/night room. We had a bedroom and bathroom light and a communal shower that gave warm running water (all connected to the electric generator).
El Cabo's reputation preceded it, people described a raw landscape and idyllic hippie commune of sorts that was marked by no electricity and no running water — the perfect place for people looking to get off the grid. Some of this was true, time felt slower, untethered horses meandered gently through the meadows, dolphins played by the shore, people walked barefoot to
When I think back on it, I don't think we really did anything, which was the point. Lulled by the waves and pace of town our day of lounging was punctuated by eating, reading, and walking. I imagine it'd be the perfect place for a writer to retreat to. Perhaps the most daunting task was finding wifi to figure out if Vincent's plane was leaving the next or following day, in which a posada owner kindly lent us her mobile hotspot — otherwise, don't expect to have access.
The most exciting moment was a relentless tropical storm that swept through and caught us at the bus station. Strangers alike huddled together for shelter and at the end of the day we ran back to our place blinded by the rain and crashing through huge puddles. My favorite treats were getting the handmade
- To do the 2-3 hour walk, book a morning ticket to Barra de Valizas from Rutas del Sol from Tres Cruces bus station in Montevideo. To get to Cabo Polonio by car, book a bus ticket to Cabo Polonio instead and take the doubledecker 4x4 truck to the actual town. IMO the hike was the highlight of the trip. You can get the best of both worlds by hiking there and taking the truck out.
- Note, there is a Rutas del Sol booth in the town of Cabo Polonio so you can buy and modify bus tickets.
Where to stay:
- I don't believe you can camp on the beach and lodging fills up pretty quickly due to the short season. There are many hostels. El Cabo is pricey — expect~ $90/night for a private room.