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Cabo Polonio

The Cabo Polonio National Park is an area of great natural beauty which still retains typical features of the Uruguayan Atlantic coast from prior to the transformation process that began in the mid-twentieth century due to the expansion of the traditional urban tourism model. This coastal marine area possesses a great diversity of natural environments that include sandy beaches, rocky points, dunes, native coastal forest, small wetlands, ocean areas and islands. Many of these ecosystems are priorities for the National System of Protected Areas, given their restricted distribution in Uruguay (rare ecosystems). The most prominent feature –for its uniqueness- is the Cabo Polonio dune system, which is the most extensive remainder of a sandy strip that once stretched along our coast. It is one of the few shifting dune areas in the region, with areas in which the height exceeds 20 meters.

The Cabo Polonio National Park is home to several species which are priorities for the National System of Protected Areas, including endangered and threatened species (such as Darwin’s frog), plant and animal species with restricted distribution (such as the banana do mato, the four-eyed frog and the black spine-neck swamp turtle), and migratory species of regional and global importance (such as terns, southern right whales and the green turtle). It also includes sites which are key for the annual cycle of crustaceans of commercial interest (such as pink shrimp, marine shrimp and prawns), and for the breeding and feeding of over 47 species of fish (the narrownose smooth-hound, sea bass, codling, mackerel). On its islands you can find almost half of the fur seal and sea lion populations of Uruguay, and its areas are used for the breeding of these species. The rocky area of Cabo Polonio is home to the country’s only continental settlement of fur seal and presents a unique opportunity to observe these animals up close.

Cultural values

There are a number of sites of great interest for the conservation of the country’s cultural heritage associated with the different environments of the area. From the archaeological point of view Cabo Polonio and its surroundings were occupied by prehistoric societies approximately 11,000 years ago, until the arrival of European societies. From the historical point of view, the Buena Vista hill (the highest point in the area) served as the boundary between the Spanish and Portuguese empires between 1750 and 1777 under the Madrid Treaty.

The underwater archaeological heritage has not yet been studied and is of particular interest due to the presence of numerous shipwrecks. The town of Cabo Polonio, where around 70 people live today, dates back to the nineteenth century, around the exploitation of sea lions. Traditional fishermen who convened to participate in the loberías zafrales –suspended as of 1991- settled down close to the slaughter plant. During the summer there are a significant number of temporary residents and visitors.