The National Park of Cabo Polonio is an area of intriguing natural beauty that still retains traditional characteristics of the Uruguayan Atlantic coastal landscape. Due to the transformation that began in the middle of the 20th century from the expansion of the traditional urban tourism model, many coastal parts of Uruguay have lost these characteristics.
This marine coastal area has a great diversity of natural environments that include sandy beaches, rocky peninsulas, dunes, native coastal forest, small wetlands, ocean environments and islands. Many of these ecosystems are priorities for the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP), given their limited distribution in Uruguay (rare ecosystems). The most renowned part, for its uniqueness, is the ecosystem of dunes in Cabo Polonio that consists of the most extensive remains of a sandy belt that used to extend along the coast. It is one of the only areas of moving dunes in the region, with areas exceeding 20 meters in height.
The National Park of Cabo Polonio is home to various species that are priorities for the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP), including species that are in danger of extinction or threatened (like Darwin´s toad), vegetable and animal species with limited distribution (such as a special type of banana, the frog with four eyes and a species of tortoise) and migratory species of regional and global importance (like Terns, Southern Right Whales, and Green sea turtles).
Also, Cabo Polonio has key sites for the annual cycle of crustaceans of commercial interests (such as pink shrimp, sea shrimp, and sea langoustines), and for the breeding and feeding of more than 47 species of fish (sharks, sea bass, forkbeard, and smelt).
Nearly half of the South American ¨two-hair¨ or ¨smooth¨ sea lions in Uruguay live on the islands of Cabo Polonio. They use the area for breeding and raising the next generation of sea lions. Their rocky home in Cabo Polonio is the only continental settlement of the South American ¨two-hair¨ or ¨smooth¨ sea lions in Uruguay and offers a unique opportunity to observe these animals up close.
Related to the distinct environments of the area, there are various sites that need to be conserved for their cultural and heritage value to Uruguay. From the archeological perspective, prehistoric societies lived in Cabo Polonio and surrounding areas from around 11,000 years ago until the arrival of European societies. From the historical point of view, the hill of the Good View (the highest point in the area) served as a boundary between the Spanish and Portuguese empires between 1750 and 1777, according to the Treaty of Madrid.
The archeological heritage underwater still has not been studied and is of special interest because of the numerous shipwrecks.
The town of Cabo Polonio, home today to only 70 people, has its origins in the 19th century with the exploitation of sea lions. Fisherman that used to come together to participate in the killing of the sea lions (in part for their valuable skin) – outlawed since 1991 – settled down in places near the slaughterhouse.
During the summer, many temporary residents and visitors come to Cabo Polonio.