Anybody who has ever been to Uruguay will rave about its natural beauty, fantastic coastline, great food, and friendly people. The combination of modern infrastructure, fabulous architecture and breathtaking shorelines make Punta del Este the most internationally renowned destination in this unassuming jewel of the South.
Punta del Este comprises a meandering coastline including a beautiful peninsula, where the main city is located, that extends out from the charming Portezuelo beach on the side of a small hill and Punta Ballena (Whale´s Point, literally), a famous panoramic spot, to José Ignacio with its lighthouse, scarce luxurious properties and marine farms, which are an ecological haven.
Only 140 km East from the capital of Montevideo, and with its own beautifully designed little airport and famous marina which is usually full of luxurious yatchs, Punta del Este is very easy to reach by land, sea or air.
If you drive into town, when you get on the road parallel to the coast, you will soon pass the airport on your left hand side, to discover the spot of my first favorite hotel: LAS CUMBRES.
Paradise up in the clouds
Up on a hill, only a couple of miles from the coast, the LAS CUMBRES ART-HOTEL AND SPA boasts the swimming pool with the best views in Punta, beautiful architecture, and charm and luxury to spare.
The Condé Nast recommended hotel offers different level rooms, the interior design of which reminds more of dream luxury home than a hotel. It is seldom one finds in a hotel just the exact dose of homely feeling, luxury, and comfort.
Room rates start at about $200 for the Spring season, and they tend to go up for Christmas and the rest of the summer, peaking in January, which is the prime summer vacation month in the area.
Punta del Este is crazy busy in January. The rich and famous have their luxury homes there, there are fashion shows, concerts by international stars, there is traffic in the main town and crowds on the most popular beaches. However, staying at Las Cumbres is an option to enjoy it all, while having a gorgeous haven to retreat to, far from those madding crowds. Drive for a couple of miles, and you are right at my favorite Jazz club Medio y Medio, where top international musicians will show you what all the fuss about Uruguayan and Argentinean music is about. A couple of miles further is the Lapataia milking farm, which hosts an international Jazz Festival that features top stars from the US, America and the world, and where Paquito D´Rivera is a regular.
A couple of miles further East, you may hang out with the glitterati and all of those Argentinean supermodels at one of the top Discos of La Barra, where you can dance into the morning.
Seaside ranch for eco-bliss
Estancia Vik in beautiful José Ignacio is a traditional Uruguayan ranch-style facility offering modern comforts and abundant leisure activities. The architecture and even the building materials emulate the traditional colonial estancia of the past, and the surroundings provide exhilarating vistas.
Estancia Vik has another location right on the José Ignacio beach called Playa Vik, which offers a cluster of beautiful shoreside houses for those preferring to stay at the beach.
A favorite will the be the edge-less pool that seems to blend into the sea and the horizon, and, of course, the traditional cuisine, which includes fresh local seafood, prime Uruguayan beef and naturally grown local vegetables and fruits.
Secluded entertainment complex
This award-winning mogul of a hotel, in the midst of lush woods, half a mile from the beach along the beautiful La Barra shorelines has been singled out as the best hotel in Punta del Este by publications as prestigious as the LA Times, to name just one.
With a top-notch 2,500 sq. mt. casino, indoor and outdoor pools and tubs, and a great kids club, Mantra is a place where you will never long for excitement and entertainment. The hotel also prides in its state of the art cuisine, and it is famous for hosting great event nights, such as special Christmas and New Year´s dinners and shows.
Location, luxury, great facilities and great service have established Mantra as one of the leading local hotels, offering interesting options and activities not only in the summer, but also year-round.
Class to spare
Over the years, I have stayed at many different hotels in Punta del Este, but the Clarion Hotel Campanario will forever remain among my favorites. While the place is so quiet that it feels like this beautiful Mediterranean style building is in the middle of nowhere, it will only take a few minutes to drive out into the hustle and bustle of downtown Punta.
The beautiful gardens, the beautiful pool immersed in all that greenness with the gentle sound of a cascade, the foyer and the restaurant, and the stylish rooms combine to create just the perfect atmosphere for a relaxing holiday.
My personal paradise
It may be because I am head over heels with Greece. It may be because I am also head over heels with Portezuelo and Punta Ballena, but the fact remains that if I had to choose just one place to return to stay in Punta del Este, I would choose Casapueblo over all of the other glamorous hotels in town.
The home of a famous Uruguayan artist, greatly involved in the local African-roots culture of CANDOMBE drumming, Casapueblo was designed by the artist himself, whose name is Carlos Páez Vilaró, emulating traditional Greek architecture, much in the style of what you can see sitting atop the cliffs of Santorini.
From the moment you enter, it is as if you were entering a fairy-tale land, the curves of roofs and windows, the magical sunsets and, my personal favorite, the eyes of the painted sun that seemed to stare out from the bottom of the pool into my beautiful balcony, everything seems a tad unreal and magical.
Half the building is a living art gallery, full of paintings, sculptures and objects created by Páez Vilaró. If you want something spiritually enriching, unique and relaxing, this will be the place for you, the same way as it is for me.
Seems after writing this I still have lots of material for a second post. I didn´t even get to mention some personal favorites like LA CAPILLA, where I enjoyed a fabulous stay some years back, or some more affordable options that also have their advantages like the little La Ballena hotel or the Arcobaleno apartments. Stay tuned for some more on that.
What is your favorite Punta del Este hotel. Let us know in the comments!