Punta del Este, Uruguay, Often referred to as the St. Tropez of Latin America, Uruguay’s Punta del Este is a top summertime playground for Uruguayans, Brazilians and Argentines. During the December–February high season, the coastal city’s population jumps from 7,500 to 160,000. This vacation hotspot offers a relaxed lifestyle, plenty of beaches, golf courses, five-star restaurants, and fun nightlife.
1. Choose Your Beach. Punta del Este has two beaches, which are a quick walk over either Rambla Claudio Williman (Rio de la Plata side) or Rambla Lorenzo Batlle Pacheco (Atlantic Ocean side). The “Mansa” side, facing Rio de la Plata, is calm; the Atlantic “Brava” side is windier, with waves high enough to surf.
2. Enjoy Seafood Paradise. The Punta del Este harbor is Uruguay’s largest recreational yachting facility and a perfect place to eat fresh mariscos (shellfish). A local favorite is Lo de Tere Restaurante, with its great food and fantastic views of nearby Isla Gorriti and Maldonado Bay. (Rambla Artigas and Calle 21)
3. Sample Sweet. Tambo el Sosiego, maker of famous Lapataia-brand dulce de leche, gives free tours that walk visitors through the process of making the region’s favorite dessert. The dairy farm and plant are 12 miles from central Punta del Este, easily accessible by car and open seven days a week.
4. Visit Catedral de San Fernando. The neoclassical Cathedral of San Fernando took 94 years to complete and is among Uruguay’s most majestic churches. The 1895 cathedral’s façade dominates the public square of the nearby town of Maldonado. This historic monument is a 10-minute taxi ride from Punta del Este. Open daily.
5. Sample Small-Town Life. One of the hottest beach destinations in the Southern Cone and a short 30-minute drive from Punta del Este, the fishing village of José Ignacio (population 200)has wonderful examples of local architecture and cuisine. La Huella is perhaps the town’s best restaurant and has excellent seafood and an optimal location right on the beach. Try the filet of brotola, a light, white-meat fish.
6. Snap a Picture with “La Mano.” The symbol of Punta del Este is a giant concrete sculpture of a hand rising out of the sand on the Brava side of the beach. Designed by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal in 1982, it commemorates the lives of drowned local sailors. (Parada 1 on Brava Beach)
7. Bar Hop. Summer in Punta del Este is as much about nightlife as it is about sun. La Barra’s sidewalks and restaurants are packed by midnight, and the clubs only pick up around 2 a.m. The chic lounge Tequila attracts such famous names as Naomi Campbell and Michael Bublé. (Calle 11, La Barra)
8. Island Hop. Isla Gorriti and Isla de los Lobos are short boat rides from the coast. Isla Gorriti offers relaxing island strolls, while Isla de los Lobos has the largest seal colony in the southern hemisphere. Boats for both leave daily from Punta del Este port. Tours to Isla de Los Lobos last two hours, and cost $40 per person.
9. Join the Fashionistas. During summer, Punta del Este holds annual fashion shows featuring prominent Latin American designers, such as Argentines Dotto and Roberto Giordano. The most sought-after show is held every January at the Conrad Hotel; guests like Monaco’s Prince Pierre Casiraghi, Shakira and Zinedine Zidane often attend.
10. Cast a Line. P unta del Este boasts some of the best saltwater fishing in the continent. Either charter a boat for the day or stay on shore and fish off the dock at Punta del Este port. The waters surrounding the town are populated by a wide variety of marine life, ranging from anchovies, mullets, bluefish, and tuna to Argentine hake.