Punta Del Este Overview
- Rio’s ravishing rival
- Coast life
- Sun, sea and six-packs
A magnet both for tousle-haired, lean-bodied surfers and Cavalli-clad millionaires, Punta del Este is Uruguay’s hedonistic hotspot, famed for its flawless beaches and glittering late-night scene.
This strip of land separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Río de la Plata may be narrow, but it packs a lot in: beaches worthy of a film-set, populated with bodies beautiful; wave-side restaurants serving platters of grilled meat from the parilla, fried calamari and jugs of chilled clericó; and glamorous clubs that don’t get lively until at least 1am. A bendy bridge (surely inspired by the surrounding white-tipped waves) connects Punte del Este with La Barra, a laid-back surfer-magnet with its own cluster of boutiques, bars and, of course, yet more stretches of sand. Once a fishing village, this luxurious resort is the coastal getaway for wealthy South Americans, who flock to its shores between mid December and mid January – turning it into a mini Rio or St Tropez for a few months. If you want the sand and surf to yourself, head here out of season and experience the resort at a more temperate tempo…
Perfectly Punta Del Este
Make like a gaucho with a gourd full of maté – a bitter tea made from stewed yerba maté leaves. Sip your tipple through a bombilla, a metal straw that also acts as a sieve for the leaves. The infusion has an earthy, tobacco-like taste – coffee-drinkers will probably love it; sweet-tooths may reach for the sugar. Try it in teabag form if you’re feeling cautious. (Maté is also popular in Portugal and Brazil but Uruguay has claimed it as their national drink.)
- Taxis are expensive; hiring a car or scooter is a more economical way to get around. If you do need a lift, try Conrad (+598 (0)42 490 302), Parada La Barra (+598 (0)42 771 122) or ask your hotel to call a local firm for you.
- Tipping culture
- 10 per cent is fine.
- Siesta and fiesta
- This is a nocturnal resort, with late lunches and (much) later dinners – book in around 11pm to eat amid the locals.
- Packing tips
- Your skimpiest beachwear; unabashed glamour for the bars and clubs; a Perspex tote (Prada if you’re picky) so you don’t have to rummage around for your beach essentials.
- Recommended reads
- Eduardo Galeano is a Uruguayan journalist and author whose Memory of Fire trilogy (a history of the Americas that blends fact, fiction and fantasy) has received rave reviews. The Purple Land by William Hudson was written towards the end of the 19th-century, and tells the story of an English gentleman’s romantic (ie fruity) and political adventures in Uruguay.
- The chivito is Uruguay’s take on the cheeseburger – a pavement-sized sandwich stuffed with churrasco (grilled beef), bacon, mayonnaise, black or green olives, mozzarella and tomatoes, served in a bun with fries on the side. Morcilla dulce is a sweet black sausage made from blood, orange peel and walnuts; morcilla salada is its saltier cousin. Dulce de leche is a moreish milk caramel; served as a thick spread on cakes and pastries; eaten on its own; or made into toffee-like sweets. Chaja is a ball-shaped sponge cake filled with cream and jam. The tannat vine was introduced to the country by Basque settlers and yields Uruguay’s most popular wine: a fruity, strong and distinctive red.
- The Uruguayan peso (UYU).
- Time zone
- GMT -3.
- Dialling codes
- +598 for Uruguay; (0)42 for Punta del Este.
- Do go/don't go
- Come here in March or April for warm water and less crowds; peak season (mid-December until mid-January) is lively to say the least.
Don't go home without...
feasting on fried calamari served with jugs of chilled clericó at La Huella, a beachside restaurant at Playa Brava, José Ignacio (+598 (0)48 62279). The area’s hottest, hippest place to eat has drawn comparisons with St Tropez’s Club 55.