Uruguay is a small country but with many popular destinations for tourists; tiny Colonia del Sacramento, hip Punta del Este, and quiet Cabo Polonio are just a few places to visit, and each has their own list of lovely things to see and do. Out of all the Uruguayan destinations, Punta del Diablo is the place to go if you want to live at a slower pace for a few days, get around by bike, read on the beach and walk by the waves at night.
Located about 100 miles north of the more upscale city of Punta del Este, Punta del Diablo is a small fishing village of 400 inhabitants for 9 months out the year, but swells to a whopping 25,000 inhabitants for the summer season. In spite of the influx of Uruguayan and Argentine tourists, as well as an increasing number of foreign backpackers, Punta del Diablo retains its small town charm year-round. If you’re looking to enjoy the beach weather and avoid the crowds, the beginning of December and the month of February are both great times to visit.
In addition to being a relaxing small town, Punta del Diablo is also undoubtedly beautiful. The strong currents from the Atlantic Ocean cause the waves to sweep dramatically onto its many beaches, and the sunsets make the colorful houses look like something out of a fairytale or the picturesque pages of a travel guidebook. Punta del Diablo is the kind of place to go and lie on the beach for a few days, get a monstrous sunburn (the Uruguayan sun is not to be trifled with), rest, and repeat. There are a variety of small bars and restaurants, both along the beach and a bit further inland, and there are many stores which sell homemade jewelry and colorful beach clothing that are pleasant to browse through even if you’re not buying.
Day Trips from Punta del Diablo
If you’re a restless soul not content with lounging around for days at a time, there are also a few day trips and activities available to relieve the wonderful monotony of tanning and eating empanadas; you have to try the empanadas de pescado (fish empanadas). Valizas is a fishing village an hour away by bus that is worth seeing for its dune-lined beaches and natural charm. If you truly want to get away from it all, visit Cabo Polonio, a nearby village without electricity or running water, which is an increasingly popular destination for hippies and backpackers.
One of the nicest daytime activities is bike riding around Punta Del Diablo. Many hostels and hotels offer bike rentals, even to non-guests. Or you can rent from BiciUruguay who will deliver a bike to wherever you are staying. Bike riding on the sand is no fun and not recommended, but there are several beaches that are too far to walk to and are accessible on smaller roads only by car or bike. Some of those beaches are much less crowded than the ones in town and are protected by wide rolling dunes, if you have time to leave town, they are worth the detour. There’s also sand boarding available for thrill seekers. If you decide to rent a bicycle, it is probably best to start your bike trip either early in the morning or later in the afternoon and avoid those midday hours where the sun is most punishing.
A great biking destination is the Parque Nacional Santa Teresa (Saint Teresa National Park), which covers 3,000 hectares. The park is crisscrossed with wonderful shady paths with few cars and offers access to some of the most beautiful beaches in the area. The national park is also home to the Fortaleza de Santa Teresa (Saint Teresa Fortress), which is worth visiting for the view from the top as much as the fortress’ architecture and museum. There are hills to reckon with in order to get there, but nothing a reasonably healthy person on a decent bike can’t handle. There are several routes you can choose from in the park, depending on how long a ride you want, whether you want to see the fortress, and which beaches you are interested in. Going to the Saint Teresa Fortress from town via one of the more scenic routes is a 10 to 15 mile journey round-trip, with some hills and rough stretches to contend with. For those of you looking for easier bike rides, there are many shorter itineraries and alternate paths available. Bike rental shops and hostels usually have maps of the park available for bike riders.
The Saint Teresa Fortress was originally planned by the Portuguese, but construction was halted in 1762 because of a war with Spain, who eventually took control of the region and finished the fortress in 1775. It fell into disrepair in the 1800s and was eventually renovated at the beginning of the 20th century. Since the 1940s the fortress has housed a museum and several exhibits explaining the fortress’ history. Once you’ve visited the Fortaleza de Santa Teresa, it’s time to bike over to the beach. There are many beaches on the coast of the park, and most of them are less crowded than the ones closest to town. There are very few houses nearby and only one road that leads to the beaches, which is accessible to both cars and bicycles. Playa Grande is protected from the road by immense sand dunes and puntas (rocky outcroppings) on either extremity, that separate one beach from the next. If your goal is to ride a bike to a less crowded beach than the ones found in town, Playa Grande is a great place to stop on the way back towards Punta del Diablo, and will not be as crowded as other beaches in the park, even during peak tourist season (at 6 p.m. we were the only people there).
There aren’t too many cars driving around in February, but the roads are sure to be more crowded during the peak tourist season of December and January. Stay on the right, use proper hand singles, and be generally aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re traveling with small children. Finally, make sure to arrive back into town before nightfall, as the roads in the National Park have no lights and can become treacherous after dark. Don’t forget to bring lots of water, sunglasses, sunscreen, your bathing suit, a towel, and snacks or a picnic lunch if you plan on stopping somewhere to eat. The entrance to the park is quite close to Punta del Diablo, but if you’re a slow rider or want to stop at the fortress or the beach, give yourself several hours to do so. Enjoy the bike ride!
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This story was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question before planning your trip.