Punta del Este is the best known and most bustling resort city in Uruguay. Located 130km (80mi) east of the national capital, Montevideo, Punta del Este is theoretically where the River Plate flows into the Atlantic Ocean, although in practice its shores are entirely bathed in seawater. Considered by some, with a certain exaggeration, the South American Monaco, Punta del Este really stands out with casinos, yachts and good choices of food and entertainment.
During the summer season peak, which takes place between the New Year’s week and the middle of January, the city attracts a considerable portion of the Argentine and Brazilian jet-sets. At that time, the city, which has a permanent population of just 12,000 inhabitants, is flooded by a wave of up to 450,000 visitors simultaneously. The high season usually lasts until Carnival, while the period between November and Christmas and between Carnival and the Holy Week are still good choices to make a trip to the region, given its still pleasant weather allied with lower prices and movement. During the rest of the year most of the hotels and restaurants close their doors and local beaches become uninviting because of the cold.
Punta del Este is located mainly along a peninsula with one coast facing the west, called Playa Mansa, ideal for leisure walks with the kids, and the other facing east, appropriately called Playa Brava, where surf is a great attraction (although the best spots for surfing in Uruguay are a little further north, towards the border with Brazil). The sector near Parada 3 in Playa Mansa includes a walkway with direct access to the beach and to Conrad Hotel, home to the most famous casino in Uruguay. Parada 4, in Playa Brava, features one of the greatest symbols of Punta del Este: the sculpture called La Mano (The Hand), popularly known as "Los Dedos" (“The Fingers”).
Leaving Punta del Este and heading eastward across the undulating bridge over the Arroyo Maldonado you will readily get to La Barra. Here you’ll find the well-known Playa Bikini, a meeting point of surfers, high-income youngsters and celebrities alike. Those seeking for shelter from the sun and sea will be happy to learn that La Barra also hosts the Museo del Mar (Sea Museum), an educational outing for the whole family.
Still in the vicinity of Punta del Este, but located 15km (9mi) west, lies Punta Ballena. Here stands one of the greatest architectural marvels of the country: Casapueblo. An art masterpiece shaped in the form of a building created by Carlos Páez Vilaró, Casapueblo’s enchantment lies on its incredible structural beauty, formed by white curved walls and several balconies opened to the sea. Likewise, Casapueblo fascinates those who have the privilege to go inside and discover firsthand the artist's atelier. The building, which took 36 years to complete, currently houses a museum and a hotel consisting of 70 rooms and apartments.
Punta del Este is served by an international airport, located 25km (15mi) away from downtown, with direct connections to Buenos Aires, São Paulo and a few other seasonal destinations. In most cases, however, it is more practical and cheaper to simply fly to Montevideo and then take a bus or rent a car and drive 1h30 through the Interbalnearia Route. The resort city of Piriápolis, located on a detour about 30km (19mi) before Punta del Este, is a potentially interesting stop on the way. To complement your trip, you can take Route 10 and then Route 9 towards the border with Brazil stopping at the beach in José Ignacio (34km / 21mi from Punta del Este), at the lighthouse of La Paloma (50km / 31mi ahead), at the Cabo Polonio National Park (another 50km / 31mi ahead), at the fishermen village of Punta del Diablo (another 60km / 37mi) and finally at the Santa Teresa Fortress (just over 13km / 8mi ahead). Upon arriving at the fortress, you will be just 33km / 20mi away from Brazil’s southernmost point, in Chuí.