Punta del Este has been South America’s most famous beach resort for over a hundred years.
In the fifties it was the playground of the likes of Sinatra and the bratpack. Nowadays it’s still beloved by South Americans, especially Argentines and Brazilians. From Christmas to the end of January, it’s quite the in-your-face glamour puss. Punta off-season has a particular charm of its own and for that reason has become home to increasing numbers of expats from Europe and North America
So what are the best things to do in Punta?
Hit the beach
Punta, as it’s called locally, has two long beaches—the Brava and the Mansa—both lined with highrises. Playa Brava is to the east and as its name suggests the waves are rougher and it’s less sheltered. The Mansa to the west is more protected. During the short high season there’s a very lively beach scene, especially at night.
Eyeball the South American tourists on Golero street and ‘Fashion Road’
Be prepared for bumper-to-bumper traffic along the principal high streets, Gorlero Avenue and Calle 20, known as Fashion Road (yes, it’s really called that, in English). During summer, Punta del Este attracts Argentines and Brazilians looking to see and be seen and they cruise up and down the peninsula in their cars. Shops range from typical tourist tat to the most exclusive designers.
Take your photo at ‘The Hand’
Few people leave Punta del Este without taking a photo of themselves posing next to the giant fingers emerging from the sand at Parada 1 on Playa Brava. The sculpture which is actually known as ‘Man Emerging into Life’ by Chilean Mario Irarrázabal was created in 1982 as part of a sculpture competition.
Eat a chivito – Punta is the birthplace of Uruguay’s famous steak sandwich
Yup, it’s called the chivito, which confusingly translates as ‘baby goat’. Whereas a chivito is actually a sandwich filled a slice of hot beef and a ton of other ingredients. Find out more about the history of the chivito and how to make your own chivito.
Stroll Old Punta
Old Punta is part of the Peninsula and it is packed with the most emblematic of Punta—the famous ‘hand’ sculpture rising from the sand and the marina where millionaires moor their yachts. Have a wander around the old part of Peninsula above the port – it’s a very different Punta from the highrise-lined coast. By old I mean solid inter-war houses and some lowrise apartments, nothing colonial. Close to the church there’s a testing ground from where Marconi, the inventor of the telegraph who lived in Punta from 1910 to 1911, made the first transatlantic radio contact to Europe.
Check out enormous seals close up
At the marina watch the local fishermen cleaning their catch and tossing the left-overs to the huge seals basking next to the yachts. Those whiskery beasties often lumber up onto the marina walkways, so close you have to inch past them.
Visit the site of one of World War II’s most emblematic South American battles
At the far end of the peninsula lies Punta Salinas, where the River Plate officially ends and the Atlantic Ocean begins. It’s the southernmost point of Uruguay. From this point locals watched World War II history in the making as the British Royal Navy cruisers Ajax, Exeter and Achilles fought the Graf Spee in the Battle of the River Plate in 1939. The Ajax’s anchor lies in the Plaza Gran Bretaña.
Drive the leafy avenues of Punta’s luxurious past
Palatial leafy neighbourhoods like Parque del Golf are the exclusive ‘old money’ barrios—a world away from the throngs on Gorlero. The sumptuous mansions set in pine groves date from the first decades of Punta. These houses have large grounds many without fences. This lack of walls illustrates why Brazilians and Argentines love Punta–besides the beaches and nightlife, they love it for its safe streets.