Imagine that you are a contestant on Jeopardy, and you chose Beach Towns in Uruguay for $500. Alex Trebek reads the text: “This upscale resort town is sometimes called the Southampton of South America.” You reply: “What is Punta del Este?”
The bell rings. You are correct!
The Hamptons description suits Punta, with its high-rise, high-end hotels. Here, A-List celebrities hang out with multi-millionaires and high-fashion models, and a good, albeit dramatic time is had by all who can afford the price.
To be fair, I tend to joke about Punta, because the first time my husband and I drove through it, my immediate reaction was to gape at the skyscraper-like condos and wonder why anyone would fly eight hours from Miami to view the same type of scenery?
Locals would argue that there’s much to see and do in Punta del Este. Note that by locals I mean Aussies, Brits, Canadian and US expats. Aside from business owners, very few native Uruguayans actually live in Punta throughout the entire year. Nonetheless, if you drive through, be sure to check out the famous hand sculpture called Los Dedos de la Playa Brava.
While many people swear by Punta del Este, there’s a lot more to coastal Uruguay. Many of these towns cater to the young backpacker set, but if you’re looking for sophisticated coastal locations that keep their South American soul, check out these two destinations.
When celebrities want to escape the paparazzi of Punta, they take refuge in former fishing village José Ignacio. The town’s star-studded guests and occasional residents include Hollywood icons such as Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman, singers like Shakira and Julio Iglesias, and supermodels like Naomi Campbell. Jose Ignacio is interesting, in that the town’s building ordinances prevent excessive commercialization.
In an interview with Ola Uruguay, real estate agent Ignacio Rubail explains that the ordinance prohibits the building of shopping malls, pubs and dance clubs. There’s even a limit on how many hotels can be built.
“An inn’s guests are always changing,” argues Rubail. ” For a neighbor, waking up to greet a visitor of a hotel is not the same as waking up and greeting another resident who you know and see, day after day. ”
Rubail’s explanation verifies what I’ve already noticed after living in Uruguay for almost one year. People here really like their neighbors. They like to greet you as you come and go, and they happy when they receive your mail, because it gives them a chance to chat.
Somehow, however, construction of the oddly elegant Playa Vik was permitted. Playa Vik creates a sharp contrast against the rustic whitewashed cottages and thatched roofs of José Ignacio. Nevertheless, this alluring beachfront resort, doesn’t deter me from pointing travelers towards José Ignacio.
Few places blend the sophisticated with the soulful like Piriapolis. I won’t do it the dishonor of comparing it to any other city in the world. Like the country it inhabits, Piriapolis is distinctly Uruguayan, while boasting a unique, unpretentious charm and personality that reflect its history.
Francisco Piria, who designed the city, laid it out according to the mystical principles of Alchemy and Kabbalah. The town’s signature lodging venue, the Hotel Argentino, embellishes the Rambla with its graceful elegance. Even if you are not a millionaire, a celebrity, or one of the beautiful people, Piriapolis will make you feel as if you are.