Uruguay isn't known for big attractions like its more frequented neighbours. 'Uruguay Natural' is the country's national tourism slogan, highlighting its natural assets. For this reason, in summer hundreds flock from Montevideo to the coast to discover 'Uruguay Natural'.
While most sea seekers head to trendy Punta del Este in a crowded mass there is another coastal hideaway, much overlooked, but perfect for those wanting a bit of adventure or seeking a quieter escape – Valizas.
A four-hour bus ride from Montevideo (from Tres Cruces station) on La Rocha Coast, Valizas is often left off the tourists maps, which in most cases is a good way to discover something off-the-beaten-track. Valizas is also a gateway into Cabo Polonio. Cabo Polonio, a town on the Rocha coast with approximately only five hundred inhabitants, has no roads in or out. That's what makes up half of its appeal. The other half comes from its charming village of coloured wooden cabins, situated right on the beachfront. To get here most tourists either walk the seven kilometres from the drop-off point on the highway, or hitch a ride with a local four wheel drive.
Valizas, accessible by bus from Montevideo, is a small fishing village with very little electricity and few roads. There are no street maps, but you don't need them. For such a remote destination, there are surprisingly quite a few hostels. We stayed in a little hostel called Lucky Valizas, and were greeted by Luciana, her two year old son, a local fisherman, a log fire, a cup of tea and some flamenco music playing in the background to add to the ambience.
If you're looking for something a little more private however, locals rent out their spare houses and cabins to tourists from around 500 pesos (around $25) a night. Depending on your level of Spanish, all you have to do is approach anyone on the street and if they don't have a house to rent, they know who does.
Valizas doesn't have much to offer in terms of activities in winter, but in summer apparently it's a completely different place. Regional locals come here for the beach and a quiet fishing spot. Other locals use it as a base to and from Cabo Polonio. If the tide is in, a local fellow called Miguel charges 120 pesos for a boat ride over to the sand dunes. From there it's an easy two hours walk across the dunes and along the coast.
For such a small and inaccessible place, Cabo Polonio has a hearty tourism reputation. You'd think that such a location would have a hearty fishing industry, but as one local chap told us, most of the locals here are engaged in tourism. Such is the reason he charged us double the price of water elsewhere, from his tiny kiosk. For a small beachside town with no roads in, one is inclined to wonder if tourism is a sustainable industry here, but tourism is how this town thrives. In winter, when tourism is scant, local merchants need to and do charge any price they like for goods and accommodation. Provisions like food and water are scarce and have to be brought in from nearby Castillos.
Even in winter Cabo Polonio and its nature reserve is worth the 2-hour walk to get here. On a clear day you can see sea lions frolicking in the waves of the Atlantic. In the afternoon, cows come out (of where, is anyone's guess) to graze on the grassy knolls woven amongst the golden dunes. Perfect for a weekend trip to forget the hustle and bustle of the big city.