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Valizas
Barra de Valizas had me at first sight, with the night sky. We arrived after dark, picking through an overgrown path lighted by our phones, trying to tune out the deafening cacophony of invisible wildlife, and looking at our feet to keep from tripping on tree roots…when I spotted a glint from the corner of my eye. I looked up and caught my breath. A twinkling dome surrounded me as I spun around, amazed, the circular horizon as ablaze as the opaque Milky Way straight up. There’s Orion and the Southern Cross! Our constellation app revealed the wonders we saw with naked eye, and those we didn’t see—the familiar Big Dipper hidden from view, above the equator in our home hemisphere. A new moon that night made the glittery pageant all the more spectacular. Finally, up ahead, our Airbnb Casita, now lit with the stars.

Waking up the next morning I knew the deal was sealed…with the dunes and the hobbit houses sprinkled among them. Having come directly from winter, it was bliss to be smack dab in summer time. And, from what I could tell, transported from 2019 back to the 1970s hippie culture of my college days in Boulder. I wasn’t only blinking in the blinding sun and bright blue sky but also at the psychedelic VW vans painted in flower power colors, with weed wafting in the wind. (Uruguay legalized the cultivation of cannabis in 2014 and in 2017 it became the first country in the world where selling pot is legal…except to foreigners.)

Before heading to the beach, we explored the small town of Valizas, stopping in Agua na Boca (‘mouthwatering’ in Portuguese, in deference to the many Brasileños who visit) for ‘café cortado’ (half milk, half coffee) and a pastry. The town gives ‘laid back’ new meaning…a main sandy street lined with restaurants and an open bazaar at night where shopkeepers do not market their wares aggressively. We browsed the handmade glazed earrings and leather belts while munching a before-dinner snack of delicious bratwurst hot off the sizzling grill in front of the stalls. ‘Todo tranquilo.’ This entire place is a stress-free zone.

More magic of Valizas washes over you at the beach. The landscape is a marvel of sugary sand and gentle dunes, (with the occasional surprise of a thatched rooftop poking up between the sandy mounds) giving way to an immense pristine ‘playa’ stretching to the water’s edge.

Salt water and fresh water—from the lazy river meandering across the beach and flowing into the sea—combine for a gentle swim. The best restaurant in town is La Proa, on the beach. Come in from the sun for a snack of buñuelos (fried seaweed balls) and fries, and quench your thirst with a Patagonia Lager. Dinner is fresh fish caught daily, and there’s WIFI to get caught yourself.

For a totally immersive language and cultural experience in Valizas, stay at the unimaginable Lo De Ro on Calle Lo de Narolo, a luxurious hostel with glamping available on the grounds, fabulous breakfasts, horseback riding tours through the dunes, massages and other wellness activities, and delightful guests from around the world, (primarily Germans, French, Brazilians, and Argentines) minus any trace of Americans.

For a totally immersive language and cultural experience in Valizas, stay at the unimaginable Lo De Ro on Calle Lo de Narolo, a luxurious hostel with glamping available on the grounds, fabulous breakfasts, horseback riding tours through the dunes, massages and other wellness activities, and delightful guests from around the world, (primarily Germans, French, Brazilians, and Argentines) minus any trace of Americans.

Embark on a daylong, mind-blowing adventure by taking a $2 boat-ride across the river and hiking roughly five miles through the spectacular dunes of Cabo Polonio National Park (or take a 4×4) to the quirky town of Cabo Polonio.

Going north up the coast from Valizas it’s an easy and scenic drive to hit other beaches, and, if you’re an avid shopper, to go all the way up to the Brazilian border town of Chuy, which is known as a shopping paradise, offering a great variety of Uruguayan products at slashed prices.

Aguas Dulces
Our next stop was Aguas Dulces (Sweet Waters). It was a colorful town, bigger and more developed than Valizas. The beach was gorgeous and the Atlantic a deeper blue and more buoyant without river water. The vibe was relaxed, in keeping with Uruguayan ‘cultura tranquila.’

Punta del Diablo
We found the best beach farther up the coast at Punta del Diablo, the last beach town before the Brazilian border. To get the most of it, we splurged a bit at the beachfront boutique hotel, La Viuda del Diablo. Breakfast was ample and served over several tasty courses at the table. Dinner at sunset of fresh fish and oven baked potatoes was also delicious and leisurely. The town is lively and bustling, with lots of shops, restaurants, and bars. Live music is in the air, along with savory scents of empanadas and seafood.

Punta del Este
Easily the most well-known beach town in Uruguay, and a popular destination for Brazilians and Argentines who like to party in its glitzy clubs, Punta del Este is an essential stop along Uruguay’s Atlantic coast. The resort, often compared to Miami, is a short drive from Montevideo, less than two hours away. Breezy and picturesque, the city sits on a peninsula surrounded by water and a friendly, vacation atmosphere.

Getting There
Buses are abundant but we rented a car for the week to give us more flexibility to explore. The drive up the coast from Montevideo is lovely and the two-lane road rarely crowded, even in high season. Leaving the city via ‘La Rambla,’ the waterfront promenade, it doesn’t take long to enter a peaceful countryside of verdant fields scented with eucalyptus and pine. You’ll see neatly planted vineyards float past your window and ambling, contented cows, reminding you of the palette-bending steak and out-of-this-world wine from last night’s dinner. Enjoy the ride!

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© 2019 IWorld of Travel.