Unexpected & Unforgettable Uruguay

Have you ever visited a destination where all you want to do is share the beauty and ambiance with your closest friends? For example, when you’re on vacation and are watching the most unbelievable sunset or have been at a beach party surrounded by great people but it would have been even better with your favourite friends?

Restaurant Road in Punta del Diablo

Restaurant Road in Punta del Diablo

That was I (am told this is grammatically correct although it seems odd) in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay. My original plan for Uruguay had me travelling from Iguaçu Falls, Argentina to the small village of Tacuarembó, a small city of 50,000 where I read that a large gaucho (authentic Spanish cowboys) festival takes place in early March. It was to be one of those unique experiences that I search for and relish in, however, without trains and with Tacuarembó being in the middle of nowhere it just wasn’t feasible within my schedule. I will definitely try to make it the next time I am in Uruguay. Instead, I made my way to Buenos Aires and after my stay there I flew an hour to Punta del Este, Uruguay, the closest airport to Punta del Diablo.

Punta del Diablo Beach and Beach Huts

Punta del Diablo Beach and Beach Huts

Again, my plans changed on the fly. After meeting and hanging with the Aussies I met in Buenos Aires I was advised that Punta del Este had little character and is more of a retirement community. I took a short ride shuttle bus operated by the largest bus company and upon arrival, searching for a bank I was glad I wasn’t staying in Punta del Este. I quickly jumped on a three-hour bus ride to Punta del Diablo, arriving in the evening at the main “square,” essentially a crossroad with one street light.

Punta del Diablo

Punta del Diablo

Punta del Diablo is a sleepy, sand dune, surf town of 3,000 that swells to 30,000 during the Uruguayan summer, late Nov – mid March. I arrived one to two weeks after the crowds had left so the population was down to about 8,000 and the weather was sometimes sunny and sometimes rainy, one day out of my three it rained. It was one of the simplest places I have ever been, kind of reminded me of Ponta do Ouro in Mozambique. Actually now that I think about it, it is very much like Ponta do Ouro along with a never-ending beach. I loved it although Punta del Diablo doesn’t have any scuba diving and Ponta do Ouro does.

Punta del Diablo beach

Punta del Diablo beach

To be honest there’s not really much to say about Punta del Diablo because it is just that simple of a place. Accommodations range from house rentals (fantastic idea for families and groups of friends), small B&Bs and a few hostels. All are fantastic and the staff is very helpful. There is only one taxi in town, almost all walk around trying not to get lost in the sand dune roads, which are without street signs. I stayed in two hostels while in Punta del Diablo. The first, El Diablo Tranquillo Hostel is run by a young guy from Chicago whom I found to be fairly unfriendly, not even introducing himself when he gave guests a ride from the bus stop to the hostel. He owns both the El Diablo Tranquillo Hostel & El Diablo Tranquillo Playa Suites, the newer of the two, located on the beach. The latter also has a restaurant and bar and would be my recommended place to stay when visiting Punta del Diablo. However, the second I stayed in, Hostel de la Viuda, is much more friendly and is set up like a large house with an extensive kitchen and a large living room where people hung out reading and watching movies. The owner, Sebastian, is extremely nice and treats you as a friend. And although it is further away from town (a 15 minute walk), it also has a pool; it’s a hard decision between the two hostels. And funny enough, although I travelled over five hours to get there and stayed inside for most of the time I’d still go back in a heartbeat, this time with friends and we’d surf, sand board and picnic in the dunes. There is also a large national park nearby with horseback riding and sea lions in the water.

A young boy sand boarding in Punta del Diablo

A boy sand boarding in Punta del Diablo

While in Uruguay I also visited Montevideo, the capital. It is located five hours from Punta del Diablo by car or bus. My excitement for Montevideo had waned a bit since talking to my Aussie friends but I am happy to say that contrarily I was very impressed. Montevideo is steeped in history; its old town is beautiful, busy during the day when it becomes one of the business centers of Montevideo.

The rambla/boardwalk along the ocean covers 27 kilometres and is visually stunning. With gorgeous parks, a great Sunday market and friendly people it’s a city that needs to be included in a visit to Uruguay. Two days are all one needs and I think people would be remissed if they passed on Montevideo.

I took a city tour on my last morning and learned some of the following statistics:

  • 35% of Uruguayans do not believe in God. God and state separated in 1917.
  • The Uruguayan train system ceased in 1980. No subway was ever built. The old train station is beautiful but is only now used by the homeless.
  • Uruguay doesn’t have any mountains, 514m is the highest point.
  •  Uruguay has 19 departments (states), too many for the population of 3,200,000 with a pop of 1,300,000 in Montevideo alone, (the smallest state/city).
  • Uruguay is the only country in South America without indigenous people. In 1833 the Charrúas (Uruguay’s indigenous) were exterminated. 1,000 escaped to the south of Brazil and to France. Many were shot in a circle like animals.
  • 10% of Uruguay’s population is of African descent and their music (candombe) is the most popular during Carnival.
  • The president of Uruguay is not obligated to live in the presidential home, which has guards patrolling it even without him living there. The current president, José Alberto Mujica Cordano, lives in the countryside.
  • A president can only hold office for five years with no consecutive periods. He/she may run again after one period has passed after their presidency, however, the maximum age is 75 yrs old so the current president will be unable to run again.
  • Montevideo is located on a river and not on the sea.
  • Montevideo is one of the greenest cities I’ve seen with numerous parks and trees populated with many tree varieties including lots of maples.
  • The Puerto Mercado is the place to go during the day with lots of restaurants and a food market. Note that it is busy during the day and not during the evening.

My last stop in Uruguay was the Portuguese colonial town of Colonia de Sacramento, two hours west of Montevideo and only an hour ferry ride to Buenos Aires.  I’d recommend one day and two nights, even though a day trip would be sufficient, however, if I were travelling with a partner I would want to stay overnight.

Colonia Cobble Stone Street

Colonia Cobble Stone Street

The old town and its pebble stone streets, ruins, and history make it interesting and romantic. Just make sure you don’t leave your bankcard in a machine as I did. I went back the next day and it was not easy to get it back, in fact it was extremely frustrating. It made me thankful that I befriended the hostel manager because the head office of the bank (a 45-minute hold on the phone and only Spanish) has to call the branch to authorize the retrieval of your card. I’m also thankful I allocated 2 hours for the process before I made my way to the ferry back to Buenos Aires.

Colonia Lighthouse

Colonia Lighthouse

Uruguay gets an A- on my travel report card and should not be missed. However, in my opinion, it is definitely a destination better enjoyed with friends or loved ones. Happy Travels!

4 Responses to Unexpected & Unforgettable Uruguay

  1. The last charrua (indigenous) tribe was killed in 1833, not 1933. Only a few survived and were sold and sent to Europe be shown like beasts in the fairs…
    However, the names of many trees and rivers and hills remind us the charrua nation; and some of their blood still runs in many people.
    Nice post! Come back with your friends and this time stay longer…

    Mau May 31, 2012 at 3:05 PM Reply
    • Thanks for the correction and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      juliemunsch May 31, 2012 at 3:18 PM Reply
  2. Congrats~I’ve nominated you for The Versatile Blogger Award!

    http://photoscience.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/the-versatile-blogger-award-i-feel-so-honored/

    Please view the nomination page- and follow the rules to accept the award.

    Cheers!
    -Chanel

    Chanel Hason June 4, 2012 at 5:15 PM Reply
  3. Nice Julie! Keep on blogging my friend.

    phil June 7, 2012 at 8:05 AM Reply

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