Beaches of Uruguay

Punta del Este

After Montevideo, we continued our trip up the eastern coast of the continent stopping in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Since we wanted to get to know both the glamorous as well as the more laid back beaches of the country, we also made a stop farther north in Punta del Diablo. Both towns turned out to have some really great beaches. Arriving in Punta del Este outside of the busy season was a surreal experience. Punta dell Este has what you call a superpeak season in January and February where everything is packed with people, prices more than triple, and parties fill the summer night. However, when our bus dropped us off at the station at 8pm, we made our way a few blocks to our hostel and we did not pass a single person. On the four lane route running along the entire coast in town, maybe only five cars passed us. In the hostel, we were the only guests. The lack of lights on in the high rises along the beach almost made it seem like a ghost town. In the morning we spent our time on the equally deserted soft white sand of Punta del Este’s beautiful beaches. We walked the entire peninsula that makes up Punta del Este, past the longest beach, Playa Brava, past the port, and Playa Mansa, with its calmer waters on the bay side of the peninsula. We also got a chance to get some pictures with the famous hand in the sand sculpture (La Mano) that has become the city’s iconic landmark.

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Playa Brava in Punta del Este, Uruguay

Playa Brava in Punta del Este, Uruguay

The Hand in the Sand - appropriately named.

The Hand in the Sand – appropriately named.

We had a fun photo shoot with la mano.

We had a fun photo shoot with La Mano.

 

Punta del Diablo

A few days later and a 4 hour bus ride up the coast and we arrived in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay. Perhaps the antithesis of the glamorous, Punta del Este, Punta del Diablo is much more of a fishing village turned summer escape that attracts a much more budget traveler. There are no skyscrapers along the beaches here, just colorful one or two story houses complete with hammocks to relax the day away. Again, because we were in town during the low season, we had the picturesque beaches almost entirely to ourselves again.

Low season (April - June) is a great time to visit, less people and lower prices, but just a bit to cold to swim.

Low season (April – June) is a great time to visit, less people and lower prices, but just a bit to cold to swim.

Playa de la Viuda (Widow Beach), Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

Playa Grande, Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

We spent our days in Punta del Diablo walking along Playa de la Viuda to the lighthouse and Playa Grande to the nearby national park. We tried buñuelas de algas, seaweed fritters characteristic of the Uruguayan coast, and our second favorite empanadas in all of South America at one of the little artisan stands in front of the little fishing boats. Our hostel, Hostel de la Viuda, was one of the best hostels we’ve ever stayed in and it was just the cherry on top of our experience in Punta del Diablo.

Rough waters in Punta del Diablo (Devil's Point)

Rough waters in Punta del Diablo (Devil’s Point)

Playa Grande, Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

Playa Grande, Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

Local fishing boats near the fish market in town

Local fishing boats near the fish market in town

If I had to choose which beach I liked best out of those we visited in Uruguay, I would pick Playa Grande in Punta del Diablo because of its length, its long swash zone, and the lack of buildings on and behind the beach. In fact I’d put Playa Grande in my favorite beaches list, behind only Zapatilla Beach in Panama. Overall, the beaches of Uruguay were amazing stretches of soft, white sand that squeaked when you walked, which, because of the time of year, we had almost entirely to ourselves. I’d definitely recommend spending time on Uruguay’s beautiful coast.

Foamy shores at Playa de la Viuda (Widow Beach), Uruguay

Foamy shores at Playa de la Viuda (Widow Beach), Uruguay

Lovely coastal vegetation

Lovely coastal vegetation

Don't know what it is but they were all over Playa de la Viuda in Punta del Diablo.

Don’t know what it is but they were all over Playa de la Viuda in Punta del Diablo.

A table out in the sea in Punta del Este.

A table out in the sea in Punta del Este.

Strange mermaid sculptures at the tip of the peninsula in Punta del Este.

Strange mermaid sculptures at the tip of the peninsula in Punta del Este.

 

Montevideo: Capital of Uruguay

To be honest, Montevideo is not as nice as we had imagined. The bus terminal on the other hand, was very nice. Tres Cruces Terminal was the most impressive bus terminal we have been to so far. It has everything; an electronic departure board similar to those found in airports, people constantly cleaning the bathrooms, ATMs, food court, a shopping mall, and there was even a supermarket. The buses turned out to be pretty nice too. In fact, most buses in Uruguay had free wifi. Minus the bus terminal and the Rambla however, the rest of the city we visited was not overly exciting.IMG_8209

Montevideo is situated on the coast near where the Rio de la Plata meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is possible to get there by ferry from Buenos Aires, but if you choose this option, make sure to book at least 2 weeks in advance for big discounts. We stayed in a nice hostel/B&B called Posada al Sur in the old section of the city, a 4 km walk from the bus station. IMG_8180
From the top of our hostel, we were able to look around at what looked like your average South American city. The coolest part of the view was seeing the coast and the Rambla, a boardwalk-type path along the entire coast in Uruguay’s capital with access to the beaches, the port, and the old city. We were surprised, however, to find a lack of really old buildings in the “ciudad vieja.”IMG_8205
We also stopped by the Mercado del Puerto, which is famous for its steak, but we decided that steaks were not in our backpacker’s budget, especially coming from cheaper Argentinian steaks. Instead we got a free sampling of medio medio, a delicious Uruguayan drink mixture of half white wine, half champagne, first created inside the Mercado del Puerto. Plaza Independencia, located at the end of the main street, was nice, but nothing spectacular.IMG_8189

We also thought it would be appropriate to visit Estadio Centenario where Uruguay beat Argentina in the first World Cup in 1930. IMG_8250DSC04949While inside the soccer (read: fútbol) stadium, which we basically had to ourselves, we noticed a sign to commemorate Uruguay’s first World Cup victory on July 18th, 1930: the same date that is the name of the capital’s main street. IMG_8236Normally, countries have named their capital’s most important street after a famous leader or date of independence, but here in Uruguay, it is named after the date they won a very important soccer match. This speaks to how a country of only 3 million people can rival its much larger and infamous soccer-playing giants to its north (Brazil) and south (Argentina). DSC04962Even though Montevideo was not our favorite city, we still thought it was worth visiting if only for a few days. There are a few cool things.

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Fuente de los Candados (Fountain of Locks)

Playa Pocitos

Playa Pocitos

Colonia del Sacramento

Our first stop in Uruguay was the small, historic gem of Colonia del Sacramento. In the three days we spent in town we never tired of simply wandering the cobbled streets, soaking in the charming atmosphere, and taking pictures of everything.

Upon arrival in Colonia, we welcomed ourselves to the country with a bottle of Uruguayan wine, which for us just wasn’t quite as good as Argentina’s wine (or as cheap). Then we meandered the old city down to the river front where we watched a yacht sail between us and the river island. On Easter Sunday, we went to the oldest church in Uruguay, and then spent the rest of the day sipping coffee, exploring more in the old neighborhood, and eventually venturing into the more “modern” area of the city.

Overall, even though we were in Colonia during Uruguay’s Tourism Week, the town still felt very laid back and relaxing. The old part of the city reminded us of a smaller Cartagena, Colombia, while we felt the rest of the town didn’t really offer too many other activities for the tourist. This being the case, we decided to leave on our third day for the capital city of Montevideo.

 

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