There are few places that impress well-travelled people. The new has already been told, the unique looks like something else. However, Cabo Polonio, in Uruguay, does surprise: Cabo Polonio is different.
The following picture speaks for itself: a tiny village, small houses scattered on a block of stone isolated in the Atlantic and kilometres of dunes.
In Polonio, there are no roads, no motor vehicles, no electricity, no running water nor sewage system. It can only be accessed on foot or by 4 × 4. It sounds very attractive as tourist destination, but life in that part of Uruguay is not so easy. Of the thousands of visitors that go there in summer, only a hundred are permanent residents and most of them are craftsmen and fishermen, with a minority that looks for an alternative lifestyle.
Permaculture is very common here, since it has become necessary to adopt a way of life that integrates and allows this unique landscape of Cabo Polonio.
But, why do people live there and since when?
Cabo Polonio owes its name to the sinking of the Spanish vessel El Polonio that occurred in 1735. Since then, many other tragedies have been caused by treacherous rocks hidden between waves. In 1881, the current lighthouse was lit and started to guide ships, thus avoiding new wreckages to dwell in the waters of Polonio.
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Since the lighthouse appeared, the number of inhabitants grew slowly, small and very simple houses were built, without any town planning. In the past decades, no one could have imagined that the lighthouse would turn into one of the main attractions of Uruguay. That’s what happened: in 2009, the Cabo Polonio National Park was created and its ecosystem has thus become officially protected, which had the effect of preventing new constructions and, indirectly, preserving its incomparable image.
How to get to Cabo Polonio
Cabo Polonio is located in the department of Rocha, which borders Brazil on the north. This department has got many beach tourist destinations like La Pedrera, La Paloma and Punta del Diablo.
The mere fact of getting to Cabo Polonio can be considered to be its first appeal, because of its complicated location. On the one hand, you can take a 4 × 4 at the Puerta del Polonio Terminal. The distance is 8 km and the journey, 30 minutes long. It allows you to enjoy the loneliness of the place. Even though it’s not easy to move through the dunes –your neck suffers the trip–, it’s worth going up and down dunes, dodging strange vegetation and ending up on the very beach before getting to the village.
The Terminal is on Route 10, kilometre 264.5. Tour-operators offer transportation to the place, but you can also use public transport, starting from Montevideo or other cities of Rocha. You can check schedules and fares on the Terminal’s website.
Now, some people prefer not to use cars to get to such a remote place, but to walk the 8 km, starting from the Terminal, on the same road that the 4 × 4 or to trek 10 km through beaches and dunes, from Barra de Valizas, a small locality north of Cabo Polonio. There’s also the option to go on foot and come back driving, or vice versa.
Things to do in Cabo Polonio
Walk through Polonio
Only a few streets are well defined, you’ll have to discover the rest of the village walking among the houses, according to your whims. Each house is different from the others, with white façades and coloured roofs. Some houses are refined, others are much more simpler.
Polonio is full of craft shops and restaurants. Many of the permanent residents work there and strive to make visitors enjoy good food and go away with a good souvenir handmade in such a special place of Uruguay.
Colony of sea lions and lighthouse
The rocks that face the lighthouse and the Torre islands, very close to the coast, are inhabited by sea lions. Until 1942, those mammals were industrially exploited and many families making a living out of that activity just settled down next to the lighthouse. Since sea lion trade was banned, their number has greatly increased and they have become one of Cabo Polonio’s attractions. Now, it’s easy to see hundreds of sea lions resting –or fighting– on the rocks of the lighthouse.
The lighthouse is open since 1881. Visitors are allowed and it offers the best views of the hamlet of Cabo Polonio, the dunes, the beaches and even the Torre islands.
Beaches And to end the tour, on each side of Cabo Polonio, there is a stunning beach: Calavera beach, the most crowded, and Sur beach, that one crosses before getting to the hamlet. Those beaches are almost unspoilt, perfect for walking and Calavera beach is better for swimming.
More than one day in Cabo Polonio?
There’s no doubt that Cabo Polonio is special: very quiet in low season and very busy in high season. I strongly recommend you take your time to discover it, watch the sun rise and set, which means that it would be good to spend at least one night there. There are many options of accommodation, but in high season (from January to March), you should book first.
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