Beautiful beaches of Uruguay

By | Category: Travel destinations
La Coronilla beaches

deserted beaches near La Coronilla

This comparatively tiny South American nation crams in over 400 miles of coastline with stunning beaches. All along the Atlantic, including the two areas designated as national parks, there’s an absolute abundance of sea, sand and beautiful scenery.

Travelling south from the Brazilian border, I was delighted to find the local bus company, Rutas del Sol, not only stopped right outside my hotel to pick me up, they were also happy to drop me off close to my next overnight abode, Hotel Parque Oceánico, near the small beach resort of La Coronilla. I love countries where it’s still possible to persuade bus drivers to stop “somewhere unofficial”, even if that means having to take the slow coach.

Hopping off said coach, backpack and all, I breathed a huge sigh of relief at the “hotel 100 metros” sign – this was the end of a long day’s rather energetic explorations of rural Uruguay. Upon closer inspection though, my relief vanished in an instant. What the sign actually said was “Hotel 1000 metros”… There was nothing for it but to start trundling along the unpaved road, surrounded on both sides by a forest of menacing-looking cows, only reluctantly moving out of the way as I approached.

Puerta del Diable houses

the colourful houses of Puerta del Diablo

Arriving hot and sweaty, cursing both intimidating cows and unscheduled hikes with heavy loads, I looked every bit the intrepid travel writer on assignment, desperately in need of a shower. Luckily this was easily arranged – in fact, in this part of Uruguay, one might argue I had an entire ocean at my disposal, not to mention several hotel pools. As a rule in Uruguay, the closer you get to Brazil, the wilder the waves and the emptier the beaches. Times are a-changing, with more visitors discovering smaller resorts further away from capital Montevideo and tourism Mecca Punta del Este, but there is still plenty of room for everyone.

A night in 4-star luxury by the sea made up for lurking farm animals and the views of the endless ocean, a short walk from the hotel grounds, made me want to put down my backpack and linger in this secluded spot for a good while longer. This, however, was just the start of my beach resort explorations and settling down on day 2 would have been tantamount to wussing out.

Next up, along the coast, was hippie haven Punta del Diablo, bordering Santa Teresa national park – the latter a large swathe of forested land following the coastline, worth a visit for its 18th century large-scale fortress, excellent hiking trails and many sandy beaches. The main core of Punta del Diablo, or Devil’s Point, is concentrated along a couple of streets near the central beach, Playa del Pescador, one of three beaches to choose from. To the south lies Playa de la Viuda and to the north Playa de Rivero.

hammock reading at the Devil Reader Bookshop

the Devil Reader bookshop

As my first night had been spent in the middle of nowhere, it was lovely to suddenly be surrounded by a choice of restaurants and bars, shops and stalls, even a bookshop, aptly named The Devil Reader. Devil puns were everywhere (hostels entitled “Come to the Devil” and “The Tranquil Devil” among others), but I never did find out who the original devil, that gave the place its name, was. Punta del Diablo was all rustic and ramshackle charm with an entirely laidback vibe and for the first time during my 3-week stay in Uruguay I was reminded that the country legalised marijuana in December last year.

Holiday-makers and “alternative travellers” notwithstanding, Punta del Diablo remains a working fishing village and a number of small boats leave each morning from the central beach, later returning to sell the freshly caught fish and seafood from nearby huts. The beaches themselves (if not the fishermen) are gorgeous, with huge sand dunes stretching into the distance and gently crashing Atlantic waves. Beautifully painted, brightly coloured houses line the unpaved streets and winding alleys, while DIY stalls sell tasty, homemade empanadas, over-large mojitos and if you want a henna tattoo, this is definitely the place.

Barra de Valizas

the sand dunes of Barra de Valizas

Much as I enjoyed the “devil vibe”, I decided it was best to move on the following day, before I really got in touch with my inner hippie. Continuing south, passing several impressive inland lagoons, I reached diminutive Barra de Valizas, similar to Punta del Diablo, but much smaller. The permanent population is no more than 300 souls, but December – March it swells several times over, while still managing to retain an uncrowded feel. It’s also gently hippified with a certain “anything goes attitude”. Blissfully free of large hotels, the most upmarket accommodation you’ll find is the odd posada.

After settling into a cute loft room in said posada, I soon ventured down to the main street and nearby beach, a short distance away. Here was more evidence of recent changes to Uruguayan laws – an LGBT-friendly hostel, complete with rainbow flags – Uruguay passed a same-sex marriage law in 2013. Perhaps surprisingly, these tiny beach communities appeared to be among the most liberal in all of Latin America, despite their off the beaten track locations.

beach and boat at Barra de Valizas

another view of Barra de Valizas

Barra de Valizas in particular, attracts a very environmentally friendly, politically aware type of visitor and plans are afoot to create sustainable communities here on a year-round basis, not just during the short summer season.

Veering off into a side street I found myself in-front-of the G Spot, or Punta G, a perfectly inoffensive ice cream parlour, doubling up as tourist information desk in the summer months. My chocolate with rum-soaked raisins ice cream, near enough knocked me out – clearly I should have practised more thoroughly with the devil’s large mojitos. Again the beaches here were positively endless and infinitely gorgeous, with the occasional wicked wave. So far, so fantastic and there was more to come.

boardwalk at La Pedrera

the boardwalk to the main beach at La Pedrera

South of Cabo Polonio national park, an area of spectacular sand dunes, high on a cliffside facing the ocean, sits La Pedrera, a more upmarket, less alternative resort. I arrived at the height of Carnival, a time to douse friends and strangers alike with homemade water bombs, apparently. Many were also indulging in the time-honoured tradition of getting hammered on cheap booze and randomly chatting to women. Word soon got around that I was from Sweden, a land well-known for the Nobel Prize, Volvo, ABBA and much more, but to these guys it sadly only meant one thing… Before long I was being followed by endless calls of “Ah Sweden, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Zlatan Ibrahimovic”. The international language of football was alive and well in Uruguay.

I suspect La Pedrera is quieter any other night of the year, but it’s not a bad place to spend Carnival – barbeques, music and dancing on the beach have their charms. This was also my last night visiting smaller resort – Punta del Este, Uruguay’s resort número uno, was beckoning. These days the peninsula of Punta del Este is more of a transport hub and admin centre for the whole area, more useful than scenic. Most people choose to stay on the outskirts of town, along the quieter beaches, rather than on the peninsula itself.

beach at la Pedrera

and the main beach itself

A day was enough to understand why – a place that built-up can easily become soulless and compared to the villages I’d just seen, Punta del Este was something of a let-down, in no way helped by the fact that a storm was brewing and it was absolutely chucking it down all day. Still, this place is hard to beat for sheer variety of accommodation, restaurants, bars and activities. Best visited in sunshine though.

In the late afternoon I said my goodbyes Punta del Este, continuing by bus to Montevideo, passing more beaches, looking decidedly good despite closer proximity to Uruguay’s main city. Long-standing resorts like Piriápolis might be worth a stop, not to mention all the smaller beach towns and villages popular with locals, lining the coast to the centre of Montevideo itself. Surely one of them would be just perfect for putting down that backpack for a good long while.

Getting there and around:

There are currently no direct flights from the UK to Uruguay, but there are good connections via South American, European or U.S. hubs.

All main cities and towns are served by a variety of bus companies originating from the Tres Cruces Terminal in Montevideo. (Spanish language website only) More remote locations, smaller towns and villages are served less frequently, particularly off season, but Rutas del Sol (the website is only in Spanish) run the length of the coast, stopping in most places.

pounding waves at La Pedrera

waves crashing on the beach at la Pedrera

Where to stay:

Hotel Parque Oceánico, Ruta 9 km 312,5, near La Coronilla, T4476 2883,  4-star hotel in excellent location. 3 pools, 1 indoor, 2 outdoor, full- and half-board options. Good restaurant, extensive grounds, short walk to endless beaches. Hiking, birdwatching, horseback riding on the beach, forest walks. Open year-round.

Terrazas de la Viuda, Calle del Indio, Punta del Diablo, T9968 1138,  pleasant hotel with spacious rooms and pool, overlooking the beach. Balconies with seaview, some rooms with yacuzzi, breakfast included. Also nearby sister hotel La Viuda del Diablo, on the beach itself, with restaurant and beach bar.

Posada Valizas, Calle Tomás Cambre, one block from Plaza de los Barcos, Barra de Valizas, T4475 4067,  tranquil and lovely, small-scale posada. Peaceful garden setting, friendly and attentive service.

La Pedrasanta, Calle Cabo Polonio (Cedron), La Pedrera, T4479 2179, lovely, arty Italian-Argentinean-run posada and restaurant. Pleasant garden, Tuscan cuisine, friendly owners.

For further information about Uruguay, click here.

Images & First UK Rights © Anna Maria Espsäter

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