Cabo Polonio, is a place made for backpackers, and one of many hidden gems within Uruguay. Imagine a small settlement or a Lost Tribe residing somewhere between two beaches, encircled by sizzling sand dunes and grizzly greenery, with only the sun and stars to provide evening light. It’s a place where no one else can move in, and with only a few permanent residents. Cabo Palomino is home to a truly unique hippie community, so if authentic backpacker experiences in South America is what you’re after, then Cabo Polonio is as good as it gets.
One would think such a place would be worlds away, tucked into the deep jungle; but in fact its fairly accessible. Situated along the Atlantic coast of Uruguay, with Montevideo to the west, and Punta Del Diablo to the east. Considering the close proximity of those cities, somehow, Cabo Polonio still feels like being on a different planet, or at minimum a totally different era.
Cabo Polonio was a place I hadn’t even heard of until about a week before I visited. That was the beauty of it; there was no expectation for me. I was told of a small beach village that had hardly any electricity or running water and that it was dotted with little camps, shelters and holiday cottages. You need to take a Rusta Del Sol bus to this now declared National Park where you pay for a 4×4 to take you through dirt roads and the surrounding bush to the village, or you can hike it, which should take no more than a couple of hours.
Where To Stay
I ended up staying in Del Cabo, as a fellow backpacker recommended that I go there. There was no booking online so I called and told a lady that I was coming. As I arrived, it was apparent that there was no real electricity available. The hostel was right on the beach, and had two stories. My room was in the attic, with a small door and four crammed-in beds. It was backpacker-like, all right. There are other hostels and places to stay which you can find online before you go. Cabo Polonio Hostel is known to be a good one, but make sure to call ahead before arrival to ensure you get a spot. If you show up and nothing is available – tough luck, you’re out on the beach!
The backpacker vibe was awesome, and one of the reasons why, was that no one was on their phones. WiFi wasn’t available here, so people here were ‘forced’ instead to drink a beer, talk, cook together and hit the waves. A world without glaring at our phones, imagine that? It’s crazy to think how reliant we are now on our smartphones. That’s what made it so real – we were all there in the moment.
Why Is This Place So Special?
Cabo Polonio has awesome waves on both sides of the town, and are possible to surf on if you are good enough. The sand dunes are spicy hot, but a marvel to plunder into or just to look at. The small markets are cute and colourful and attract you to the local culture. The dingy bars at night are crushed with people but ignite a mad vibe to the place. The ocean, lit up at night by the trillions of stars above, makes after-hours the perfect time to gather around and have a beer or a smoke. The sleepy sea lions that lie on the rocks during the day overlooking the lighthouse are great for a photo. These are the things that make this place something. Yet, the place is special for what it is. The reality of the place makes it unique on the backpacking radar. The lack of modern ways of living makes it feel special and somewhere different. You’ll feel that the moment you arrive.
My time here was just that. Whether it was chats by the beach, walks in the sand dunes, or buying goods from the markets, life was simple here. I met a great bunch of hedonistic backpackers from all over the world. A feminist from Argentina, engineers from Germany, surfers from Belgium – you name it. I think people come here for real freedom. Freedom away from the freedom. Places like Cabo Polonio rarely exist anymore, aside from a few adventurous souls, it seems the average tourist will rarely stumble across this jewel. Cabo Palomino isn’t new on the backpacker scene, but it has managed to keep its soul. For some, it may be the type of place you want to visit only once in your lifetime; but for me, this is the kind of place I can’t visit enough.