Beyond Punta del Este: The Beache Towns of Uruguay
Subtle and sensual, Uruguay greets it visitors with the air of an alluring seductress, enticing them to stay and explore her secrets. Her cities, like Montevideo and Colonia, inspire awe in history aficionados, while the interior gaucho country lures horse lovers and those yearning for an insider’s look at the real cowboy lifestyle.
A series of beach towns, called balnearios, dot the Atlantic coast of Uruguay. Like charms on a bracelet, each has its distinct personality. These towns draw Brazilian and Argentinian vacationers, as well as Northern Hemisphere folks escaping the cold winters.
Photo credit: Jimmy Baikovicius
Punta del Este
Glitzy and glamorous, Punta del Este receives most of the attention. Tall, luxury hotels and highrise condos line its streets and pose like models on a runway. It’s a celebrity-watchers paradise, which will soon boast a brand new Trump Towers Hotel. Fortunately, whether you head east or west, there’s life beyond Punta.
About 25 miles from Punta del Este, lies another, albeit less flashy, celebrity vacation site. Jose Ignacio offers refuge for celebrities trying to escape the paparazzi, who stalk the beaches and restaurants of Punta. Columbian singer Shakira, Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood and Princess Caroline of Monaco are frequent visitors.
Once a sleepy fishing town, Jose Ignacio has kept some of its original ambiance. Its dirt roads, hand painted street signs, mom-and-pop grocery stores and bed and breakfasts create a bohemian ambiance of informality, despite its more recent examples of upscale elegance. Yet unlike its flashy neighbor, Jose Ignacio’s upscale is more Soho than Miami Beach.
Take, for example, Estancia Vik. Enjoying an enviable location on 4,000 acres of rolling countryside, Estancia Vik offers 12 large suites, each decorated with funky, contemporary creations by local artists. Both a resort and a cattle ranch, the estancia lets you pick your pleasures. Ride a horse, watch the cattle, learn to play polo or swim in the private pool.
Traveling east of Punta del Este and west of Montevideo, you chance upon the town of Atlantida. Be it ever so humble, it hominess make you want to live there. Atlantida has a serendipitous storybook ambiance, which surprises you each time you turn a corner. You might find a horse grazing in an open field, a multicolored airplane, painted by local artists and parked outside a community center, or a pet sheep sitting on someone’s front porch.
There’s also a house in the shape of an eagle, a building shaped like a cruise ship, and a small, intimate zoo, which does not charge admission. During the Uruguayan summer, Atlantida has a small carnival, complete with a Ferris wheel, a mini roller coaster and a local crafts fair. Its unpretentious presence does not draw celebrities, but locals would not have it any other way.
What can one say about a town laid out in accordance with the mystical principles of Kabbalah, alchemy and the constellation of Aquarius? You have to be there to feel it, and feeling is believing. Aside from its overwhelming beauty, Piriapolis is a place that just feels right.
When eclectic scholar Francisco Piria first saw the parcel of land in Cerro Pan de Azúcar, he surveyed its freshwater springs, mineral-rich mountains and fertile farmland and decided to create a new town. Piria mined the granite from the local mountain, and used it to section off a vineyard, an olive orchard and a walnut grove. His architects, inspired by the styles of late 19th century Italian villages designed Piria’s home. Statues of Greek gods, each representing a planet or metal used in alchemy, line the pathway to this impressive dwelling. Piria’s Castle, as it’s called, now functions as a museum.
The 1,100 foot Sugar-loaf Hill offers spectacular views of the town and beyond. When you reach the top, you’ll discover a concrete cross, which houses a narrow spiral staircase. Energetic kids enjoy the climb. Before heading out to the beach, check out the stained glass windows in the Argentino Hotel, and remember your camera.
These are just a few of the balnearios that grace the Uruguayan coastline. Visit and explore. You never know what you might find.