My Journey to Cabo Polonio: A Magical Place Off the Grid
Voted as one of the best beach towns in the World for 2012, Cabo Polonio might not be here in 2013 if the Uruguayan Government has anything to do with it.
Cabo Polonio was founded by fisherman, hippies and squatters (now locals) and is located about 5 hours by bus outside of Montevideo, Uruguay. Many of the houses were built illegally and expanded illegally, adding a wall over a few months time, then 6 months later adding a roof, then adding another wall. Park Rangers actively tear down new improvements as they see them come up.
Now is the time to visit since the government is trying to demolish many of the houses and let big business come in and put up a resort.
A friend and co-worker sent me an article from a magazine that talked about Cabo Polonio being the best beach town in the World. Without that article, I’m not sure I would have visited Cabo or even know about it. Thanks, Doug!
I started asking friends in Montevideo how to get to Cabo Polonio and here are the two sets of directions that I received:
The first set of directions are:
- Jump on a bus going out there
- Get off at the stop near Cabo Polonio (Cabo for short)
- Find a truck that will take you to Cabo
- Pay them 100 pesos (about 5 US dollars) to take me to Cabo
- Ask locals for the place I’m staying at and they will know since it’s small.
I had a friend who knows someone who owns a house in Cabo and helped me get in touch with her to stay at her place.
The second set of directions are:
- Go to Punta del Diablo.
- Walk four hours through the dunes to Cabo Polonio.
- Ask for a hostel there.
Yeah, I wasn’t about to do that my first time there.
I decided to go with the first set of directions.
My worries about going to Cabo:
- I was going by myself and didn’t speak much Spanish. I wasn’t confident I could communicate with people if I needed to.
- I didn’t know where to get off the bus
- I didn’t know how to find a truck to take me to cabo
- Once in Cabo, I didn’t know how to get to the place I was staying
- I had no clue how to deal with eating food or what to do
Other than those things, I was looking forward to having a great adventure.
Getting to Cabo Polonio
Cabo Polonio is past Punta del Este which is like the Hamptons of South America, past the small surfing villages of La Paloma and La Pedrera, and past the cement, cobblestone and dirt roads. The journey starts by taking a bus from Montevideo or a car to where the dirt road ends. If you take a car, you have to leave it about 30 minutes away from Cabo Polonio.
You have to jump in a giant truck for the 30 minute journey through a national park, over and around sand dunes, along large stretches of beach with waves crashing on the large tires of the truck.
Say goodbye to the city, electricity, running water, and hello to nature and a village off the grid with less than 100 inhabitants.
The trucks are almost monster trucks built to transport army personnel. I jumped on a truck with a large tarp over the back to keep dry from the rain. There were holes in the tarp and the back of it didn’t cover the whole seating area so me and the 5 other people that arrived when I did got wet. The ride took about 30 minutes.
I made it to the place I was staying. All my clothes were soaked, especially my shoes and socks from stepping in big puddles of water and getting rained on.
It was one of the largest houses in the village. It was built and recycled glass bottles randomly placed throughout the wall as a way for light to shine through.
We had fun conversations mixing the little spanish I could talk and the little english they could talk. The lady I was staying with had a boyfriend who was the local surf instructor. He had surfed all over the world including California, Alaska, Hawaii, and Australia. We listened to Sublime and Jack Johnson while we played scrabble in spanish. I lost. I got lucky with a few words, but it was pretty difficult for me to play in a new language.
As I looked out the window the next morning, I noticed a completely different day. There was a bright blue sky, a couple white clouds creating a picture-perfect background for the light blue water crashing on the long stretch of beach.
Here’s the view from the side of the house. You can see the well for water.
Many of the little restaurants in the town were closed. The village seemed deserted at times.Because of the time of year, not many people were living there and there weren’t many visitors. I felt like I had the whole beach to myself.
I was able to get away from it all and enjoy nature. No cell phone, no computer, no electronics. There were 2 LEDs in the room I was staying in that were powered by solar power if I needed them at night.
The house had a large tank of water above it so we could shower. There was a propane tank with a burner to heat the water as it goes through a pipe to have warm water. To get warm water, we had to turn the water on, open the gas line, light it, then shower with a little warmer water than normal.
Besides the room I stayed in, most everything seemed to be lit by candle light at night. There were large plastic water jugs recycled with sand in them where you would place a candle and light it.
I met an awesome couple from the Netherlands and enjoying talking with them one night at the hostel they stayed at.
The nights in Cabo Polonio were amazing. After talking with a couple people who had hiked Patagonia and have been traveling for 1-year in South America. They said the night in Cabo Polonio was the best night they had seen anywhere.
I’ve never seen so many stars in the sky along with a gray-ish band of stars that was the Milky Way. It was incredible.
It put me at home when I used to go up to our cabin in the Mountains away from everything. If I were to have one place in the world that I absolutely loved, it would be at our land in the mountains under the stars next to a friends and family and a warm fire with S’mores in hand. Cabo Polonio reminded me of that place and gave me chill bumps when looking up and admiring the sky.
One night, I laid down for around an hour outside looking up at the stars letting thoughts pass through my mind and feeling completely relaxed.
I’ve tried describing the stars in the sky and how it looked in Cabo Polonio to people, but then everyone says, “Ohh, come out to the mountains,” or “Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of stars in the sky outside of the city.”
I’ve seen those skies though. They aren’t the same. The closest picture I could find online was from a picture on earthsky.org here
There were no clouds in the sky and there was a light from a lighthouse passing by every 12 seconds in the distance. When walking around at night, I would walk a few steps, then wait for the lighthouse to shine around so I could see where to walk, then walk further and wait. It definitely kept me from falling down a 10ft sand dune into a large puddle.
At night, sea lions often join together in groups on the rocks around the lighthouse and you can hear them in the distance. I’d like to think they are telling knock-knock jokes all night to each other.
The weekend-long trip was just long enough to enjoy getting away from it all. Here are some more pictures from the village.
Fun Fact about Cabo Polonio:
In 2011, there were 95 inhabitants but over 1,000 visitors in the summer months alone. There were so many people illegally camping in the National Forest area around Cabo Polonio this past summer, government officials would go around and kick people out an take tents. This led local hostel owners and house owners in Cabo to be able to charge up to $500 US Dollars per night to rent out a room/house (most houses are 1-2 rooms and a kitchen) because of the demand.