We had the most amazing time last weekend exploring the eastern coast of Uruguay. On Friday evening, we rented a car from Thrifty. When considering the name, ironically, it was the most expensive portion of our road trip. Vital, though, as you can't really have a road trip without a car. It was a Hundai Sonata-type which was new, but without some of the features that I would consider standard- like airbags. Eeeek! It did have a great Pioneer stereo system, though…
We took off early on Saturday morning. Our daughter was thrilled to get the chance to sit in her car seat, so luckily we had a very eager traveler (She doesn’t get much of a chance to ride in her car seat here in UY since we have no car.) After a quick stop at Montevideo Shopping’s McDonalds to get coffee and medialunas, we were on the open road
Without a set plan, but a few key places we wanted to see, we drove east along la Rambla to find where it would take us. Saturday was a beautiful, sunny morning and we felt a great sense of adventure for what was our first tip into rural Uruguay since August.
La Rambla turned into Route 1, which brought us to Atlántida and we couldn’t pass it by without at least driving though. What a sweet little beach town, and only about 30 minutes from Montevideo! It was obvious to me why this relaxed but upper-end town is a popular vacation spot for both Montevideo-ans as well as Argentines. It was well groomed, cute houses and hotels, a nice mix of city and beach amenities and beautiful sandy beaches with rolling dunes.
We continued to drive for as long as we could along the coast while dodging dunes that had blown into the road. It was becoming more rural as we drove and a we had a fantastic peek into these beach towns at the very end of summer, while the weather was still warm, but the crowds had already gone back home.
The road eventually brought us back to Highway 9, just outside or Pan de Azucar. We’d been to nearby Piriápolis twice, so we decided to stay on 9 and keep driving past Piriápolis.
Next on our list of things to do was a visit to a very under-appreciated beach with a unique claim to fame in UY, called Playa Chihuahua. More on that in a later post.
Since we were on the road to Punta del Este, and we were craving Thai food, we drove into town to see what we could find. Our wireless modem was giving us a few options for food, so we drove but unfortunately found nothing. Punta was still surprisingly busy and was slow driving through the main shopping streets. I can’t imagine what it is like in January!
Back to the ocean drive, this time on Route 10 to La Barra. I thought la Barra was a very cute little town, with a bit of the glitz and glamour of the upscale shops of Punta, with a beachy, small town feel. It reminded me a lot of Santa Barbara and Montecito, CA.
Still driving and getting increasingly more hungry, we decided to stop for a late lunch in Jose Ignacio. This was a very beach oriented city with very few restaurants or services. A beautiful setting, as the whole town in on a hill away from the coast, it felt like the type of place you went to escape and be at the beach… with very few interruptions. But Jose Ignacio still had some inklings of Punta del Este, and not nearly as bohemian as day 2 of our adventures.
We found a good-sized restaurant that was open at 3 in the afternoon and had a great combination of a Waldorf Salad (Brad) an Chicken sandwich (me) and milk/random condiments for our two-year-old. Being very much a toddler, she decided that she didn’t want what we ordered for her so she ate the ketchup and mayonnaise. The kid likes condiments.
On the road again with full bellies and somewhat happy to be leaving the beaten path a bit, we drove on. We detoured into Rocha and after an initially poor view of the cemetery coming into town, we found a few cute tree-lined squares, beautiful cobble stone streets and some charming traditional Spanish-colonial architecture. We decided to press on and spend the night in la Paloma.
We stayed at a nearly empty hotel in La Paloma called Hotel Trocadero. The hotel was nothing special but comfortable, two blocks from the beach and for UY$900/night, including breakfast, we couldn't complain. La Paloma is on a peninsula, so it’s very easy to find beach there. Also due to its location, it has some AMAZING sunsets over the water. We just can’t get that in Montevideo, at least not on our side of the city where the sun slips behind the buildings and you can never see it hit water.
After getting ice cream, and before dinner, we walked down Av. N. Solari, which is the main road in La Paloma, directly to the rocky beach to see the sun go down. There were others gathered, standing, in lawn chairs and even in their cars on the hills. We found a place to sit on a rock outcropping facing directly west with an excellent assortment of shells at our feet. The sunset was an incredible display of red and orange and was worthy of applause by our fellow viewers when it finally slipped below the horizon.
The sunset was definitely the high point of our visit to La Paloma. After a disappointing seafood dinner and some window shopping ("What? That skirt is UY$ 2200??"), we returned to the modest hotel to get some sleep.
The next morning, we ate a beautiful, albeit bready, breakfast at the hotel, took a quick walk on Bahia Chica, the beach on the eastern side of the peninsula and packed the car for another day of adventure….
More to follow about day 2 in Cabo Polonio and Punta Del Diablo, along with our day 1 adventure at Playa Chihuahua.