Cabo Polonio is a small beach village located at the tip of a sliver of sand jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean in the eastern coast of Uruguay in the Rocha Department. At the outermost point, stands a grand lighthouse looking out over two rocky islands where a large colony of sea lions live. The lighthouse is the only structure in the entire village that is connected to the power grid. None of the few hundred houses here have electricity or running water, not even sewerage. Only a handful of businesses and houses have generators or solar panels or use wind power to light their homes, but most people make do without. Fresh water is obtained from well or by collecting rain water.
Cabo Polonio is kept isolated from the rest of the country by a wide region of shifting sand dunes. The village is located about 7 km from the main highway but there are no roads leading to Cabo Polonio. The only way to reach it is by walking across the sand or by a 4x4 vehicle.
The village’s principal attraction is the Atlantic beach, with water and sand, a natural reserve of sea lions and one of the area's few mobile sand dunes, in which the sand is blown by the wind and moves around. Cabo Polonio has one of the largest sea lion colonies in South America. These animals have made the two islands to the east and north of the village and the tip of the peninsula their home, making them easy to observe from the top of the lighthouse. It is also common to see whales seeking refuge in the calm waters from the end of September to November. Cabo Polonio also has one of the darkest sky and the brightest moons of the Uruguayan coast, thanks to its lack of streetlights and trees.
Cabo Polono is relatively quiet during the winter months of May to September. During this period, only a few hard-core wildlife lovers, scientists in search of whales and seals, and fishermen are to be found. But at the peak of summer, in January, this quiet seaside village becomes one of the most popular places in Uruguay. Due to its idyllic setting, the village has become a popular summer destination amongst hippies in Argentina and Brazil.
With the influx of tourism, an increasing number of hostels and restaurants have popped up but most visitors prefer to rent homes from locals. There is a cellphone service now in the area, and internet service along with it, but Cabo Polono still remains off the power grid. The only place to recharge your cellphone battery is in the main grocery store and only when its generator is running. At night, life is lived by candlelight and if you forget to stack up on those you have to fumble around in the dark. In fact, lack of electricity is one of the biggest complaints of the residents here.
When a restaurant owner had his truck broke down on the way to buy gas for his generator, he was in a fix. “Without gas, we have almost no battery left,” he told a NY Times journalist who visited the place. “Soon we’ll have no music, no blender for smoothies.” In such situations, residents have to rely on wind to turn their windmills. Many fishermen and business owners also want electricity to keep things cold.
But for the tourists, Cabo Polonio provides a unique opportunity to escape the hubbubs of modern life. It is one of those places in the world that charms and relaxes every single soul.
The lighthouse. Photo credit
The lighthouse at dusk. Photo credit
A sea lion sunbathing on the rocks. Photo credit
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