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It’s hard to really judge this city because we went in October, when the resort is facing serious down-time. Things don’t pick up in Punta del Este until mid-November to January, so to say the place was dead is an understatement. We spent a week here, and there definitely wasn’t enough to do, but we enjoyed the down-time to just chill, catching up with family, doing a bit of Upwork and finishing Peaky Blinders (the BEST). Saying that, the city has a huge reputation for being the coolest play to vacay if you’re a wealthy young thang, so we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
Being the Miami of Uruguay, this city has a very different feel to the rest of the country. It oozes the desire for luxury, and feels more like Marbella. If you’re going to visit Punta del Este, we advise you do it closer to their Summer.
What to do in Punta del Este
To see, number one on everyone’s list are the famous but also rather bizarre Dedos (yes, fingers) in the sand of the main beach, Playa Brava; a sculpture which 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).
You can also while away the time around the yacht-crammed harbour and walking right around the edge of the punta, where you’ll find a quaint blue church and some more luxury houses; worth the walk if you have time. There is also a tour to a nearby island, Isla de Lobos, which has a seal colony, but we skipped this as we’d already seen so many in Cabo Polonio.
There are beaches on both sides of the city; head to Playa Mansa (the beach without the giant fingers) for sunset and to hang out in Ovo Bar, which is unfortunately closed during low season but is breathtakingly cool as the day ends.
Visiting La Barra
When we got a bit bored of Punta del Este, we took the local bus from the main terminal one day to La Barra, a small town 15 mins away, which is home to rich-kids and surfers. If you’re into surfing, this is the place to be; some of the waves were huge!
La Barra itself is nice for a wander and a coffee, and there is a small marijuana museum (free) at a shop at the very beginning of the town, near the crazy bridge. The owners are slightly nuts but hugely welcoming, and the shop has lots of cool souvenirs at 3for2 on everything.
Another day, we also 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!).
Nightlife in Punta del Este
On Thursday night, we went to Ovo Casino which has a non-beach bar. This place was SWARMING with Brazilian rich kids, including two insta-famous models. Bottles of Corona were $10 USD each (this made us wince, so must be eye-watering for the average Uruguayan). The music was ‘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 place for nightlife (which 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. 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 is a place called Bigote, which serves VERY STRONG cocktails, some food pop-ups plus pool tables upstairs.
Where to eat in Punta del Este
For lunch, there is 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!).
Where to stay in Punta del Este
As this is a favourite for holidaying Brazilians, there is a wealth of accommodation options open to you. For hostels, we recommend El Viajero 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.