Leaving Buenos Aires, we set out for Uruguay as the first authentic stop of our vagabonding adventure. We booked our ticket on the morning of the 1st and, at midnight, set sail for Punta del Este. After getting some sleep on a 3 hour ferry (which was more like a cruise ship, with a full arcade and shopping mall) and a 4 hour bus ride (with almost fully reclining seats), we arrived in the “Hamptons of South America” around 8 AM. We completed our seamless journey when Jim Ray, a family friend of the Altfelds who lives in Paraguay, picked us up at the bus stop and whisked us away to his summer house.
We expected to enjoy the Rays’ hospitality for only one day, but soon learned that we had arrived in Punta at the height of the summer and holiday season, when Argentinians, Brazilians and Paraguayans fill the area’s beautiful, breezy beaches. Good news: we were in Punta at the best time of the year. Bad news: buses to Brazil were fully booked for the next 7 days. Suddenly stranded in one of the most expensive cities in South (and possibly North) America, our “book nothing in advance” policy (intended to take advantage of last minute pricing and maintain flexibility) didn’t seem so smart. After thinking through our options and receiving many kind-hearted assurances from the Rays that they were happy to have us for as long as we needed (we quickly came to appreciate Ita Ray’s mother-like concern for us), we changed plans, booked a flight to North Brazil for later in the week and hunkered down in Punta for the next 4 days.
With the stress of travel planning out of the way, we began to enjoy the beautiful beaches, people and towns of Punta del Este. We even adapted to the local culture, shifting our day back by about 3 hours: awakening at 11 AM, lunching at 3 PM and eating dinner at 11 PM (the early dinner discount begins at 9 PM). All the while, we:
- Explored Punta, chowing down on chivitos (a delicious local hamburger-like sandwich) and seafood; taking an obligatory picture beside the “Drowning Hand” on the beach; admiring the collection of new luxury high rise apartment buildings (including the latest from Trump) and relaxing at the Ray’s beachside house.
- Ventured to the insanely trendy town of Jose Ignacio with the Rays, enjoying a 4PM lunch on the windy beach and warming up over a cappuccino in a beachside cafe.
- Drove over the “Drunkards Bridge” to La Barra to relax on the crowded beach and wander through the art galleries and shops.
- Tried to take in the sunset at the Mediterranean/Gaudi-inspired Casapueblo but, given the haze, detoured to a rustic and elegant mountaintop estancia to enjoy tea with John Ray and his friends. Five cakes and several scones, finger sandwiches and glasses of champagne later, we stumbled out of the place.
- Witnessed the unrivaled familial ties and hospitality of the Paraguayans, as we were welcomed to the family’s many get-togethers. The highlight was celebrating a birthday BBQ with the family, getting to know the Rays’ many cousins and feasting on various grilled meats and cuisines and, to Alie’s delight, a local Dulce de Leche cake called Rogel.
We had a great, relaxing stay in Punta. We were spoiled by the Ray’s hospitality, and can’t thank them enough for their fun, generous and enjoyable company during our stay. Ita, Jim, James, John and Grace (as well as the rest of the extended family) took us in and showed us a truly wonderful time. Something tells us we won’t be living so luxuriously during our next stop in Olinda, Brazil…
Things to do:
- There’s certainly more to Uruguay than Punta Del Este (though much of the country’s appeal seems to be its many beaches). We skipped over colonial Colonia and the capital of Montevideo, but hear both offer interesting historical sights.
- In Punta, sleep in, attempt to exercise, relax on the beach, explore the town and the dock, shop around Artigas Square, and stay out late.
- On both sides of the city are other trendy beach towns – like La Barra and Jose Ignacio – that each offer their own personality.
Days Stayed / Recommended: We stayed 4 days but definitely could have stayed longer. Our recommendation depends on your desire to beach and ability to tan. There are a few days to be had exploring the various towns and enjoying the Uruguayan culture and cuisine.
Accommodation: If you aren’t lucky enough to have a friend or family member to stay with in the extremely expensive Punta, we recommend checking out La Barra, Punta’s small, artsie, hippie next-door neighbor with a great beach, trendy nightlife and a great overall vibe.
Local Food: Chivitos and a lot of dulce de Leche (in various forms – from a spread, to cakes and cookies, to ice cream). We recommend El Pobre Marino for delicious and reasonably priced seafood and Chiviteria Marcos for spot on chivitos.