Punta del Este, also known as the St. Tropez of Uruguay, is a chic, seaside resort that offers twenty miles of pristine beaches, upscale resorts, yachts, beautiful people and an ardent night scene. It is the perfect destination for those who are in search of sunshine, white sand, woodlands, clear waters and much glamour.
Located in the Maldonado Department of southeastern Uruguay, this split of land separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Rio de la Plata was once known to sailors and fishermen as Cabo de Santa María. Today, this area is called Punta del Este, a scenic resort area with gorgeous beaches, luxury hotels and restaurants, glittery nightlife and an upscale summer population. The city is located an hour and a half by car from Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. The Vegas-style Conrad Casino adds to the lively entertainment scene, which is a reason why the city is also known as the Monaco of South America.
What to See
CASAPUEBLO (CASA DEL PUEBLO): An absolute must-see near Punta del Este is the unique Casa del Pueblo, a magical and enchanting construction located in Punta Ballena, which can be reached by renting a car or bike. Casapueblo is a majestic masterpiece built by the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró originally as a summer house and workshop. It became the permanent residence of its creator, where he worked and where he spent his last days. The combination of unique art, paintings and a breathtaking view over the Atlantic Ocean are able to transform the visit of this resort museum into a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
LOS DEDOS - PLAYA BRAVA: The symbol of Punta del Este is a giant concrete sculpture of a hand emerging from the sand on the Brava Beach, with the colloquial name Playa de los Dedos. Designed by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal in 1982, “la Mano” (“The Hand”) commemorates the lives of drowned local sailors, and it has become one of Uruguay's most recognizable landmarks.
ISLA DE LOBOS: Another unique site to visit, this time towards the North, is Isla de Lobos (Sea-lions Island), located off the shores of Playa Brava. In addition to a big lighthouse, the third tallest in the world, the largest colony of sea lions in South America may be observed right on this spot. It is said that 15,000 sea lions and 250,000 specimens of South American fur seals reside on the island, making it the largest sea lion colony in the Western Hemisphere, and an official nature reserve.
CATEDRAL DE SAN FERNANDO: Visit the neoclassical Cathedral of San Fernando which 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 car ride from Punta del Este.
LA BARRA: 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, Kate Uptown and the Rolling Stones.
JOSE IGNACIO: 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.
LIGHTHOUSE (FARO): The faro was built in November of 1860, by Tomas Libarena. It was made with a mix of volcanic sand from Rome, which is harder than cement. That allows it to be perfectly preserved until today.
What to Eat
CHIVITO AND CHORIPAN: Chivito and Choripán are two popular sandwiches in the food stalls on the streets of Punta del Este. Chivito is a type of sandwich filled with a filet of grilled beef, ham, bacon, mozzarella cheese, tomato, olives, egg, green pepper (a type of the spanish paprika), and seasoned with mayonnaise. It is usually accompanied with french fries or a Russian salad (potato, carrot, and peas with mayonnaise). Another traditional sandwich is Chopiran, a kind of baguette filled with grilled spicy sausage, lettuce, tomato, and different sauces.
CHAJA DESERT: One of Uruguay’s gastronomic icons for excellence is, undoubtedly, the Chaja dessert. This delicious peach meringue cake is originally from Paysandú, a city in western Uruguay, but it has it has become a traditional Uruguayan product. The Chaja is a light, spongy cake made up of sponge, meringue, lots of whipped cream, dulce de leche, and peaches. In this traditional cake you’ll find different tastes and textures in surprisingly delicious layers.
FISH & WINE: The cuisine of Punta del Este is an eclectic showcase of the best of regional cuisine with a variety of international specialties and a great selection of dishes based on fresh seafood. Seafood, in fact, figures substantially in the cuisine of Punta del Este, with fresh produce brought directly from the port, and some signature dishes that will delight the most discerning palates. The local Brótola, a flaky whitefish similar to grouper, is usually served in creamy sauces with tiny shrimp and mussels. They also serve up finger-licking good chipirones, tiny fried squid, together with a tangy homemade pimiento mayo, perfectly enjoyable with some local wine, such as Viognier Juanico, a rich, dry local white. The famous Uruguayan wines made of the Tannat grape, can be enjoyed with a tasteful roasted meat or with a savory spicy cheese. There is also a popular drink in all Uruguay called "medio y medio" (half and half) which is a mix of sweet sparkling wine and dry white wine.
By Paola Cigui. Southern Views Magazine. All Rights Reserved. ©