Called the Monaco of South America, Punta del Este is a Uruguayan resort town growing in popularity. I booked Michelangelo Apartamentos to be centrally located on the peninsula—between the golden sands and tame waters of Playa Mansa and the khaki sands and rough waves of Playa Brava. The 11th floor views couldn’t be beat!
The peninsula divides Rio de la Plata and the Atlantic Ocean. Our apartment—located near Terminal Punta Este and The Hand—was especially convenient since my friends and I arrived from Montevideo via a two-hour COT bus.
Since I had just left snowy weather behind in the States, I was anxious to hit the beach. In search of sustenance with local flair, my friends and I beelined for Las Charruitas Empanadas where Daniel and team serve up outstanding empanadas!
West of Playa Brava, further in on the peninsula, is a local market called Feria de los Artesanos at Plaza General Artigas. This plaza, along with the perimeter road, are named after José Gervasio Artigas Arnal who is sometimes called “the father of Uruguayan nationhood.”
Puerto de Punta del Este and the yacht club are located on the north side of the peninsula. The winding perimeter road is lined with restaurants eagerly awaiting tourists who can choose from al fresco, rooftop, and dining room settings.
Watching the sunset from Terminal de Cruceros on Playa Mansa was serene and memorable!
Every local I met moaned about the costliness of Punta del Este. After boutiquing on “Fashion Road” on El Remanso, “Little Paris” on Avenida Gorlero, and “Design District” on Avenida Italia, I understand their point. Most stores are luxury-priced. Still, one shop worth mentioning is Manos del Uruguay, a nonprofit that has curated a high quality collection Uruguayan-made home goods and clothing.
But there’s a silver lining… In Uruguay, paying with a foreign credit card means IVA-free purchases! The Uruguayan government started a tax refund program in 2012, and in 2014, it is still in effect. It helped to soften the blow of $6 coffees and $8 smoothies. I had several cups ‘o joe in Punta del Este. Most places seemed to use shelf-stable milk (instead of heating up refrigerated pasteurized milk), so I switched from cafe con leche to espresso con crema halfway through my stay. The best tasting (but priciest!) espresso was at Les Delices. My favorite cookies were from Panificadora La 2. I enjoyed several satisfying meals at Blás Rincon Gourmet. I so wish the local favorite El Palenque had been open during low season!
The most popular neighborhood in Punta del Este, La Barra, is located north of the peninsula. Since high season doesn’t begin until December, we found its ever so popular Bikini Beach celebrity haunt to be deserted. But the cerulean coastline and charming shop-lined street still made for a fun morning.
Located almost exactly halfway between Punta del Este and La Barra is Hotel L’Auberge.
Starting at 4 pm on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays, locals and tourists overwhelm the English-style manor to order tea service, which typically includes waffles and decadent sauces such as dulce de leche.
Other beautiful beaches and nature areas surround Punta del Este. One of the most popular is Punta Ballena, home to Casa Pueblo, a Santorini-styled citadel sculpture that includes a hotel, museum, art gallery, and restaurant. Even within Punta del Este are various types of beaches. Playa El Emir is known for surfing, as is Playa Montoya to the north. Locals go fishing at Playa de los Ingleses.
There are also two day trips one can take from Punta del Este:
- Isla Goritti, a prison-cum-retreat, is a 20-minute boat ride and now popular for its beaches, nature and water sports.
- Isla de los Lobos is a two-hour boat ride and the home of the largest sea lion colony in the southern hemisphere.
Even though it was low season in Punta del Este, this American gal loved wearing a sundress in mid-November!