José Ignacio Uruguay – billionaire playground & valet parking signs in the sand

Elon Musk and a Murdoch Jr have owned houses in tiny Jose Ignacio. But we're still at the beach, in Uruguay. So streets are unpaved and service unhurried.
By Karen A Higgs
Last updated on February 6, 2024
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Elon Musk, Shakira and a Murdoch Jr have owned houses on this tiny peninsula just six blocks wide by six blocks long. But like so many of the beach towns in Uruguay Jose Ignacio started out as a fishing village

Noone knows for sure who the original Jose Ignacio was, but as far back as 1763 there was an estancia by that name in the vicinity. Development came at snail’s pace. In the 1970s electricity still hadn’t reached the village and a square foot of land cost just one dollar.

[Check out our feature article on The history of Jose Ignacio]

A haute-hippie hideaway

Today during high season a simple mid-century holiday home in this “haute-hippie hideaway” as one luxury travel writer called it can rent at 70,000 USD a week.

Despite this, we’re still in Uruguay. The streets are sandy and the service is slow and convivial. But there are chi-chi tea rooms, designer boutiques disguised as beach shacks, cube-like art galleries and a ‘Valet Parking’ sign at the beach.

Aerial view of José Ignacio © Jimmy Baikovicius

Permanent population of just three hundred

José Ignacio has a permanent population of just three hundred—and just 28 on the peninsula—but on a peak season weekend eight thousand people can flood into town. Where do they all stay?

With such demand on accommodation and street parking, development is creeping west. La Juanita is an adjacent forested barrio where some of the locals who can no longer afford the prices of José Ignacio are making their homes amongst the woodlands.

Rentals—a mix of hippie-chic modernist chalets and colourful containers (houses made out of shipping containers are all the rage)—are more accessibly-priced and there are a number of good restaurants attended by their owners next door to locals’ cottages surrounded by their barking dogs. See how to avoid paying top dollar at the beach in Uruguay.

Strict regulations around building and commerce enforced by moneyed residents mean that Jose Ignacio is likely to extend its current status as the place to be for wealthy Europeans and North Americans into the future.

Cover photo by Jimmy Baikovicius

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