With the weather heating up in Asunción, Paraguay, my family and I decided to cool off for a few days during the off-season in Montevideo and Punta del Este, Uruguay, before the summer crowd arrived on vacation. Thousands of visitors descend each year on Uruguay during the January-February summer season to escape the summer heat and spend time at the ocean.
Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, is a feast of Spanish colonial architecture and surrealist art inspired by Uruguayan painter Joaquin Torres Garcia. Many of its buildings have been restored to their original splendor, and its architecture is similar to that of Buenos Aires located just across the delta of the Rio de la Plata. Montevideo is a good excursion for those who enjoy great architecture, colonial history, music and dancing, and fine arts. (Montevideo also hosts Uruguay’s largest Carnaval celebration.) The city offers an understated elegance and tranquility befitting a vacation getaway. Many of the city center’s primary attractions are located within walking distance of Plaza Independencia and Plaza Constitution, the city’s main squares. Consider starting your tour of Montevideo with a walk through the old city, Ciudad Vieja, near the waterfront, and wind your way through quiet neighborhoods to the tomb of Jose Artigas, the “Father of Uruguay,” in Plaza Independencia. After taking in the city center, consider heading to La Rambla to take in the beach and have lunch at “El Viejo y El Mar,” one of the best restaurants in town. Or consider dining at the Market at Ciudad Viejo located in a renovated warehouse on the waterfront. The Market offers an excellent selection of barbeque (parrilla) restaurants.
We also spent two days in Punta del Este, Uruguay’s best known resort destination. Located just 1.5 hours by bus from Montevideo, it’s an attractive destination virtually any time of the year. The city’s population ebbs and flows with the season, and during the off-season, lodging and beach access are easily available. The city sits on a peninsula surrounded by the restless Atlantic Ocean (Punta Brava) and the more serene Rio de la Plata (Punta Mansa), Great waterfront views and beach access are just minutes from virtually any hotel. The city also offers shopping, although many shops are closed or scale back operations in the off-season. Casa Pueblo, designed and built by Uruguayan painter and sculptor Carlos Paez Vilaro, the Punta del Este lighthouse, and “Los Dedos,” a hand-like sculpture protruding from the beach on Punta Brava, are its main attractions. Real estate in Punta del Este is attractive to those searching for potential retirement homes. Condominiums with waterfront views in Punta del Este listed for as little as $150,000 when we visited.
We spent the night in Montevideo at the Hotel Lafayette, an aging but decent hotel not far from Avenida 18 de Julio, the city’s main boulevard. We stayed at the Days Inn Punta Brava in Punta del Este. Consider staying near Avenida 18 de Julio in Montevideo and at a hotel on the beach in Punta del Este. The Uruguayan peso-U.S. dollar exchange has also improved, and Uruguay is now a more affordable destination for a short getaway trip. Now that the Uruguayan airline PLUNA offers cheap, direct flights between Asuncion and Montevideo, Uruguay is closer than ever.