Snapshot: Punta del Este, Uruguay

Often described as the “St. Tropez of South America,” Punta del Este is the playground for the rich & famous below the equator. It’s also the subject of this week’s Snapshot. “Punta,” as it’s called for short, is a peninsula jutting from the southeast corner of Uruguay, right where the Río...

“La Mano” on Playa Brava in Punta del Este, Uruguay

Often described as the “St. Tropez of South America,” Punta del Este is the playground for the rich & famous below the equator. It’s also the subject of this week’s Snapshot.

“Punta,” as it’s called for short, is a peninsula jutting from the southeast corner of Uruguay, right where the Río de la Plata meets the Atlantic Ocean. Although not on the radar of most North Americans, the glitterati of South America and Europe descend upon Punta del Este every summer in hoards. (Of course, summer in the southern hemisphere is from December to March, the opposite of in the United States.)

We took a 30-minute flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, and then drove eighty-five scenic miles along the coast to get to Punta. It was a beautiful journey, despite the fact that our rental car had manual transmission and no air conditioning. The two-lane highway was flanked by a magnificent, unending pine and eucalyptus forest, something that I’d never seen so close to the ocean before. When we arrived I immediately understood the allure—trendy boutiques, upscale hotels, and parrilladas (restaurants specializing in flavorful, fire-grilled meat)—this resort town had it all.

Beautiful sandy beaches line both sides of the peninsula: on the Atlantic side is Playa Brava, with strong waves that attract surfers from all over. “La Mano,” a gigantic sculpture of a hand emerging from the sand is the iconic symbol of Punta del Este and can be found here. On the Río de la Plata side of Punta is Playa Mansa, where the water is much calmer, making it perfect for families.

Maldonado, La Barra, Uruguay

The bridge connecting La Barra to Punta del Este

We toured around the neighboring towns, including nearby La Barra. Famous for its rocking nightlife, La Barra is reached by crossing an undulating bridge. Like teenagers, we actually drove back and forth on it to see if our little tin-can-of-a-car could get air.

One exceptionally noteworthy sight we visited was Casapueblo, a hotel designed by renowned Uruguayan artist, Carlos Páez Vilaró.  Located about 20 minutes away in Punta Ballena, the whimsical white building was built in tiers on a cliff overlooking the ocean. It reminded me a little of the architecture found on the Greek island of Santorini (which will be a Snapshot on my blog someday soon.) I had the best meal of my entire South American vacation on Casapueblo’s dining terrace, watching the sun set over the turquoise water.

I only spent two days in Punta del Este but got my fill of glitz and glamour, although I never did see any celebrities (like Naomi Campbell, Mick Jagger, or Ralph Lauren who are rumored to have homes there.) I just wish that I’d had more time to just relax on the beach!

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Here’s a link to an Aerial view of Punta del Este, Uruguay that’s worth checking out.

El atardecer en el puerto de Punta del Este

Sunset over the port of Punta del Este, Uruguay

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