I don’t know what I’d been expecting but I guess the idea of traveling to Uruguay was somehow more exotic than the reality. I had been very curious to see what it would be like, and having only read positive reviews, I was quite casual about visiting. So casual, in fact, that once our plane from Buenos Aires had landed, I realised that I didn’t have any local currency on me.
While we waited in the customs line at the airport, using our passports as support for filling in yet another country’s customs questionnaire with bizarre and seemingly irrelevant questions (as always), I was feeling a bit uneasy not having any money to even buy a bottle of water. We’d had lots of trouble finding ATM’s that worked in Argentina and normally I’m very well prepared for every possible scenario. (So much so, that my husband has given me the unfortunate nickname Nervous Nelly!)
Luckily that uneasiness didn’t last for long. The hassle-free customs queue at the Punta del Este airport advanced at super speed and the next thing I knew, we had our luggage and were being advised by very friendly airport staff to wait until reaching town to exchange money, since the rates would be better in Punta del Este than at the airport. We could pay the taxi in US dollars or Argentine pesos.
Advancing towards the taxi line (there was really no alternative transportation) we saw an ATM which foreigners, like us, were using and decided anyway to try if it would accept our international credit cards. It didn’t. We paid the taxi an overpriced fare in US dollars and later on in town we were able to easily exchange money for a good rate.
(Tip: Always have cash on you!)
Punta del Este
Punta del Este and the other nearby beach towns are where many Argentineans go on holiday – to relax and to be seen. Traveling there from Buenos Aires is fairly easy and general price levels in Uruguay are slightly lower than in Argentina.
Punta del Este was modern, tidy and seemed to live by seasons. When we arrived, summer season hadn’t quite kicked off yet and we saw small repairs and renovations being made everywhere.
At first glance, Punta del Este reminded me of basically any beach destination catering to tourists that I’d ever visited anywhere in the world. It was the kind of place that’s entirely pleasant, but doesn’t knock your socks off. Easy going, convenient, with sweet dulce de leche (caramel-filled) pastries and lovely, sticky Freddo ice cream…
We spent time walking around and sitting by the small, windy beach Playa El Emir, favored by local surfers, and watching the waves. Locals sipped shared mate drinks under beach umbrellas and suntanned lifeguards patrolled the beach, leaving their drying wetsuits to hang on the lifeguard hut’s rails. The weather wasn’t very warm yet but the beaches were coming alive.
Another beach, Playa Mansa, was a bit calmer. It was located on the opposite side of the land strip. The fun thing about Punta del Este is that you can enjoy two types of beaches – windy with waves and serenely swimmable – both on the same day!
Punta del Este is a narrow peninsula; the town is quite small and completely walkable, though you might be more comfortable on a bike. Many hotels offer bike rentals. We rode our bikes up to the nearby beach town of La Barra for lunch one day – a nice, leisurely ride on good pavements and beachside gravel roads (20 km there and back, following the shore).
On the way, we saw more surfers and some expensive-looking vacation condos. We also stopped for a moment to stare at some dead seal babies which had been washed ashore for some reason.
Apparently, there are (were?) some very trendy beach areas over there, along the coast, with Ibiza style clubbing or something similar. The Punta del Este of today isn’t like that. The nightlife crowd was somewhere else and we weren’t looking for them.
– In December 2014, my husband and I visited Uruguay for a week, starting with the popular beach destination Punta del Este, where we arrived by plane from Buenos Aires, Argentina. We traveled on to Montevideo by bus and from there to the Unesco World Heritage site Colonia del Sacramento. From Colonia, we then took the ferry back to Buenos Aires. Montevideo and Colonia posts coming soon –