South America’s Best Kept Secret: Punta del Este, Uruguay

There is a small town on Uruguay’s coast that comes alive every summer, Punta del Este.  When temperatures start to stifle Buenos Aires residents, they seek refuge from the city heat.  Just a short ferry ride away from the hot city streets lie miles upon miles of glorious white sand beaches.  At other times of the year, Punta del Este is a dormant, cold, and foggy town.  Once December arrives, the streets come alive with an endless bustle of tourists, some staying upwards of a month.

As popular as it may be among those “in the know”, Punta del Este manages to remain a South American gem.  It is widely spread out, which prevents it from ever feeling over-crowded.  It features two coast lines: the “tame” side (La Mansa), and the “fierce” side (La Brava).  One side comes with large groups of families drinking mate, the other side comes with large groups of surfers drinking mate.  Besides drinking mate though, no one usually has any laid-out plans for the day.  When you spend a summer in Punta del Este, time slows down and so do you.  Take a walk around the marina during sunset and you will see a countless amount of people watching the sunset.  They take such joy out of watching the sunset, in fact, that they even clap when it’s over.  (Yes, I’m serious.)

This beach-side town is a melting pot of people.  You have the glitzy, yatch hopping foreigners who drive around in their Ferrari’s, and you have the family of Argentines that came over with grandma, grandma’s dog, their neighbor, and his family.  So, how should you spend a day (or two, or three, or…a summer) in Punta del Este?  I’ll tell you.

First, make sure you don’t wake up too early, or get out the door too early.  Because remember, you are here to relax!  The town stays open all night, so you’re going to need your energy.  Start your morning off with a great cup of espresso and some medialunas (sweet pastries) at a local bakery.  Find one near you or go to La Corunesa on one of Punta del Este’s main streets, Avenida Gorlero.  After that, take your pick of beach to go to.  Do you want something calm, on the Mansa side?  Do you want to brave La Brava?

Afterward you get tired of the sun and the sand, there are plenty of other activities to do in Punta del Este.  You could rent your own chartered fishing boat for a few hundred dollars for four hours.  Spend some time taking in the sites from a different perspective, and ask your captain if he’ll swing by Isla Goritti for you to take a few dives into the sea.  If fishing is not your thing, hop on a sunset cruise, a jet ski, or any form that will get you to see Punta del Este from the ocean.

At this point it’s probably lunch time, and time for the hardest decision of your day: where should you go to eat?  Check out restaurants among the harbor for freshly caught seafood, or visit Chiviteria Marcos for some Uruguayan-style tenderloin sandwiches.  Whatever you decide, walk it off by indulging in some shopping.  Take a walk down Avenida Gorlero, where you have an endless amount of shopping options. For example, you could get some handmade artisan crafts in the main square, or one-of-a-kind clothing from Manos del Uruguay.  Next, make sure you check out Churros Manolo for a delicious afternoon treat.

Finally, it’s the late afternoon.  Take a walk to check out Las Manos, a unique artistic landmark that always seems to call for a selfie. Walk over to the Mansa side and enjoy that world famous, clap-worthy, Punta del Este sunset.  During the evening, as you walk through the streets and admire the easy-going bustle of people enjoying themselves you’ll wonder why the rest of the world hasn’t made it to Punta del Este.  But then again, you’d rather just keep it your own, little secret.

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