The secret playground of South America

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Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Away from Punta del Este

Punta del Este is the typical beach holiday in Uruguay. But it’s not the best.

Here, the sands stretch for kilometres. Waves crash onto the shore, filling the air with thunder and the smell of salt. Birds fly overhead while fish leap from the water. The sun rises in the sky, the rays embraced by the coastline and caught by the crests of the ocean.

The beach is ready. The only thing missing is the people.

You see, it’s December in Uruguay and it’s still a week or two until the crowds descend.

Uruguay beaches from Punta Del Este

Welcome to the summer playground of the South Americans. This is their secret indulgence… their escape from the heat of the cities. And they don’t want you to know about it!

The coastline of Uruguay, stretching from near the capital, Montevideo, all the way to the Brazilian border has some of the nicest beaches on the continent.

The big popular one is Punta del Este. But most of them aren’t heavily developed and most of them don’t have huge hordes of Western tourists.

This is part of the charm.

Uruguay beaches from Punta Del Este
Uruguay beaches from Punta Del Este

The city of Punta De Este could be Miami, the Gold Coast, or Ibiza. Outside of this hub, though, the coastal communities remain just that, communities.

Accommodation is limited to small guesthouses, bungalows on the sand, hostels, and apartments for rent. These are often booked months in advance, and that adds to the mood of exclusivity.

Uruguay beaches from Punta Del Este
Uruguay beaches from Punta Del Este

Best beaches in Uruguay

Some of the more relaxed and alternative villages, like La Pedrera, don’t even have paved roads or an ATM. They are a haven from the daily lives of its summer visitors.

Cabo Polonia doesn’t even have a road into the town – you have to stop on the outskirts and catch a truck in.

And in nearby Punta Del Diablo, the village consists almost entirely of small cabanas – all with a constant reminder of the coastal residence as the wind, the sand and the salt blow through each day.

Uruguay beaches from Punta Del Este

The communities do prepare for the summer influx with new restaurants and bars but even now, with just days until the official season begins, many are still being built in the dirt streets or on the edge of the beaches.

In general, the beaches themselves have resisted the natural inclination of humans to develop waterfronts. Water turns to sand, which becomes grasslands and then sky finishes the landscape.

When dead animals like seals and dolphins are washed ashore, they stay where they land, as part of the environment. Ships wrecked upon the shore are also untouched, left for the rust to devour.

Uruguay beaches from Punta Del Este
Uruguay beaches from Punta Del Este

If the South Americans (and by that I mean mostly the Uruguayans, Argentines and Brazilians) had their way, everything along this coastline would be left untouched by everyone except them.

That’s not to say they are resentful of foreign tourists who visit – in fact, they seem very proud that we are acknowledging how beautiful the area is.

It’s just that they don’t want the place to be overrun by those who might then make it harder for them to enjoy their paradise.

Uruguay beaches from Punta Del Este
Uruguay beaches from Punta Del Este

Well, I’m sorry, guys. The cat is now well and truly out of the bag.

Uruguay is not typically on the top of the list for tourists visiting South America. But it should be.

I am declaring Uruguay – and in particular it’s eastern coastline – one of my top travel destinations for 2012. Get yourself there before everyone else does!

14 thoughts on “The secret playground of South America”

    • Thanks Dan! I assume you’re joking (about the booking, not about me being a handsome devil) but you should really consider it anytime you’re in South America! So beautiful!!

  1. Looks like a great place. It is always nice to get to places before they become too commercialized. You really get a feel of the area and people instead of cheap souvenirs and a McDonalds on every street.

  2. You know what if that land will be developed into a tourist destination with all the beach resort and stuff, for sure it will become a beautiful tourist spot worth visiting. I’m visualizing it right now and I can see its potential to become like any other popular beaches.

  3. I will be traveling from Rio de Janeiro south to Argentina and want to stop through Paraguay and Uruguay but it really is hard to find a lot of recommendations because they don’t seem to be popular stops. Thanks for this post I may just have to do some more digging on the coasts of Uruguay.

    • If you have a look through my Paraguay posts you’ll see lots of things to do. The only main area I didn’t check out was the Chaco – but that’s a bit trickier to get to. With Uruguay, I only went along the coastline. You’ll love the beaches like Punto del Diablo, If you’re feeling adventurous you could head inland and do some things with the gauchos as well. Montevideo and Colonia are worth visiting too (probably only for a day each though).


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