Should I visit Punta del Este?

If you're a party-loving 20-something sun-worshipper you'll love Punta del Este Uruguay in January. Everyone else, stick to Punta off-season.
By Karen A Higgs
Last updated on December 18, 2013

Punta del Este, Uruguay, has two long beaches – the Brava and the Mansa – lined with high rises. It’s the centre of glamour magazines and cheesy TV shows during the summer and heaving with tourists in January and February.

Argentinians and Brazilians go crazy for “Punta”.

Personally I avoid Punta at all costs during the summer time but I confess to enjoying its charm off-season.

Off-season Punta del Este has a very special charm

Have a wander around that old part of peninsula above the port – it’s a very different Punta from the highrise lined rest of the coast. By “old” I mean solid inter-war buildings, nothing colonial.

There the buildings are mainly houses and some low-rise apartment blocks. The port is also charming with a yacht club and several restaurants.

8 things to do in Punta del Este
This beastie regularly hangs out on the dock near the fishermen cleaning their fish. Photo: Guru'Guay

Walk to the port and walk along the piers to see the local fish sellers working and huge seals basking next to the yachts.

Punta del Este is a great vantage point for whale-watching. You can take a boat out to view Isla Gorriti, packed with seals.

Take a day trip to Punta del Este from Montevideo

I regularly recommend that our guests take a day trip to Punta from Montevideo. It takes just 2 hours to get there, the buses are comfortable, cheap and have free wifi.

Buses go from Tres Cruces every half an hour. Catch the ones that take 2 hours. You might want to check out my guide to reading bus timetables in Uruguay. If you have a car drive around including on to chic Jose Ignacio or stay closer just going to La Barra which has a really fun bridge to drive across.

Isla Gorriti
Isla Gorriti by Jimmy Baikovicius

Let me explain my aversion to Punta

I lived in Argentina several decades ago and was completely turned off by the endless summer TV coverage of the beach scene in “Punta”.

I heard the word “cola-less” for the first time. A term for a tiny buttock-bearing g-string, seemingly obligatory beach wear for any female Argentine celeb or wannabe.

Cola means “bum” to us British. In a cola-less the bum is actually what is MOST on display.

The TV coverage gave me the impression that Punta del Este was part of Argentina.  I thought it was — until I had a look at a map.

Nothing has changed. I just looked at a website catering for “Personalized and luxury travel in Argentina at its very finest” and Punta del Este is there – and not a single mention of it being in Uruguay!

We can safely conclude that in summer, Punta is no longer part of Uruguay. I suspect most Uruguayans would agree.




15 Responses

  1. I have not been back to Punta in 12 years. Last time I was there it was very uncrowded.
    What I remember the most was how expensive everything cost. The drive from Montevideo seemed to go on forever. The people are some of the nicest of any country I have ever visited.
    It helped that I have relatives there. I hope that I will get the chance to return some day.

    1. Hi Rick, yes, Punta is infamously over-priced compared to everywhere else in Uruguay! Yes, the people are truely marvellous. All the best, Karen PS. The drive takes just 2 hours – in case anyone is wondering!

  2. Good Evening

    I was planning to visit Uruguay the end of December (most likely the 24th until January 1st,) with my fiancé. We are both from New York. We want to relax on the beach, try great food, and get immersed with the culture. I was wondering if you can help me decide what town to stay in. Since, we are flying from NYC, the closest airport to the beach towns is Montevideo. Is that correct? If we stay in Montevideo, are there beaches that we can walk to? My second option was Punta del Este. From the airport, how far is the bus or taxi ride to Punta del Este? Do you have any suggestions on how to get there? Any hotel recommendations? We are both 35 years old, so we are not looking to party. Just some sort of night life.
    Thank you so much. Your website is so resourceful!

    Anna M

  3. As part of a visit to Uruguay and Argentina, we are due to spend a couple of days in Punta del Este soon and I wondered if you could recommend somewhere to eat suitable for Vegetarians (no meat or fish) and not too expensive? Is there such a place??

    Thanks in advance, Paula (Edinburgh, Scotland)

    1. Hi Paula, funnily enough I was talking to a vegetarian guest who had returned to Montevideo and Buenos Aires after many years. We commented on how even vegan food is fashionable nowadays in this meat-eaters paradise and how things have changed. Most restaurants will offer several vegetarian dishes and as pasta is very popular in Uruguay, that’s always a fall-back too.

  4. So here’s another foodie tip: Cuatro Mares is the most contemporary (yet casual) place in all of Punta del Este (it’s in the old centre), open all year round, and with prices that are an eye-opener with respect to the “usual” in Punta. A do-not-miss!

  5. It’s pretty difficult to find “authentic” places in Punta, but there a little place in Manantiales (between La Barra and José Ignazio) that’s really different: El Almacén. A young couple who love food, cook for you as though you were guests in their house (which is basically what the restaurant is, two eclectic, homey rooms, plus a veranda). A memorable meal, made evn more so when you consider the context of Punta!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! 🙂

      Though I will admit I was suprised and pleasantly surprised to hear a guest of ours from Germany this week comment positively on the summer vibe in Punta del Este.

      He is a guy in his mid to late 20s studying in the US at the moment. He was invited to Punta for a couple of nights by Uruguayan friends. He said that he had loved the fact that he was surrounded by young people primarily from the south of South America – Argentinians, Brazilians and Uruguayans, as opposed to Europeans or North Americans, and that the atmosphere was very laid-back and friendly.

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