Atlántida is a quiet, sleepy resort town, 30 minutes drive from Montevideo.
Even at the height of high season, when Atlantida is comparatively busy, it still has wide stretches of white sand to enjoy with less holiday-makers than other seaside destinations I could mention.
Wide pine-lined white sands
The beach is completely deserted in the winter months (and autumn and spring – think about visiting Uruguay off season) and is one of my favourite places to visit from Montevideo for a day.
Go for a long walk along the wide, white pine tree-lined beach. Walk west –to the right facing the sea*– until you get to a house in shape of a giant eagle head perched looking out over the water.
The water is still river estuary at this point however it mostly looks, smells and feels like the sea.
World-class people’s architecture
Architect guests of mine from all over the world have travelled to Atlantida to visit the Cristo Obrero Church which lies to on the opposite side of the highway from the beach.
The church was built by Eladio Dieste, a Uruguayan engineer and architect who built his reputation on producing every-day structures –grain silos, factory sheds, markets and churches– all in Uruguay and considered exceptionally elegant by his peers.
“In an industry so often enamored by media-coddled superstars with trendy clients, Eladio Dieste stands out as a refreshing and inspiring figure,” says a book produced to celebrate his legacy on his death in 2000.
While it may look utilitarian on the outside, have a look at how stunning the church interior really is.
Where to eat in Atlantida
Back in town, pig out at Restaurante Don Vito. Order the grilled lamb (cordero), the bife ancho (a melt-in-your-mouth beef cut usually reserved for export) or the pork ribs (pechito de cerdo). Amazing desserts too.
A meal for six with beer and two desserts to share (that was all we had room for!) set us back just over 20 USD per person.
And the waiters are so friendly (and cultured!) – ours (loosely) quoted Kant to an indecisive member of our party. ONLY in Uruguay (well, and maybe Mexico).
I’m not sure if Don Vito was serving when the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda vacationed here, but if they were it was surely one of the reasons he came back regularly to Atlantida. It’s one of the few restaurants that I find consistently good.
Family and power-down oriented
Unlike beaches further to the east, Atlantida appeals mainly to families and people looking for a relaxing, self-contained holiday. Most people rent houses for at least a week. There’s very little night-life, other than strolling down to the water front and along the waterline.
The proximity to Montevideo however makes it a great spot for people looking to kick-back and relax with occasional forays into the music and culture of Montevideo.
How to get to Atlantida
Atlantida is 45 km from the centre of Montevideo. That is just under 30 miles. It’s 20 km from the international airport.
Buses go from the Rio Branco bus station on the corner of Rio Branco and Galicia streets in downtown Montevideo.
If you drive, take the exit sign-posted to the “Aguila” (the Eagle) which is before the main Atlantida exit and follow the winding road to the coast.
You can park on the side of the coastal road and walk down to the beach from there. The sand there is less crowded than in the centre of Atlantida.
Continue along the coast road (just a kilometre or so) to reach the centre.
* Technically the River Plate does not become the Atlantic Ocean until Punta del Este, another 80-odd kms away. But Uruguayans habitually refer to the River Plate as the sea (“el mar”), even in Montevideo.
Photos Joaquin I