Uruguay – February 22 to March 1, 2017
Chuy >> Punta del diablo >> cabo polonio >> montevideo >> colonia
and final thoughts
Once I left Santa Maria I had to make the border crossing into Uruguay and Chuy is the border city. I arrived in this city around 10pm and walked to the first hostel I could find (maybe the only one in the city?). I do feel like they overcharged me because they knew I needed it–$18 for the night–but I did need it. This city wasn’t too interesting. Lots of duty free shopping and that’s literally about it. First thing in the morning, I headed to find a bus to Punta del Diablo.
Punta del Diablo
From Chuy, we went through the Uruguayan border and I had a potential issue… the bus stopped for about 2 minutes and then drove through immigration. I had no stamp or any proof I entered Uruguay. I’ll touch more on this in a minute.
Spoiler alert–I’m in LOVE with Uruguayan beach cities. Everyone knows you should visit Montevideo (capital city) and Punta del Este (basically the Miami of South America), but in my opinion, it’s these beach towns that’s where it’s at. Punta del Diablo was my first impression. Relatively simple, but quite nice beach town with a great beach vibe. All the roads are dirt and the beach was quite nice (I’ve seen better, but it’s certainly not bad!). There are plenty of bars and restaurants to keep you entertained for some time, too! Hostel pricing was pretty good, but I was super surprised at the cost of food! Many of my meals were running me a minimum of $10. You’ll see by how I talk later, but Uruguay seems to have quite a high quality of life compared to other Latin countries I’ve seen.
I spent a couple of days here in Punta del Diablo that basically consisted of me relaxing at the beach and drinking beer at night. After all the bus rides (and lack of visiting beach towns in Southern Brazil, I needed this!). I also talked to one of the guys working at the hostel about my potential passport issue. He called immigration and they said I could either go back to Brazil and reenter, or there was a ~$45 fee I could pay upon exit. I decided paying the fee was worth it rather than wasting a day and basically the same amount of money in related expenses to reenter.
I already had a couple of other beach towns noted on my map, but during my stay in Punta del Diablo, I talked to a couple of Uruguayan girls at the hostel and they said I had to go visit a beach town called Cabo Polonio. I looked on the map and it looked like it was in a national park. They said it was, but that it was there favorite place in the country with plenty of bars and restaurants. So I decided to go (with a couple others I met from the hostel that had already planned on going).
THIS PLACE, THIS PLACE, THIS PLACE. Okay, forewarning, this is one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited and hands down my favorite yet on this trip, so I’m going to be long winded and have many pictures.
The fact that Cabo Polonio is a protected national park certainly is a huge influencer on why it’s so awesome. You’ll see what I mean as I go along.
When I arrived at the park entrance, you are dropped off and required to purchase tickets (~$3 each way) on these bus/truck hybrid things that cart everyone into town. You can’t just drive your car to the village. Talk about a roller coaster ride. I’m not sure I can call the paths we drove on to the village “roads”. It was terribly bumpy sandy paths.
This town is located on a point (I guess a stubby peninsula, if you will) and has a stunning old lighthouse I’ll show you later.
When we arrive to the town, we find the first hostel we could, and one of the first aspects of it being a national park comes into a very real perspective–electricity really isn’t a thing here. Yes, the restaurants have minimal power to (possibly) take credit cards and make the kitchen usable. Yes, the hostel had a little LED light strip in the bathroom so you could use it after sunset. But that’s about it. There were no outlets in town. The was not WiFi other than a little pole in the middle of town that only worked at certain times of the day. Alright… well, let’s put our stuff down and head to the beach!
The beach was beautiful. I’ll admit, I think the Brazilian beaches were more beautiful, but the vibe of this city I loved so much more. The water was crystal clear and the waves (albeit simple) were perfect (maybe the national park thing isn’t so bad?). If you wanted to walk a couple hundred yards, you could even have a large section of beach privately to yourself!
After the beach, we got some food (not bad, but nothing I’m writing home about) and then started making our way towards the lighthouse to see the sunset. I’ll just let a few pictures do the talking here:
Yes, this lighthouse is still used, and it cost me one whole dollar to go in and see the sunset at the top.
Now it was time for drinking and enjoying the night. Honestly, as amazing as everything was up to this point, night time here is likely the best part. Remember how I mentioned earlier electricity wasn’t a big thing? Yes, well, that applies at night, too. All the bars, restaurants and shops are lit by candles (seriously). There’s a number of places that have live music.
My favorite memory of the evening included sitting down at a bar and enjoying some drinks while listening to someone play the Kora (an African harp instrument, which yes, I had to look up, even with my music background!). The WiFi pole wasn’t on and being in a park meant no cell signal, so every single person at the bar was looking up and either listening to music or talking (no one on their cell phones!). And, to top it off, while sitting in the middle of this busy bar, I could look straight up and see the milky stripe from the Milky Way and all of its stars clear as crystal. Really, an unbelievable night. I highly visiting here!
Frankly, this wasn’t part of my plan. My plan was to go to La Pedrera (another beach town) next. But, apparently Uruguay is ridiculously flooded with Brazilians and Argentinians during Carnival. Literally every single room in every hostel in every beach town was sold out. I was lucky to find somewhere in Montevideo. This city was a busy capital city with a very nice beach and seemingly very European. I did like it, but it was relatively calm. I did meet a couple of guys from Montevideo and will be returning in a couple weeks and will write more on it then!
Colonia del sacramento
Colonia is a small port town that is the main transfer point between Buenos Aires and Uruguay. My plan was to stay here for a night (I’ll explain in a moment). This was a small and very nice town. Lots of well-maintained old, colonial buildings. This is one of the few Latin cities I’ve been to where there weren’t even bars on the big glass storefronts!
The next morning I wake up to go get my bus ticket to Buenos Aires so I can start my immersion classes the next day and find out that every boat for every company is completely sold out until the following evening (damn Carnival!). Traveler’s tip–don’t plan, because plans always go wrong. So I had to spend the next day and a half in this city where there is, frankly, nothing to do. There’s not really even any bars (only restaurants!). Fortunately, I met a guy from NYC in the hostel that was in my same situation, so we killed the next day and a half together. Nothing too crazy, but the company was good!
The following afternoon, I jump on the boat and head over to Buenos Aires. They didn’t notice my lack of an entry stamp in my passport, so I got through just find and I’m sitting here now. I just finished my first day of Spanish immersion, but that’s another story that’ll wait for a later time (and more on Buenos Aires).
Also, I am waiting to do the “lessons learned” for Uruguay after I go back and visit some other places in about a week and a half, so stay tuned!
update / edit
Rolling with the punches
One major aspect of traveling that everyone will inevitably go through is how to handle situations when shit goes wrong. Well, here’s a perfect example of that happening to me!
Based on my previous experience with this boat, I wanted to book my tickets to do a weekend (3 day trip) back to Uruguay a few days in advance. I did that. The night before my 8am boat left, my Spanish school had a fun event at a bar where we got to practice Spanish with locals at a bar (and they practiced their English). Well, I figured I’d show up for a few hours and go to bed…… (that didn’t happen).
I went to this event and met some really fun people, so we talked, drank and partied until about 4 or 5 in the morning (I’m not necessarily the most responsible person you’ve ever met). Then when I got back to my room at about 45 minutes before my alarm went off (I know you’re thinking, “don’t do it, Derrek!”), my drunk logic thought taking a nap before I left to be boat station was a solid plan.
Waking up at 9am wasn’t part of my drunk plan. Well, shit happens. I can’t changed the past, but only affect the future. I got myself to the boat station in attempt to switch my reservation to the 12:30pm boat. Fortunately, I had a flexible ticket. Unfortunately, that boat was full. The next one left at 6pm and wouldn’t arrive in Montevideo until 11pm or so. Basically, I’d have Sunday and Monday morning to enjoy Uruguay. I just decided that it wasn’t worth it and decided to stay in Buenos Aires the weekend.
Yes, I lost the $100 round trip tickets, and I know that money like that matters on a trip like this, but remember, I can only affect the future. I had the mindset that being happy and stress free is more valuable than trying to have a hectic trip to Uruguay or worry about money I lost and can’t get back.
Foreshadowing for you: Something like this will happen to you (if not during travel, during your daily life). Keep things in perspective, keep your head up and your eyes forward. I always like to say that you truly make your memories and the best stories when things don’t go according to plan.
During my weekend, I ended up going to Tigre (a suburb of Buenos Aires) and enjoyed some time there. It wasn’t anything super special, but it was nice and good to see a different side of the city! I also didn’t have to miss a day of the immersion classes, so that was a gain, too.
Some of this will be redundant from above, but I want to discuss the same topics here I did with Brazil. First thing I want to say is, in hindsight, I think Uruguay is highly overlooked. This has been, without doubt, my favorite stop of the trip so far.
Prices – I think I thought Uruguay would be cheaper because I didn’t really know much about it. That’s not the case. The hostels weren’t too bad (~$15 per night), but the food was surprisingly expensive. If you wanted a meal that wasn’t empanadas, it could easily be $10+. Drinks were easily $4-5 each, too. One note, though, if you do happen to come here, there’s some law in Uruguay that requires a discount if you pay with card at a bar or restaurant. That discount is somewhere in the neighborhood of 19% (huge!), so if the place takes care, us it and save some money on your food/drinks!
Language – I could see Uruguay being a more difficult place to visit if you don’t know at least basic Spanish. Yes, the hostels could speak English (as with all hostels), but your bars, restaurants, shop owners, transportation workers, etc., did not typically speak English. I’d highly recommend working on some Spanish before visiting should you choose to come–and especially if you want to come alone!
People – The people here were awesome. It kind of seemed like your California, relaxed beach vibe. The people and environments were far more relax than anywhere I visited in Brazil or Argentina. I also felt far, far safer here than at any other point on the trip. I never felt like I had to look over my shoulder or worry about theft like I have in Brazil and Argentina.
Cities and Nature – Basically, I’m going to say exactly the opposite of what I said about Brazil. The nature here was pretty–it actually reminded me quite a lot of Nebraska while driving down the main highways (with the occasional palm tree). Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful, but you won’t be picking your jaw off the floor like you would in Rio, Ilha Grande or Iguazu. With that said, I love these beach cities. The beaches are solid, but the culture of these beach towns in the east is absolutely unbeatable. The beaches in Brazil are prettier, but the beach towns here have a far better more interesting and better culture (this, of course is just my opinion).
At this point of the trip, this is the only place where I know I have to return in the future. I can’t wait to come back and just relax here for a month or so!