I felt at home the moment I landed in Uruguay. But I fell in love with Uruguay once I hit the beach towns on Uruguay’s coastline. There is something special about Uruguay beach towns. Miles of pristine untouched beaches, underdeveloped surf towns, shabby chic ocean front villages and more developed waterfront cities provide a wonderful and diverse mix of coastal communities to fall in love with along Uruguay’s Atlantic coastline.
So how do you decide which to visit? I recommend hitting them all. It’s not as difficult as it may sound. With approximately 400 miles of coastline, it is easy to rent a car, start in Montevideo and drive north on the 1B through towns like Cuidad de la Costa, Salinas and Atlantida. You will eventually hit 10 which follows the majority of the shoreline until the Brazil border. So while it is easy to hit them all over a stretch of a week or so, I have listed out my favorite beach towns that I recommend as must-sees while in Uruguay. I have listed them in order of proximity to Montevideo.
A short drive from Montevideo, Atlantida is the closest on my list to the capital. Atlantida has become a popular location for expats to retire due to it low housing costs, beaches and proximity to Montevideo. Some scenes from the movie Miami Vice were filmed in a small ocean front house here. Be sure to check out El Alguila, a building in the shape of an eagle’s head overlooking the Atlantic ocean or famous Chilean poet’s, Pablo Neruda’s house.
This small city has a great mix of it all. It is a little over an hour to the capital, Montevideo. With nice beaches, beautiful cerros with amazing views, there are plenty of activities to partake in as well, such as horseback riding, exploring, The Cross on Cerro Pan de Azucar, nearby estancias, a casino and all the conveniences of a modern city with less of the hustle.
3. Punta Ballena
Just a rocks throw from Punta del Este but a must see as it has become a famous tourist destination among locals and South American foreigners due to world famous painter, Carlos Paez Vilaro. Carlos has built an amazing structure, Casapueblo over several years that serves as his home, a studio, a gallery for his paintings and a resort. If you are not familiar with Vilaro or Casapueblo, I encourage you to research more about him and his work. The views from the Casapueblo are amazing and for a moment your mind will convince you that you are in Greece.
4. Punta del Este
Often referred to as the Miami of South America and rightfully so. Scenes from the movie Miami Vice were also filmed here as “Miami”. With several mid rise and high-rise condos on the peninsula, there is no shortage of condos in Punta del Este. This is “the spot” during the summer high season and the wealthy also flood this city during the summer months. It is rumored that famous people like Shakira own homes in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
5. Jose Ignacio
Just a short drive up the coast from Punta del Este, Jose Ignacio has become a shabby chic beach town for the wealthy that want to be near Punta del Este but don’t want the hustle of all the people during high season. Side Note: Real Estate in Jose Ignacio is pricey.
6. La Paloma
A much more modest beach town than Punta del Este, this is a great town for families to have a beach vacation with plenty of restaurants, hotels and cabanas. If considering Uruguay Beach Towns to make a permanent residence, this could potentially be a good option as well.
7. Cabo Polonio
Arguably, probably the most special on this list, Cabo Polonio is a small village with no paved roads leading into the village. You have to be driven in four wheel trucks if you do not have one yourself. Once in the village, you will find small souvenir shops, a few restaurants, a lighthouse and small bungalows scattering the land. The village and surrounding land has been rumored to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but sadly it is not. The majority of the structures in this village are without electricity and have water by well or rain collection.
8. Barra de Valizas
Another special place on this list, but the key is to visit at the right time. The town has seasonal sand dunes that build into massive mountains of sand that are truly a sight to see. I have been in March and experienced the dunes in their glory and returned in July to no dunes at all. I am not certain, but I believe the key is to go during Uruguay’s summer/fall seasons.
9. La Esmeralda
If you want to get away from it all, La Esmeralda is a great option. Also, a fantastic option for anybody looking for cheap beach land. It should probably still be considered a village and not yet a town or city. There are approximately 36 full time inhabitants in the village (yes – you read that correct), lots of land available, two “convenience stores”, a “pizza shop” and small houses scattered about. The roads are unpaved, many of them not cleared and no street lights. This is a great place to just get away. I once stayed here for a week with no phone, internet and Brazilian TV channels… it was amazing. I’m not sure I can recall I time I have ever felt more rested.
10. Punta del Diablo
Known as a hippy village, it is just a fun place to stop and do some shopping, take pictures and enjoy the beaches and ocean. If you are a hippy or a hippy wannabe – this is your place. You are also getting close to Brazil and the border town of Chuy which has duty free shopping, this is a big deal because the sales tax in Uruguay is anywhere from 14-22% at the time of this writing.
If your planning a trip to any of these Uruguay beach towns, the best advice I can give is don’t plan your trip. Just explore. There are hidden gems and experiences around every corner and enjoy it while it is as it is. It is destined to grow and become more known but for now, I will enjoy it as is and I love the unique and distinctive traits that each of these Uruguay beach towns have to offer. Now… stop reading an GO!