It’s not true that travelers have a “list” of places to see and, once they’ve checked off every box, hang up their knapsacks. When you’re traveling, you’re constantly adding to your list. Every casual conversation with fellow wayfarers introduces a world of possibility when your life is strapped to your back.

The flip side of the travel coin: You also discover special places that keep calling you back long after you leave.

A surfer heads out with his board in Punta del Diablo. (Photograph by Ben Long)

A surfer heads out with his board in Punta del Diablo. (Photograph by Ben Long)

For me, Punta del Diablo, on the eastern coast of Uruguay, is one of those places. The tiny bohemian fishing village captivated me from the first moment I stepped off the bus. Its sandy streets were lined with shanty cafes splashed in an assortment of colors as surfers, travelers, and fisherman lazily roamed the streets. My plan to stay for just three days soon turned into three months when I met the folks at El Diablo Tranquilo Hostel.

But, as they say, all good things must end. I returned to the “real world” (which, for me, is West Virginia), and spent the next three years of my life in law school. After spending countless hours in class, a repeat visit to Punta del Diablo seemed impossible. But when, through a bizarre twist of fate, an opportunity to work for a travel start-up in Buenos Aires brought me within driving distance of the place, I jumped at the chance to go back.

Walking into El Diablo Tranquilo was like walking into a dream that had been haunting me. After spending the lion’s share of the past two years traveling, it’s still the best hostel I’ve ever encountered.

What makes it so good? It makes you feel at home even though you are three hours from nowhere on a forgotten coastline in Uruguay. It’s a place where new “hostel families” are born around the fireplace each week and friendships last on Facebook long after guests have departed.

The bride and groom on horseback (Photograph by Ben Long)

The bride and groom on horseback (Photograph by Ben Long)

However, my return visit to Diablo didn’t follow the script I’d rehearsed in my mind countless times before. Much to my surprise, the hostel managers, Youri and Sol, asked me to stand in for a wedding photographer who had backed out on them just hours before their big day.

I’m a nature photographer for a reason. Wedding photography scares me, and it’s not hard to imagine why (no pressure, right?). But what better way to cut my teeth than at a beach wedding in Uruguay?

Nerves were frayed as rain poured down on Diablo, but Apollo smiled upon Youri and Sol when “go time” came around. And, instead of reliving my dream, I was able to be part of a much larger and more important one: a fairytale wedding on a forgotten beach.

The day proceeded quite seamlessly, from the ceremony to a bonfire to dancing on the sand. Armed with blankets and a live band, the wedding party fought the ocean winds to set adrift sky lanterns before dancing around the fire to some local Uruguayan tunes. As usual, the whole experience proved that the unexpected parts of travel are often the best parts.

I didn’t pare down my bucket list on this trip, but it hardly mattered, and that wasn’t the point. The wedding added yet another layer to Diablo’s mystique, further fueling my love affair with the tiny coastal town. I will always have a wanderer’s heart, but the desire to see each and every place around the globe is starting to fade. Now I know that getting to know a special place intimately over time can be a far more rewarding than checking a name off a list.

Travel Tip:

If you ever venture to Punta del Diablo one day, don’t miss Cabo Polonio just 50 kilometers south. You will question what century you’re in as there is no running water, electricity or cars allowed in this artistic village surrounded by sand dunes and beaches.

Ben Long is a writer and photographer from Lewisburg, West Virginia, who is currently based in Argentina. See more of Ben’s photos on Flickr and follow his story on Twitter @benlongtales.

Do you have a special place you return to again and again? Share your experience with us in the comments section for a chance to appear on Intelligent Travel or Traveler magazine:

Comments

  1. Gaelyn
    http://geogypsytraveler.com
    January 11, 1:47 am

    I’ve said for 40 years I want to travel the world. Then I went to South Africa which has captured my spirit. I leave Tuesday for the third visit. It takes time to get a sense of a place and its people.

  2. dylan
    panama
    January 14, 10:17 am

    i am reading this while living in my panamanian paradise for the fourth time in six years. My wife and i have traveled wide and far for being 29, but something keeps calling us back. Im not sure if its the people, nature or uncrowded beaches full of epic surf that keep us coming but something seems to draw us back every winter. There is still some much to explore and if your willing to work for it you will be rewarded with your own little slice Eden. Just remember to pack your trash, it never hurts to pick up litter thats not yours too, lets work together to keep the earth clean. Nothing ruins a paradise like unsightly garbage!

  3. Jimena T. A.
    Mexico
    January 14, 12:08 pm

    No matter where I travel, the excitement of going to a new place is always with me. I can go to the countryside or to an extremely modern city and it reminds that the world is out there. If you try to stay in the same place always, you will never make your vision of life bigger enough to understand the balance of our planet. That is why for me, every place I go to is an opportunity to gain knowledge in an extremely fun way. Each place I visit stays in my memories. But sincerely the place I can´t stop visiting is “San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico”.

    Its beauty shows how so many persons from different places can go to the same place to do the same thing: have fun and meet a new place. But for me, it is no longer a new place to meet. It is my second home, I know the name of the streets and I have my favorite restaurants and stores. Each time the holidays are getting near, the magnet inside me starts to pull me towards it. The nice sunny weather, the always-smiling people, the wonderful landscapes and views, and the balance between the modern and the conservative living and being in the same place. Even though the center is full of tourists, you can have a great time because there is no hurries and your time is to relax and have fun. Everything can be found in San Miguel, you can go outside of the city and visit its neighboring little towns or stay and wander up and down the streets of this amazing place. You can go and eat in the outsides and find this little relaxing place surrounded by nature or you can just simply go into a restaurant in the center. After you go from San Miguel, no matter what, someday you will be magically pulled by its unbelievable beauty and will end up going there every year, just like me.

  4. Elissa Gilbert
    United States
    February 15, 8:19 pm

    When I first made a list of places to visit, 30 years ago, I listed continents: Europe, Africa, South America. Then I started listing countries, then cities within countries. Now I find myself listing specific attractions in a city. There’s never enough time to see everything in one visit, and since every visit brings new awareness of places to see, my list only grows longer.

    http://www.elissaexplores.com