Arriving after a 4 hour car journey in to Punta Del Este, known as the Ibiza of South America, it was evident just how different Uruguay is from Argentina, This was our middle week of the trip and a time to re group and re charge our batteries for our final week at Rio Carnival.
Unfortunately our driver didn’t speak any English, or I’m sure he would have been able to share a lot with us about the area, as it’s where he was from. This is a common problem in a lot of South American countries, they aren’t really taught proper English in schools so it’s rarely spoken. If we found one server in a restaurant who understood us, we were very lucky. The drive down to the coast was a very pretty one. Coming out of Colonia there was one long road, framed with beautiful tall trees either side (don’t know what type of trees they were, that’s not my thing, and I couldn’t ask BB, the other half, as he was listening to a podcast about football)!
I had no idea what to expect but it wasn’t this. One man we met on our travels had told us how much he preferred the streets of Montevideo (the Capital of Uruguay), to those of Buenos Aires as everything seemed much more clean and organised, and he was right. Every house on the street was different. There didn’t seem to be any such thing as planning regulations. From multi coloured hostels (actually yellow with a red roof so at first I thought it was the Uruguayan version of McDonalds) to thatched cottages to modern houses with wall to ceiling glass sides, high rise apartments some with individual tiny pools on each balcony, the architecture was eye opening. The lawns were perfectly manicured and in front of them were lovely coastlines with wide beaches. The area is on a peninsula, so we could pick one side of beaches for sunrise, though we were never up in time for those, and the other side of beaches for sunset, and we always made sure we were in position for those. It was quite hard to get our bearings here, but Google Maps helped immensely! I normally have a good sense of direction but here I was well and truly flummoxed!
This time, I had booked an Airbnb. A small studio apartment in a modern high rise, with 24hr concierge, gym (no idea where that was!) and roof top pool, within walking to distance to the beaches. We had 5 days here and that meant we were able to unpack and do some washing!! I’d never been so excited to put a wash on, especially as they had the fabulous open top giant machines here, ridiculous really, as washing is obviously not my favourite job at home. The only downside was that the machines were in the basement, so as usual, my imagination ran wild and I wouldn’t go down there unless the other half accompanied me, which he thankfully did, probably because he needed to wash all of his 8 white linen shirts that he’d brought with him. Yup, all white, not one colour, not even white with a hint of a dot, spot, stripe or flower. Just plain old white, but I guess that’s what happens when you pack for a 3 week trip 30 minutes before you’re due leave the house!
Anyway, I digress. Now speaking of beaches I feel I need to give anyone considering going to South America a public warning! I have definitely been the odd one out on this trip as I have yet to find someone else who has a bikini that covers their bottom! I honestly feel conscious that my bottom is covered!! How hysterical is that!! The smallest one I’ve seen (bikini not bottom) has the teeniest of triangles at the top and the rest was just string, imagine a Toblerone size triangle placed at the top of a bottom and there you have it, and I’m not saying all those bottoms were beautiful, let me tell you, 60% were absolutely NOT beautiful, they were big and bouncy and wobbly and dimply, yet they’re still out in the open!! So be warned!
My advice is find a nice beach club. Some are reasonable some are not. The bottoms are still there though, but it’s better than buying a towel and finding a little sandy spot to sit on. I hate that! The busiest beach club on the Punte Del Este coastline is OVO, attached to the Enjoy hotel (Vegas style hotel, with large Casino, nightclub, pool club and beach club). In the Summer there are many concerts and celeb DJ’s playing. In one of the beach bars we were sitting at someone was rehearsing and doing a sound check for that evening. At first I thought he was terrible, shouty singing, and kept stopping and laughing. I thought he’d forgotten the words. However, we soon realised he must have been famous because all of a sudden a large crowd gathered trying to peer through the plastic walls where he was rehearsing and they were all taking photos. He eventually came out and could only be described as a South American Ed Sheeran. He posed for photos with everyone and when he left and went back in, all the girls ran off screaming!! I remember those days stalking Duran Duran, Haircut 100 and Japan, the beauty of living up North, you always knew where the band would be staying and how to grab a quick photo and kiss!!
If you’re that way inclined, check if anyone is playing before you go or when you get there. We managed to get ourselves tickets for a night with the world famous DJ Bob Sinclar. When I say a night, what I actually mean is early am, he started at 3am, we lasted till 4 and that was only because we had a 3 hour disco nap beforehand!
If you have a car (we Ubered but if we had been there longer we would definitely have hired a car) take a drive down the coast, another very scenic route, leading to La Barra and then on to the slightly more upmarket area of Jose Ignacius. Here you’ll find La Susana Beach Club. A gorgeous restaurant and beach club to spend the day on if it’s not windy; like it was the day we went; which meant we had to spend the 4 hours in the restaurant overlooking the sand, listening to the DJ, and watching the weekend crowds gather. Obviously no hardship there. La Barra comes before Jose Ignacio and comprises of a small street of bars, shops and restaurants and more lovely wide beaches, it’s another area which may be good to be based in and we even got a bus back to our base when there were no Uber’s to be seen. That was a journey not to be repeated, we seem to have had a few of those! Doors opening before the bus stopped, bus moving before the people sat down, speeds usually seen at a Grand Prix, but it all seemed very normal to everyone else so we just rolled with it.
There’s a port in Punte Del Este with lovely restaurants and also wild sea lions. Now they were entertaining. Not satisfied with eating the fish in the water, they’d heave themselves up and out onto the quay and walk down past the fishermen to see what was on offer there. A great photo opportunity, although keep your distance, as they may look cute but they’re not friendly and their breath smells, but if you’re close enough to smell that you’re in danger!
It’s very safe in Uruguay, we walked back to our apartment at 4am after the club, and we didn’t see any homeless people or beggars on the street nor did we feel anxious, which is very unusual for me! There appears to be little stress here and no first world issues. People come to the beach on a Sunday to chill and watch sunset in the same way that I meet my friends in the pub to chill before the busy week of work ahead. They come with their flasks of meta tea, cool boxes of beer, sandwiches and family and friends, not forgetting their tiny bikinis, it’s just a different way of life. Small babies sleeping in shaded pods with me worried when they didn’t come out for a long time, in case they’d been eaten by dingos! Then I remembered where I was and that it was all just the lovely relaxed way of life here.
Transport is reasonable but on the whole, it’s a much more expensive country than Argentina, clearly there is wealth there and it’s a country that takes pride in it’s appearance. Weather was mid 20’s, cloudy and sunny, and I’d definitely consider returning as a winter sun destination. It’s as European as South America gets and as multi cultural as London. South America always seems so far away, but with no more than a 3 hour time difference in some places, its definitely one you could do for 12/14 days and not worry about jet lag.
When I first met the other half he said to me his ambition was to sell up and disappear to Uruguay and now I can see why. He described this place as not one you want to return to but one you never want to leave!
For another quieter spot to visit, read my blog on A short stay in Colonia.