Sunning with the elite in Punta del Este, the Miami of Uruguay
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Being known as the Miami of Uruguay, or even the Hamptons of South America, this city has a very different feel to the rest of the country. Punta del Este oozes the desire for luxury, and in places feels a lot more like Marbella than we were expecting. The city has a huge reputation for being the coolest play to vacay if you’re a wealthy young thang in the South-East of South America. All you need to know is that the place has a Trump Tower…
After you’ve read this post on things to do in Punta del Este, Uruguay, don’t miss these guides:
We spent a full week here during shoulder season (bit of a mistake on the timing), and there definitely weren’t enough things to do in Punta del Este to fill all 7 days, but we enjoyed the down-time to just chill, catching up with family, doing a bit of work on freelancing sites and finishing Peaky Blinders (the BEST). It’s a lovely clean-feeling destination with an interesting position on the peninsula.
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When’s the best time to visit Punta del Este?
If you want to be able to take part in all the things to do in Punta del Este, we strongly advise you visit during Uruguay’s Summer, when things start to pick up again. In the Southern hemisphere, this is mid-November to January. A downside is that lots of prices will be higher during this time, but on the plus side at these things will actually be open.
We went to Punta del Este in October, when the resort is facing serious down-time, and the city felt a little dead with shuttered shops and a lack of food & drink options.
Top 10 things to do in Punta del Este
1. Marvel at Los Dedos Sculpture
Number one on everyone’s list of things to do in Punta del Este are the famous but also rather bizarre Dedos (yes, fingers) in the sand of the main beach, Playa Brava. This fingers sculpture is free to visit and wonder what the hell it’s doing there (some say the artist wanted to alert us to the dangers of drowning, but who knows).
Unless you’re an influencer who has the motivation to turn up to Los Dedos sculpture at dawn, you may have to wait in a queue for a photo during high season, and don’t expect to get all the Dedos in your photo as other tourists will be commandeering fingers left right and centre. I’m not bitter.
There are a few photographers and street sellers who will come and chat to you in the queue to pass the time; some of them are happy to take a picture of you with your camera for a small tip, or you can arrange to swap cameras with the person behind you in the queue.
2. Stroll down to the Marina
Yacht clubs galore! To the West of the peninsula, you’ll find the yacht-crammed Punta del Este marina and all the luxuries of exclusive yacht clubs surrounding it; just follow the sound of chinking champagne glasses if you get lost.
Though there aren’t many things to do in Punta del Este’s marina without membership to more elite clubs, a few of the bars are still open to the peasants/general public, and maybe soaking up the vibes you’ll even find a source of inspiration to finally kickstart that latest business idea of yours 😉
3. Circumnavigate the Punta del Este peninsula
Punta del Este translates to ‘Point of the East’, and this point describes the peninsula that juts right out into the Atlantic Ocean. You can walk right around the edge of the peninsula, where you’ll find a quaint blue church, the Punta del Este lighthouse and some more luxury houses in much more residential areas.
As you go round, you’ll see the coast change from yellow sands on the East of the peninsula (where the Dedos sculpture is) to battered, weather-worn rocks on the West. If the sea isn’t too choppy, you can walk out onto some of the rocks.
4. Get out to the vineyards
Argentina isn’t the only wine country! Uruguay has its fair share of excellent vineyards. The land and climate around Punta del Este is perfect for producing wine, and the good news is that you can visit vineyards for tours and wine-tasting. Bodega Garzón is known as one of the best.
5. See Punta del Este from above
The best way to appreciate the fascinating geography of Punta del Este is of course from above, so why not strap yourself to a parachute and glide above the city? With its Atlantic winds, this is a perfect place to paraglide or paramotor up high in the skies.
6. Sun yourself on the Punta del Este beaches
There are beaches on both sides of the city; I’ve already mentioned Playa Brava where the Dedos sculpture is, which is a particularly wide stretch of clean sand, perfect for a day of relaxing. There’s not much in the way of food and drinks stalls during low season, but this will definitely heat up when there are more tourists around.
On the other side of the city, head to the sprawling Playa Mansa for sunset by the pier and to hang out in Ovo Bar. This is unfortunately closed during low season but is breathtakingly cool as the day ends. There is also an outdoor gym to the South of this beach if you’re missing your weights at home.
7. Make yourself at home at Casapueblo
A little outside the city of Punta del Este in Punta Ballena is an INSANE 9-storey house built by an eccentric Uruguayan artist called Carlos Páez Vilaró. It’s all white in a vaguely Mediterranean style, and looms over the cliffs of the Uruguayan coastline. Ironically, Casapueblo began in 1958 as a modest house and art studio made out of wood for Carlos, but with more and more creative bursts of construction he made it into the bizarre but beautiful architecture we see today.
The mansion is both a day-time gallery/museum and a hotel, so you can stay there if you want somewhere truly iconic to rest your head at night – expect stunning sea views and rustic interiors.
8. Meet the locals on Isla de Lobos
From Punta del Este, you can take a popular boat tour 5 miles South to Isla de Lobos, a nearby island with a 15,000-strong colony of sea lions and up to 250,000 seals. It’s said to be pretty incredible but a little smelly – we skipped this as we were already sea-lioned-out by our time in Cabo Polonio.
9. Visit the town of La Barra del Maldonado
When we felt we’d done all of the things to do in Punta del Este that we wanted to, we took the local bus from the main terminal one day to La Barra, a small town 15 mins away, which is known as a home to rich-kids and surfers. If you’re into surfing, this is the place to be; some of the waves were huge!
You can take a short walk down to the beaches of La Barra, which at times feel more like lake beaches and barely have any people on them.
La Barra town is nice for a wander and a coffee; as a more residential area you can expect more of a buzz here regardless of Punta del Este’s tourism season. A definite highlight is the small marijuana museum (Museo de Marihuana) inside a souvenir shop at the very beginning of the town, near the crazy bridge. The museum is free to enter, and you can expect an enthusiastic tour from the slightly nuts but hugely welcoming owners. The shop itself has lots of cool things on sale at 3 for 2 on everything.
10. Spend a day in Jose Ignacio
Jose Ignacio is a teeny, rustic beach town with beautiful shores. It’s home to only a sprinkling of fishing families, and although it’s a prime place to buy a summerhouse the town has no paving, no ATMs, no swanky bars, nada. It’s quiet for all but few weeks after Christmas, when it becomes crazy popular among South America’s elite in search of stunning beaches and small festivals. We tried to get to Jose Ignacio via bus, but it never turned up and even the bus terminal staff couldn’t tell us where it might be (don’t trust the timetable up on their website!). Going with an organised tour or shuttle would have avoided this.
Nightlife in Punta del Este
If you’re keen to make backpacking friends and sample a selection of popular bars in one night, don’t pass up the chance to get a place on Punta del Este’s highly-rated bar crawl. But if after that you want to explore the nightlife in Punta del Este independently, we have some other suggestions for you…
On Thursday night, we went up to the balcony area of Ovo Casino which has a rooftop bar. This place was SWARMING with Brazilian rich kids, including two insta-famous models that Andy recognised. Bottles of Corona were $10 USD each (this made us wince, so must be eye-watering for the average Uruguayan).
The music could best be described as ‘pretentious house’ (the type of music that lets you know drinks are over-priced) rather than anything you’d want to dance to, but the vibes were pretty good. Even we found ourselves self-congratulating our coolness as we lounged under a canopy with views of the beach and city.
Another spot for nightlife in Punta del Este (which thankfully is open every night during low season and often has live music) is Capi Bar. We had a few run-ins with staff repeating our order back to us and then giving us something completely different and telling us to pay for the wrong order, then another time the barman chased us down the street to shout that we hadn’t paid for our meal, only for the waitress to have to come out and tell him we had (not sure why this is a barman’s remit when we only came for a meal).
BUT the excellent vibes, fantastic live music and incredible food (hello, vegetables!) made up for it. Really recommend the veggie wok fry-up. The craft beers are a little pricey, but there’s a good selection. You may want to reserve or get there early (8pm-ish) to get a seat as the place fills up every single night.
Opposite Capi Bar is a place called Bigote, which serves VERY STRONG cocktails, and houses some pop-up food vans plus pool tables upstairs if you’re looking for somewhere to provide a decent environment for getting to know your dorm-mates.
Where to stay in Punta del Este
As Punta del Este is a favourite spot for holidaying Brazilians, there is a wealth of accommodation options open to you. For hostels, we recommend El Viajero Punta del Este for its party vibes, or the F&F Hostel if you don’t mind being further out of the town (only by a few streets, totally walkable!). F&F’s atmosphere was a bit dull during low season as it’s set up for all socialising to be done outside by the pool, but when the weather is good and the beds are full it’s got excellent potential!
Taking things up a notch is the Tas D Viaje Hostel Surf Camp, with some very premium-looking suites, decent dorms, a beachfront location and not bad pricing, either.
If you have the budget or are travelling in a big group, it’s definitely worth looking at some of the apartments that Booking.com has to offer.
Where to eat in Punta del Este
For lunch, Punta del Este has an incredible little place called Verde Lima, which has the best carne tacos we’ve ever had (we’ve yet to get to Mexico, though!). You also have to get a tutti frutti fresh smoothie if you’re feeling the impact of zero fruit and veg in Uruguayan restaurant meals.
Further out on the Punta del Este peninsula, The Family is an extremely cheap restaurant to get real Uruguayan food. The meals are extremely basic (steak and rice is literally just steak and rice), but you can easily eat for £4 here. You get a substantial amount of food (the chivito para dos is pretty insane!).
How long to appreciate the things to do in Punta del Este: 3-4 days (preferably over a weekend)
Now you’ve read this post on things to do in Punta del Este, Uruguay, don’t miss these guides: