Things to Do in Punta del Este
Perched atop the sea cliffs like a futuristic fairy-tale castle, the snow-white Casapueblo is a work of art and one of Uruguay’s top architectural landmarks. Visit the masterpiece—and former residence—of Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró to see its museum, art gallery, and hotel.
Lined with glitzy yachts and traditional fishing boats, the Port of Punta del Este (Puerto de Punta del Este) is the entry point for cruise visitors and the gateway to Uruguay’s most glamorous beaches. It’s also a popular destination in its own right, with scenic coastal walks, rocky beaches, and seafood restaurants.
An expansive swath of golden sand stretching along the western shore of Uruguay’s ritzy Punta del Este resort community, Mansa Beach (Playa Mansa) boasts calm, clear waters that make it a favorite for families. A beach promenade backed by upscale hotels is also the place to see and be seen during a romantic sunset stroll.
A small fishing town about six miles north of the Punta del Este peninsula, La Barra has been converted into a tourist area with colorful houses, flea markets and antique shops. Despite its popularity with the younger crowd in search of nightlife, La Barra attracts a number of wealthy visitors, including movie stars and models.
Punta del Este has plenty of notable beaches, and La Barra is no exception. Don’t miss Bikini Beach or the popular Montoya, Manantiales, Punta Piedras and El Chorro beaches nearby. Visitors also seek out La Barra’s hot nightlife. The area gets quite busy after dinner, especially around 2 a.m., when the younger crowd hits La Barra to check out the various pubs and discos.
La Barra also has a number of good restaurants if you’re looking to dine in the area and not stay out until sunrise. Choose from traditional Uruguayan eats, sushi places and even Italian restaurants.
Gorlero Avenue (Avenida Gorlero) is the main street in the Punta del Este region of Uruguay. It was named after the first mayor of Maldonado, Juan Gorlero, and is the only street in the area that got its name from a person. All other streets are referenced by street number, while avenues are known by their order from 5000 on.
Here you will find a bulk of Punta del Este’s prime tourist businesses, including cafes, restaurants, bars, art galleries, cinemas and casinos. In addition, there are a number of banks and exchange houses. During the summer tourist season, Gorlero Avenue is noted for its numerous live performers and artisans. Look for the “living statues,” jugglers, photographers and various handicraft artists set up along the avenue.
The street was remodeled in 1998 to make it friendlier to pedestrian traffic, so today its sidewalks are wider and lighting and seating are ample.
The Punta del Este Ralli Museum (Museo Ralli) is one of five museums of its kind in operation around the world and encompasses over 6,000 square meters. The site houses one of the most important collections of Latin American art in the world, along with pieces by renowned European artists.
The Ralli museums were founded by Harry and Martine Recanati, the latter of whom became familiar with Latin America and its art scene on countless business trips to the region as a bank owner. He began to acquire works from local artists and eventually decided to share his collection with the world and opened the first Ralli Museum in Punta del Este.
Opened in 1998, this museum became so popular that subsequent branches were opened in Santiago, Chile (1992), Caesarea, Israel (1993 and 2007) and Marbella, Spain (2000). The two museums in Israel are designated as Ralli 1 and Ralli 2.
Ride the panoramic elevator to the 22nd floor at La Vista in Punta del Este for some of the best views over the city. The top of the building is home to Uruguay’s only revolving restaurant, where you can take in the sights before exploring the complex’s art gallery, games zone, or bowling alley.
The Pablo Atchugarry Foundation (Fundación Pablo Atchugarry), a nonprofit started in 2007, is a must-see attraction of the arts in Punta del Este. With an exhibition building, an auditorium, an open-air stage, a space for art classes and a collection of Atchugarry’s permanent works, the site is an art lover’s dream.
Visitors will also find a sculptor’s workshop and the 30-hectare International Sculpture Park, which offers a natural setting to appreciate the work of local and international artists. Here, an emphasis has been placed on the importance of language diversity.
Atchugarry was born in Montevideo in 1954, and by age 11, he was already exhibiting at shows. The artist is best known for his sculptures, which have appeared in both European and Latin American public spaces. He himself chose the location and design of the art center with the goal of creating a “dialogue between art and nature.” Today, the sculptor lives and works in Italy, where he also maintains another museum named after him.
From swashbuckling pirates to mighty marine creatures; the Museum of the Sea (Museo del Mar) offers a diverse look at Punta del Este’s seafaring heritage. One of the largest museums of its kind in the world, it’s vast and varied collection includes more than 5,000 items and plenty of surprises.
Punta del Este's Artigas Square (Plaza Artigas), is the spot to hit in Punta del Este if you have an interest in arts and crafts, as it plays host to the arts and crafts fair, where a number of artisans and painters showcase their work.
Typically you will find anywhere between 150 and 200 stalls with Uruguayan artists exhibiting a variety of items for sale. It’s the ideal spot for visitors to learn more about Uruguayan culture and for artisans to showcase their work to inquisitive travelers.
Vendor offerings at Artigas Square cover everything from clothing to cartoon drawings, while some of the most popular items include leather goods, textiles, paintings, woodwork and sculptures. Also look for valuable jewelry made from gold, silver and semi-precious stones found in the northern part of Uruguay.
The plaza is named after General José Gervasio Artigas, a national hero of Uruguay, and the square’s craft fair started on July 22, 1967. It has grown from a local market to a “must-visit” tourist spot, but despite its popularity with tourists, the vendors are traditional artisans from Uruguay.
More Things to Do in Punta del Este
Punta del Este's Splash Aqua Park is a floating fun zone in the Mansa Beach area. The park sits in Mansa’s calm waters and features inflatable fun for kids, teenagers and even adults. With climbing towers, catapults, trampolines and obstacles, it’s sure to be a good time and is ideal for visitors looking for a day of fun.
The mascot of Splash Aqua Park is “Caimán Ron,” a cool alligator who wanders the streets of Punta del Este taking pictures with tourists. He has become a sort of mythical figure in the city’s culture, and kids look forward to the summer season when Ron makes his appearances in town.
Just off the coast of Punta del Este, at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, Lobos Island (Isla de Lobos) is home to one of the largest colonies of southern sea lions in the world—an estimated 200,000 inhabit its rocky shores. A protected nature reserve, the island can only be visited by guided tour.
Brava Beach (Playa Brava) has golden sands and surf-worthy waves, but the star attraction is Mario Irarrázabal’s sculpture. Punta del Este’s best-known landmark, the gigantic Hand of Punta del Este (La Mano de Punta del Este)—or simply los Dedos, meaning “the fingers”—is meant to symbolise a drowning swimmer and warn of the beach’s notorious waves.
Simple but striking, with its sky-blue and white façade; the Our Lady of the Candelaria Church is one of Punta del Este’s prettiest landmarks. Dating back to the mid-20th century, the church is dedicated to the patron saint of Punta del Este and is the town’s principal catholic church.
Proud of its nickname “Monaco of South America”; Punta del Este is Uruguay’s most glamorous beach resort and the Punta del Este Yacht Club is the destination of choice for South American jet-setters. Overlooking the glitzy marina and cruise port, the Yacht Club’s restaurant also makes a popular spot for a dinner date.
At the meeting point of the Río de la Plata and the Atlantic Ocean, Punta del Este Cruise Port is the gateway to one of Uruguay’s most popular beach resorts. Lavish seafront mansions and white-sand beaches await visitors, along with luxurious shopping boulevards and renowned nightlife.
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