In the pretty rural department of Rocha, on a small peninsula 225km east of Montevideo, the seaside town of La Paloma is rather bland and sprawling, but it has attractive sandy beaches and some of Uruguay's best surfing. On summer weekends the town often hosts free concerts on the beach, making accommodations bookings essential.
Punta del Diablo
Once a sleepy fishing village, Punta del Diablo has long since become a prime summer getaway for Uruguayans and Argentines, and the epicenter of Uruguay’s backpacker beach scene. Waves of seemingly uncontrolled development have pushed further inland and along the coast in recent years, but the stunning shoreline and laid-back lifestyle still exert their age-old appeal.
North of town is Castillo de Piria, Francisco Piria’s opulent former residence. At the time of research the upper floor was closed for renovations, but the ground floor, with Spanish-language displays on the history of Piriápolis, remained open to the public. About 1km further inland, hikers can climb Uruguay’s fourth-highest ‘peak,’ Cerro Pan de Azúcar (389m).
Maldonado used to be the place to stay if you wanted to avoid the outrageous prices in nearby Punta del Este. But then the Maldonado hoteliers cottoned on and jacked up all their prices. There are a couple of interesting museums in town, but Punta’s burgeoning hostel scene makes it a much better budget choice these days.
Northeast of La Paloma at Km264.5 on Ruta 10 lies the turnoff to Cabo Polonio, one of Uruguay’s wildest areas and home to its second-biggest sea-lion colony, near a tiny fishing village nestled in sand dunes on a windswept point crowned by a lonely lighthouse. In 2009 the region was declared a national park, under the protective jurisdiction of Uruguay’s SNAP program.
Long a mecca for surfers, laid-back La Pedrera sits atop a bluff with magnificent sweeping views of the beaches stretching north toward Cabo Polonio and south toward La Paloma. In recent years, the town has also become famous for its Carnaval, which has grown increasingly raucous with the influx of out-of-town visitors.
Parque Nacional Santa Teresa
This national park, 35km south of the Brazilian border, is administered by the army and attracts many Uruguayan and Brazilian visitors to its relatively uncrowded beaches. It offers 2000 dispersed camp sites (per person UR$100 to UR$150) in eucalyptus and pine groves, a very small zoo and a plant conservatory.