Punta del Este & surroundings
Punta del Este owes its career as South America’s most fashionable seaside resort to the world wars of the last century.
Instead of going to the European seaside resorts, which had become theatres of war or even battlefields, the rich Argentineans now sent their families by steamer to Punta del Este for summer retreat.
Summer houses following the European model in the Tudor style or that of the Belle Epoque were built there, the ball rolled in the casino, golf, polo or bridge were played, or it was invited to a high tea.
“Punta” reached its temporary climax as a romping place for the rich and beautiful in the late 1940s and 1950s, during which it was considered equally chic but less decadent than Havana or San Juan.
This splendour of the early years has largely faded today, and Punta del Estes Skyline is also dominated today by faceless hotel monstrosities and apartment buildings.
During the high season in the local summer, the population of the town on a peninsula between the Río de la Plata and the Atlantic Ocean multiplies.
Because of this location, Punta del Estes beaches have a very different character: while in the west they are quiet and protected (Playa La Mansa) at the Rio de la Plata, which is not a river but the estuary delta of Paraná and Uruguay, partly high waves break at the beaches of the open Atlantic Ocean in the east (Playa La Brava).
In addition to the hand sculpture called “Dedos”, the opulent building called “Casapueblo” is a must for a visit to Punta del Este. Viewers associate the “Casapueblo” either with Hundertwasser or Santorini, built in memory of one of the creepiest stories of the past century: Carlos Páez Vilaró, the Uruguayan painter and sculptor who died in 2014, dedicated the building to his son Carlitos, who, at the age of 18, crashed in the Andes on the flight to Santiago de Chile with the team and the supporters of his rugby team of ‘Old Christian’s Club’ and was one of the few survivors of a 72-day martyrdom in the eternal ice, which has since been filmed several times.
The “Aboretum Lussich”, a botanical garden of several hundred hectares in which its founder, the illustrious Uruguayan shipowner Antonio Lussich planted 400 exotic tree species and 70 species native to Uruguay and thus created his life’s work, is worth seeing and recommended as a half-day excursion away from the beaches. The area is accessible by beautiful paths, the entrance is free.
Today the beaches in the east of Punta del Estes are considered the meeting point of the jet set, where instead of apartment complexes wickedly expensive beach villas are built and the lighthouse of José Ignacio appears on the horizon. Antique and fine junk shops next to apparently simple restaurants of international star chefs blend into the extensive development of beach communities such as La Barra, Manantiales or finally José Ignacio west of the lagoon of the same name.
Even villages in the hinterland, such as Pueblo Garzón, have become a retreat for celebrities from all over the world or ministers and heads of state.
After the end of the short season in January and February, many of the fine restaurants as well as the chic boutiques close.