South America’s lengthy shoreline draws some of the world’s most dedicated surfers. In Uruguay, isolated surfing inlets are dotted along the coast -- disconnected, simple, seaside hamlets flanked inland by expanses of green acres populated by the occasional grass-munching cow. Throughout the summer months, surfers slip onto the remote, empty beaches for some of the continent’s best uninterrupted surf, where just about all there is to do is focus on the waves.
famed Uruguayan surf town is Punta del Diablo, whose name -- “Devil’s Tip” --
belies the area’s relaxed, laid-back vibe. The town is peppered with basic houses
painted in a kaleidoscope of colours, and the sandy dirt roads that criss-cross
Punta del Diablo can still be traversed in about an hour on foot. But today, the
former fishing village known mostly to backpackers is seeing an influx in
visitors, thanks to the welcoming social scene that accompanies the unbroken surf.
Diablo is located about 300km from Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, and the only
way to get there is by car or bus. Buses run at staggered times throughout the
day on a five-hour ride that loops in and out of Uruguay’s Rocha beach havens, stopping
occasionally on the near-empty route to pick up locals at seemingly arbitrary
stops, devoid of any markers. About 25,000 vacationers make the trek every
year, ballooning the year-round population of fewer than 500 people.
Diablo also is situated about 175km from flashy Punta del Este, where the
stylish set from bordering countries like Argentina descend to party during the
summer. But the two towns are opposites in size and personality. Punta del
Diablo has no high-rises and no ATMs, and the waves are
audible at any time, from any point in town. Time spent in Punta del Diablo is
time spent on the beach, rather than party-hopping, as it is in Punta del Este.
Diablo attracts a bohemian crowd from across Latin America, as well as
backpackers who stop along their route through South America. The ages of
people vary, as does the level of surfing skill. Many come toting their own
surfboards and rise early to hang 10 on the open, near-deserted beaches. During
high season, which runs December to February, a greater number of novice
surfers arrive, looking to rent a board and take a few lessons. The weather is
almost invariably cooperative and cloudy skies are rare, so all are advised to frequently slather on sunscreen under the notoriously brutal
visitors, surfers included, opt to pitch a tent on the campgrounds located on
the edge of town. Those looking for a roof above their heads can choose to rent
one of the few holiday residences available -- also a popular option for longer
stays. The hostels in town stay full during peak season, making them an easy epicentre
for the nightly social scene.
Diablo Tranquilo, one of the pioneer hostels in town, opened in 2007. A University of
Wisconsin alumnus is at the helm, and he often hires recent graduates from his
alma mater to staff the place. Some of the rooms are cramped, and the hostel somewhat
resembles a bohemian fraternity house, so surfers looking for solitude should
upscale beachside posada (hotel) that
also opened in 2007 is La Viuda del
Diablo, built from wood and large glass windows. Each suite contains a
Jacuzzi and a king-sized bed. It also has a beach bar and restaurant on-site.
After the sun sets,
visitors stay occupied at the strip of bars in town. Most restaurants -- where the options for fresh seafood dishes are plentiful -- double as
nightlife destinations. At places like Bitácora, which has Rastafarian colours for its logo, people dance
outdoors and the crowd spills onto the beach. Like most late night beach
parties, there is always someone with a guitar, starting a song circle huddled
around a campfire.
South American beaches might top Punta del Diablo in wave height or blueness of
the water, few compare in terms of tranquillity. And that is just how the
regulars want to keep it.