A few weeks ago I went to the famous Cabo Polonio in Uruguay, an off-the-grid town. It’s not connected to the water or electrical system, supposedly. The lighthouse at the tip of the cape is connected, somehow. Anyway, that’s some stuff I read on Wikipedia before going there myself. An unusual level of preparation for me! Before a Lonely Planet author discovered it, this village got no attention whatsoever. I get all skeptical when it comes to places like that. Overrated or not, I’d have to go there to find out myself.
I was stationed in La Pedrera at the time, some 40 kilometers from Cabo Polonio. I used an old hitchhiking sign I got to get from Punta del Este to La Pedrera a few weeks before. One side said “Pedrera” and the other side said “Polonio”. Should be easy enough!
On a sunny Saturday I caught a ride in one hour on the main road. The Ruta 10 isn’t exactly the center of the universe. In fact, it’s supposed to be busier on sunny weekend days. My day pack contained about two liters of water (since I’m not going to get any over there), food, a bottle of sun cream and a torch, just in case I wouldn’t make it back in the evening.
Miguel drove me to the entrance of the park. He works for Automattic, the company behind WordPress and apparently another bunch of things I’m using! Small world, hah? I told him I run a hitchhiking blog on WordPress and I’m trying to learn code – somewhat – myself. Miguel doesn’t have an office: all he needs is a stable internet connection and electricity to do his job. Sounds familiar to me.
He dropped me off at the entrance. Cabo Polonio is a national park, sort of. It’s a giant parking lot some 7 kilometers from the town itself. This is where people have to drop their cars and take the 4WD truck into town. There’s heavy regulation on who can drive there and who can’t. Also, you can’t just drive the tracks with a Fiat Panda or any vehicle that doesn’t have the height to the ground and the 4×4 power.
The monster vehicle trip cost 200 Uruguayan pesos return trip, so I decided to hike all the way there. Besides, I had the energy to pull that off and my backpack was light. I looked on my GPS map, decided on a trail to follow, and started the hike. When passing a checkpoint for vehicles, I hoped there wouldn’t be a secret entry fee or something like that. I just walked past like I’d done it many times before.
After the checkpoint, the road turned into this sandy mess. My shoes filled themselves with sand as I walked onward. There was a giant storm in the coastal region of Rocha just a few days before. A few puddles of water, from insignificant to giant, occupied the trail. One of them was big enough for me to grab my tablet to take a different track, where the trucks don’t pass.
It’s a gorgeous hike through the forest, before the dunes start and the coast appears. Eventually, I saw the lighthouse of Cabo Polonio and the little buildings dotting the cape. Blue skies, waves hugging the shore: worth it! Half an hour later I walked the final stretch barefoot over the beach before finally entering town. From up close, there’s a bunch of picturesque houses made of different materials; some of high quality, some structures won’t survive the next storm. I put back on my boots to walk through town. I’ve been to about eight lighthouses in Uruguay during my three months’ stay, but only here I paid the 25 pesos to go up. It’s breathtaking!
From up there, you can see the sea lions playing in the water, both beaches surrounding the cape, the dunes, a bunch of randomly placed horses and tiny people kitesurfing. I took some photos to get my money’s worth and descended the winding stairs. Once back on the ground, I hiked towards the artisinal area. That’s where I saw the largest group of backpackers I’ve seen in entire Uruguay – where have they been all this time? – and many people waiting to take the 4×4 back. I walked to the north beach to chill a little. Someone was receiving a kitesurfing lesson and they were struggling with the multitasking it takes to keep a kite up while remaining vertical.
I looked at the height of the sun and decided to take that truck back, nervous I woudn’t manage to hitchhike back to La Pedrera on time if I had to hike another two hours to the main road. The ride took 20 minutes. I was one of the first people out of the vehicle, so I might catch a ride with one of my fellow tourists. Taking the truck was a good guess, because it took me nearly an hour before I caught a ride.
A car that had previously passed me by had turned around to pick me up. Three Montevidean students – Juan, Natalia and Soledad – were doing a weekend trip along Rocha’s coast and were driving back to nearby La Paloma. Having a travel blog was very interesting and Natalia gave me her phone to type it in. They were very curious about my experience of hitchhiking in Uruguay. I got dropped off at the crossing and kissed them goodbye.
When I got back to La Pedrera, I noticed I had a red face from spending a day in the sun doing physical activity. Crap, my sun cream touch-ups weren’t good enough apparently! All in all, it was a pretty epic day. Do I wish I had stayed longer? Yes, but another storm was coming and I had nine days to leave Uruguay. And Cabo Polonio? Not overrated when you’re there in the low season on a beautiful day. Lonely Planet coverage doesn’t kill all destinations. Now let’s hope blogging about it won’t be the end of it either.
Remember to always apply and re-apply sun cream when you’re out in the sun with no shadow nowhere for a long time. I couldn’t fucking walk the next day as my legs were badly burnt. Anyway, liked this article? Wanna bring Uruguay to people’s attention? Have you been to Cabo Polonio yourself? Let me know in the comment section and share it in your social circle! I love you too.
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