The peninsula of Punta del Este stretches out like a long, narrow finger into the ocean with a purpose, at the end of the peninsula and at its most southerly point is the place that marks, more or less, the divide between the beginning of the Atlantic Ocean on the east side of the peninsula, and the end of the Rio de la Plata River on the west side. The Atlantic side is much rougher, and it’s where you’ll see surfers riding the waves, it is called the Brava side which in Spanish means fierce.
The west side is defined as the Rio de la Plata side is called the Mansa side, the Spanish word for tame. To be precise, there is no absolute boundary that marks the end of the Rio de la Plata River and the beginning of the South Atlantic Ocean, and in fact the two waters mix at certain points.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the Spanish were the first Europeans to set foot in Punta del Este. Today it has become a beach resort for Argentineans, other South Americans and even those from Europe. And for good reason, its beaches with lovely golden sand stretch for miles on either side of the peninsula. Activities include sailing, surfing windsurfing and snorkeling. At the end of the peninsula is the famous landmark lighthouse, Faro de Punta del Este. Like the rest of Uruguay, the season is reversed with the Canadian one. In Uruguay, the hottest month is February and the coldest month is July. When I was in Punta del Este from November 23 for six days, temperatures were mostly in the mid-80s F.
Punta del Este’s most famous sculpture are the fingers reaching up from the sand on the Atlantic side, called La Mano (the hand)de Punta del Este or Los Dedos (the fingers). Chilean artist, Mario Irarrazabal, created the sculpture in 1982. It is said that the hand represents a warning to swimmers on this Atlantic side of the peninsula where the waters are rougher. He later made similar sculptures for the city of Madrid, in the Atacama Desert in Chile and in Venice.
A high point of my visit to Punta del Este was taking a half-day tour with Novo Turismo (wwwnovaturismor.com.uy). With this tour we visited several points within the city limits of Punta del Este, the last stop was a little up the coast to Punta Ballena to Casapueblo, a house built by Uruguayan painter and sculptor, Carlos Paez Vilaro. He worked on the house for over 36 years starting in 1958. It is a testament to the artist who wanted to share this beautiful spot with visitors.
When I first saw it, it reminded me of the architecture of the famous Spanish architect, Gaudi whose many buildings are seen in Barcelona. Here, on display, are Vilaro’s works of art including paintings, sculptures and ceramics. The high point of the visit here is to see the sunset. As the sun goes down, there is a recording of Vilaro’s voice talking about life and the beauty of nature. Even though it was in Spanish, one could almost feel what he was describing. His son was one of the survivors of the plane that crashed into the Andes in 1972.
Punta del Este is joined to the La Barra area by a famous “rolling” bridge that rises and falls like a roller coaster or the waves of the ocean, designed by engineer Leonel Viera. I’ve never had so much fun going over a bridge! This bridge is defined as a “stressed ribbon bridge” and was built between 1963-1965.
The La Barra area has many shops, pubs and discos – a great place for the younger set to hang out.
While in Punta del Este I stayed at the Atlantico Hotel. And I have to say I had a very pleasant stay there. The hotel has the nicest staff! They are all so helpful, cheerful and offered suggestions of what to see. If there is a problem they fix it very quickly. I highly recommend this hotel to anyone who is planning to visit Punta del Este.
It is situated almost at the end of the peninsula, so is in a quiet area, a stone throw’s away from the famous lighthouse, and a ten-minute walk to the beaches or main street for shopping. The harbour and several restaurants are a few minutes walk away. It’s about a fifteen minute walk to the central bus station; it was from there that I took a bus to go to Piriapolis.
I can’t leave out some experiences with food, as humble as they are. I’ll be honest, I did not find great cuisine at Punta del Este. I ordered a tuna salad on one occasion and got big chunks of raw tuna. I ordered a steak on one occasion, and I got what looked like a mini roast, a bit much for my small appetite. Perhaps the summer season wasn’t in full swing yet, so they were still gearing up for the summer crowd. or it just might be that the cuisine in Punta del Este is more traditional
A newly opened place for lunch called Cilantro had great sandwiches and quiches. When I arrived at Cilantro they had only been open a couple of days, but the sandwich I ordered was delicious, so I wish them the best of luck. It’s run by two brothers, and I think they are trying to get away from a meat-oriented menu to something that has more choices in the salad and vegetarian department. Based on what I tried, and the nice and friendly service that went along with it, I believe they’re going to be successful.
I will finish the cuisine section with an Uruguayan delicacy, the famous Chivito sandwich. One sees this sandwich on offer at many restaurants in Uruguay, and it’s one that I just couldn’t bring myself to test out. I just wasn’t up to the challenge! It contains thick slices of beef, and added in are ham, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried egg, onion, mayo and olives. A real heart attack on a plate! There is even a Canadian version, a “Chivito Canadiense” that adds in crispy bacon and then there is the “Chivito al Plato” which has all the ingredients, but without the bun.