article from May 2, 2011
By Jamie Douglas
Much has been said and written about the famous beach resorts along Uruguay’s southern coastline, such as Atlántida, Piriápolis, Maldonado and Punta del Este, popular weekend getaway destinations for the inhabitants of the capital, Montevideo.
While holding sizeable populations year round, all these places get completely overrun by visitors from Argentina, Brazil, and Europe during the high season, which is in January and February, and again during the Easter holidays, or Semana de Tourismo, as it is known in Uruguay. If you desire is to see the smallest possible bikinis, then perhaps you should go there during the high season and share the beach with hundreds of your closest friends.
If, however, you are more inclined toward the more relaxed and solitary experience, I would like to introduce you to the concept of going to the beaches that wrap themselves around to the northeast of Punta Del Este where, in the off season, it is possible to walk for hours without encountering many signs of the immense seasonal presence of all those pesky fellow humans.
Route 10, which starts in Punta del Este, follows the Atlantic coastline almost all the way to the border with Brazil. After passing Punta José Ignacio, you enter an area where you will encounter a great variety of birds, and while walking along the beaches, you may encounter Magellanic penguins. In some places, there are also lobos del mar (sea lions) sunning themselves, while whales and dolphins may be playing just offshore.
Following Route 10, you will pass Laguna Garzon on the inland side of the road shortly before entering the department of Rocha, where the road temporarily dead ends at the Laguna de Rocha, a protected wildlife area that is a birdwatcher’s paradise offering many opportunities to take snapshots of all types of feathery foul year round. To get back on the main road, Ruta 9, you have to backtrack a few kilometers and aim for Rocha, a cute little city that serves as the provincial capital and merits a short visit. The central plaza is worth checking out for watching people as they wander under the big oil palms, eating ice cream. The upstairs balcony of the City Café, which serves good meals at very reasonable prices, makes for a great observation point.
But you want to get back to the beach, and leaving Rocha, the main road out of town takes you back to Route 9, where you make a left and go a couple of hundred meters until you get to the roundabout, where Route 16 will take you to the beach, and if you go out of season, you will end up in the lovely and quiet town of La Paloma.
The historic lighthouse is situated on the point of Cabo Santa María, where you can climb the stairs to the top to overlook the entire coastline, north to the next town of La Pedrera and south to the Laguna de Rocha. And of course you get a great view of the whole town of La Paloma, which was founded before the turn of the 20th century, and then in the 1920s and 30s was designed by one of the most prestigious architects of the time, with a wide boulevard running through the center of town that ends by the ocean a couple of blocks away from the Faro Cabo Santa María, the lighthouse. Cabo Santa María is not named after the Holy Mother, by the way, but rather after Columbus’s ship, the Santa María.
With all but a few of the shops and restaurants closed during the down time, La Paloma offers peace and quiet and many opportunities for beautiful walks on the beach. You are sure to make instant friends with several dogs, which you may assume are strays, but they are actually what I call, “cellphone dogs.” They are on roam! Latin American customs treat dogs differently than Europeans or North Americans do. They are often not allowed indoors, and as a result, they know the towns they live in better than their owners. For the most part, drivers are very careful to avoid hitting cats and dogs. We had several dogs in La Paloma that just adopted us and enjoyed the great indoors when it rained or was cold outside, and in return, provided us with great guard-dog services, which were rather redundant, as the area was very safe.
When you get your fill of La Paloma, just a couple of kilometers back toward Rocha, you can pick up Route 10 again and head on up the coast to other isolated beach towns such as La Pedrera, Cabo Polonio, Aguas Dulces, and several more, until you end up in Chuy, where the main street straddles the border between Uruguay and Brazil without any formalities to complete and the Uruguay side has several blocks worth of duty free stores.
All photos by Jamie Douglas and Julie Butler
I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.