I had the fortune of spending a few days in Punta del Este during the summer, which normally goes from December until March. I had been here off-season and this was a completely different experience. What a gorgeous place to spend the summer!
I visited with a few local friends, so I got many recommendations that could work for you if you are planning on going for the first time.
1. Avoid the city
If you can afford it, avoid the city of Punta del Este and head over to the little towns of Jose Ignacio, Manantiales neighborhood or La Barra. This is because the city itself doesn't have much to offer other than the same touristy experience than any other coastal city. On the other hand, the little towns just 20 or 30 minutes away from it are wonderfully crafted for a community of well-off individuals that don't mind spending some bucks to enjoy a very relaxing and beautiful setting.
2. Choose a hotel
We stayed at Hotel Mantra which is one of the most known hotels in La Barra. A cute hotel but not very modern in its architecture, compared to other competitors around that have some great architectural designs. However, they offer many facilities to go to the beach, spend the day at the spa or the pool or even have a crazy night at the Casino.
3. Try the restaurants
Eating out every day will leave a hole in your pocket because the prices are a bit high, but these places I tried are great:
- O'Farrell Restaurant in Manantiales. Created by Pamela and Hubert O'Farrell, this place has found the perfect balance between the texture and flavor of each dish. The paella I ordered was magnificent, really tasting the flavors of each ingredient and a rice cooked to perfection.
- Fish Market, also in Manantiales, has lots of fresh seafood and a great environment. Perfect for lunch.
- A Nutella, banana, strawberry crepe at Crepas is a good idea for an afternoon snack.
- For lunch or dinner in Jose Ignacio, La Huella is a favorite of locals and visitors alike. There's always a line so be prepared to wait, even if you make a reservation.
4. Go to the many beaches
There's no shortage of beaches to choose from in Punta del Este and surroundings. The beaches are divided by brava or mansa, which are terms to describe the current: strong or low. Some of the classic beaches in La Barra are Montoya and Bikini, and a place families like to go with their kids is La Posta del Cangrejo.
I also enjoyed time at La Juanita, discovered a new and very attractive beach restaurant called La Susana, and I was told about a hidden gem called Balneario de Buenos Aires which is still not very visited for its lack of infrastructure. If you are comfortable roughing it a little, then you'll have a beach entirely for yourself in the middle of the most visited place by Uruguayans, Argentinians and Brazilians in the summer.
5. Activities you can try
The best thing you can do in Punta del Este is to spend the day at the beach. The people watching is terrific and you can spend long hours under the shade (or sun) reading a book, taking sporadic swims or trying to guess the stories of the people nearby. You can also walk around the little towns because they are beautiful, with carefully designed places that grab the attention of any passerby. Go to the boutique stores and the galleries, which also offer a very interesting selection of handmade premium products and good art. I also saw a group horseback riding at the beach during sunset and it looked like an amazing plan, but I didn't have enough time to try it. Bars and Clubs are mostly located in La Barra where the majority of kids stay, and the night goes late. I also heard New Years here is bonkers!
6. Prices and currency
Punta del Este is expensive. Especially the towns nearby, the prices can be to the roof. However, if you rent a house with your friends, you can prepare meals at home and eat out on special occasions. At the moment, 1 dollar gives you 30 Uruguayan pesos, so it's kind of hard to make an automatic conversion when you are looking at food or clothing prices, but many restaurants and store also take USD so if you don't have pesos at the moment, you can solve with your dollars.
Rent a car. There are no taxis in the towns nearby, plus you want to be able to move in between places until you find the spot you like. There's a zero alcohol tolerance policy, so be careful with drinking and driving. To get to Punta del Este from Buenos Aires, for example, you can choose to fly in or take the ferry, BuqueBus, to Montevideo, rent a car there and drive 1.5 hours to Punta. If you decide to fly, it's still convenient to rent a car.