Just south of the border with Brazil, where stands of pine trees and grass-covered sand dunes meet the steely Atlantic, the village of Punta del Diablo has carved out its own unique place among Uruguayan beach towns. Its subtle charms, from excellent surfing and yoga to fresh, creative cuisine, have made it the ideal weekend retreat for Uruguayans, Brazilians, and Argentines alike. The town swells during the brief high season, but you can visit after the February rush to experience what the town is like at its best: a tranquil wilderness.
While it’s hard to go wrong with food or accommodations in this friendly surfing village, there are several places in town that go above and beyond. Here’s just a handful of ideas to get you started on planning your next long weekend on this lush, remote stretch of Atlantic coastline.
While one of the most appealing aspects of Punta del Diablo is its far-flung feel, it’s really only a few hours’ drive from Punta del Este, and less than an hour from Brazil. Many of the buses en route to Punta del Este continue on to Punta del Diablo, and there are plenty of options for bus or car transportation from Montevideo.
There’s never a shortage of places to stay — the number of permanent residents hovers around 500, but many beach houses and condos are ready to accommodate the thousands that swarm here during the high season. Much of the town’s architecture is a unique mix of modernism and more traditional local styles that hearken back to its origins as a remote fishing village. You’ll see some classic beach huts and rentals in bright hues, but there are also newer homes, many constructed on stilts, that break from convention. Their sleek lines and clean silhouettes contrast beautifully with green, verdant surroundings, making Punta del Diablo look more like a futurist oasis than an old village.
If you have time to book ahead, stay at Sangha Yoga B&B (you can reach them at email@example.com), one of the town’s best accommodations. This idyllic hideaway is hidden away in its own stand of fragrant pine trees on the edge of town, giving guests even more privacy and quiet. The owners built the modernist eco-house with the help of an architect neighbor, and it’s truly a unique space, full of light, natural materials, and mementos from the couple’s global travels. There are currently two rooms available, with another one in the works.
After you’re settled in, borrow a towel from your hosts and head down the dirt road to the beach. Punta del Diablo is packed with lovely beaches, and the largest one, very creatively named “Playa Grande,” is just a couple minutes’ walk from the bed & breakfast. If you’re hungry after traveling, veer right onto the main road towards town to pick up picnic supplies. Be sure to swing by the tempting churros stand near the ocean on your way back — you won’t regret it.
Soon, the dirt road fades into the sand, and you wind your way through a thin, brambly path (watch out for the large, black and white snakes called cruceiros in Uruguay and Brazil, or yararás in Argentina, that are occasionally seen around). Just follow the seawater-filled footsteps of earlier beach-goers until you push through the brush and finally glimpse the ocean. The beach is stunning, stretching far to the west in a long, dramatic curve that ends in jagged coastline. Trek to one of the diminutive beach shelters — hand-woven from driftwood, they look like tiny hobbit houses and add to the town’s quirky vibe. Enjoy the lapping waves and sun as long as you like.
As the late afternoon waters get chillier, rent bikes in town and explore Parque Nacional Santa Teresa, which rests just above Playa Pescadores and Playa Grande. The bewitching park has kilometers and kilometers of undulating dunes; as you bike along the unpaved road, you’ll catch glimpses of the wild Atlantic on one side, and stands of ancient trees rising up from sandy soil on the other side.
If you make a day of it, you can head northwest further into the park to Fort Santa Teresa, a pentagon-shaped Portuguese garrison that’s been around since Uruguay was still part of Portugal-controlled Brazil in 1762. The intrepid can even camp within the park (cabins are also available at its northern edge). For the rest of us, choose the dune with the best view and sit at the top. For the ideal Punta del Diablo sunset, bring along a bottle of Uruguay’s signature wine varietal — Tannat — to enjoy while the sun paints the clouds, sky, and water the same shade as the reddish-purple wine.
After the sun sets, return to the city center for dinner at Resto-Pub 70, a hole-in-the-wall Italian joint with the best pasta in town. Anything with seafood will be fresh and flavorful, never too heavy. Their handmade pasta is the real deal — the restaurant is owned by Italians who moved to Uruguay years ago.
As you head back to bed, follow the sound of the African drum circle somewhere in the forest. If you’re lucky, your hosts might invite you to join in.
You may have had a long day of travel and exploration yesterday, but it’s well worth it to wake up early and head to the beach in time for sunrise. It’s a rare treat having such a beautiful place all to yourself.
After sunrise, join your host, Daniela, for a free morning yoga class on the deck. Limber up for an active day as you breath in the crisp scent of pine and sea air. Don’t be surprised if pressure points and essential oils are involved during your final savasana: we know, this is a hippy town, but it’s pure bliss.
Following your sun salutations, savor a hearty (and, of course, organic) breakfast inside, including freshly-baked bread, jams, and smoothies. Grab your swim gear and go south to Playa Pescadores, the harbor beach in the very center of the town. The beach isn’t as large as Playa Grande, but the many colorful fishing boats dotting its sands make it an attractive spot. Its appeal is more than photogenic, though — approach one of the beach’s rickety shacks, perched on high stilts above the ground, to find a surfing instructor. You’ll find great value and accessible waves here, with lessons tailored to your skill set.
After riding (or…being repeatedly crushed by) the waves, grab empanadas at the outdoor market on the far side of Playa Pescadores. Just look for the covered stand with the longest line, order, and grab a table — they’re worth the wait. The outdoor market also offers slow-but-free public wifi, which could be considered a pro or con depending on your perspective (after all, this is a town where several establishments sport signs that say “We don’t have WiFi: Talk amongst yourselves”).
When you’ve gotten your empanada fix, you can buy some souvenirs, from powdery Uruguayan maté to wooden carvings, at the lively artisan market. Just past the market is the rocky outcrop — the literal “Punta del Diablo” from which the town got its name — that offers great views of the ocean, beach, and the village’s multi-hued buildings. At the end of the wind-battered point is, quite unexpectedly, an imposing bronze monument to Uruguayan independence hero José Artigas. The colonial grandeur of the statue contrasts starkly with a run-down old harbor building which has been transformed into an open gallery, teeming with weird, eye-catching graffiti on the peeling old walls.
Enjoy the sand and water as much as you’d like, heading south to Playa de la Viuda (Widow’s Beach) or north back to Playa Grande. By dinnertime, you’ll be starving after your day of yoga, surfing, and swimming. Near the beach, take a seat at the atmospheric, lantern-slung covered patio of Panes y Peces (Bread and Fish), a popular restaurant on the edge of town. As the name suggests, you should order their carb- and seafood-based specialties, many of which come with delicious local vegetables. The restaurant also features excellent cocktails, including a knockout caipirinha that will remind you that you’re just 40 kilometers south of Brazil.
Post-dinner imbibing can continue at any of the many pleasant, slight overpriced outdoor bars on the town’s main street. For those with a sweet tooth, plenty of ice cream shops stay open late to cater to the hippie revelers as well. Relax to the sounds of the waves, frequent live music, and the wind before you have to leave Punta del Diablo — at least until the next long weekend rolls around.