The big trip

Uruguay’s bohemian beach towns

Continue up the Atlantic coast towards Brazil and you’ll find some wild and ‘spectacular’ charms

Many visitors to Uruguay get no further from the capital, Montevideo, than the nearby resorts of Punta del Este and José Ignacio. Yet continue up the Atlantic coast towards the Brazilian border, and you’ll find some of this small South American country’s wilder and more bohemian charms, said Hugh Thomson in the FT.

Its northern reaches once lay on the “lawless” frontier of the Spanish and Portuguese empires, and some of the coastal settlements there were founded by pirates. Inland, gaucho culture remains strong: Jorge Luis Borges thought it was more “authentic” here than in Argentina, having seen a man shot at the table next to him during a visit in 1934.

On the southeast coast lies the “low-key” fishing village of Punta del Diablo, or Devil’s Point, “the sort of place where you can drink a cold beer and eat shrimp empanadas on the quayside after walking along empty beaches”. It also has an “outstandingly good” restaurant, Panes y Peces – “Bread and Fish” – where you can eat for a fraction of the price of equivalent gourmet restaurants in the south of the country. And the dunes next to it are so wild and “spectacular” that you needn’t venture far to feel as if you’re in a desert.

Still more secluded is Cabo Polonio, down the coast, a small community at the tip of a peninsula that’s home to a colony of sea lions. Cars are banned – you have to park and take a shared four-wheel-drive through the dunes to get there (look out for lapwings and nesting owls along the way). The settlement itself is “ramshackle”, with driftwood cabanas and so many “eccentric eco-structures” that it looks in parts “like a rest-home for Mad Max extras”. But it has “tremendous charm”, and an “attractive” hotel, La Perla, with an excellent seafood restaurant and a cellar stocked with good local wines. 

Specialist tour operators include Plan South America (plansouthamerica.com) and Journey Latin America (journeylatinamerica.co.uk).

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