For remote relaxation: Cabo Polonio
Without roads or electricity, and with a population of about eighty, Cabo Polonio is the place to go for a proper escape from civilization. The Cabo Polonio experience begins with the journey – whether you pay someone with a rowing boat to take you there, ride a horse along the beach, hike for 7km over the rolling dunes or hop in a 4X4 from the national park entrance.
There are only a few rustic places to stay here (the Cabo Polonio Hostel boasts a pedal-powered washing machine) and some tin-roofed restaurants fire up the asado during the summer. Don’t expect anything to “do” in Cabo Polonio, other than lie in a hammock, drink beer, and pay a visit to the talkative sea lions who hang out near the 120-year-old lighthouse. The hardest decision you’ll make is whether you should ever leave.
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For chilled out chic: La Pedrera
About a hundred years ago, the Arrarte family built a beach hut on this peaceful stretch of coast – comprising two sandy beaches separated by a rocky headland – and a few of their friends followed suit. Today, this is one of Uruguay’s emerging chic holiday towns, which some compare to what Jose Ignacio was like before it became popular among the holidaying millionaire set.
Expect a gorgeous, wave-lapped beach (with a black, rusted shipwreck – Cathay VIII – on the western side), dusty lanes criss-crossing the town and a few ramshackled bars and restaurants serving fresh grilled seafood.
For something special, Pueblo Barrancas has lovely cabañas-on-stilts, dotted around a sloping forest just off the beach; it may be 2km west of town, but the moonlit walk home along the beach is unforgettable.
For night owls: Punta del Este
If you know somebody who has travelled to Uruguay and likes to party, there’s a fair chance they made a beeline for Punta del Este. Situated on a narrow peninsula, the town nicknamed the “Miami of South America” is the stark opposite of Uruguay’s laidback persona – high-rise, brash and expensive.
But for all its sins, Punta del Este has some of Uruguay’s best beaches and offers the most raucous night out in the country. Wide, sandy Playa Mansa is a prime sunbathing spot lapped by gentle waves, while choppier Playa Brava is worth a visit to check out (and be photographed beside) the famous Hand in the Sand sculpture.
In the evening, seasoned revellers will make for the club hubs of La Barra to the east or Punta Ballena to the west.
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For glitz and glamour: Jose Ignacio
Equally as chic as neighbouring Punta del Este, only without the behemoth tower blocks that line the beach there, Jose Ignacio has recently transformed from a humble fishing village to become one of the most fashionable holidaying destinations in Latin America.
In the summer months you’ll be sunbathing on the sandy beach alongside bronzed millionaires, supermodels and celebrities – and you’ll pay for the privilege to stay in one of the elegant guesthouses or the futuristic, waterfront Vik Hotel.
Still, the village retains hints of its old charm and is a good option for a day trip, if you can find a parking spot alongside the sports cars.