The 12 Best Things To Do in Punta del Este, Uruguay

Punta del Este pier with lavender flowers in the foreground and boats and yachts in the background in the afternoon, with cityscape. Uruguay
brupsilva / Getty Images

Punta del Este offers some of Uruguays’s most popular beaches and surf spots, but it’s also a place where you can swim with wild sea lions, see surrealist Latin American art, and attend a sun ceremony inside a sculpture-turned-hotel. Party at the beaches, the yacht harbor, or casino but take in its simple joys too, like walking the forested paths of Isla Gorriti or ordering a hot chocolate at a cat café as you pet a fluffy feline. While there’s plenty to splurge on here, there’s lots of activities that require little to no money that will still allow you to relish in Punta’s golden sand, fresh sea breeze, and air of refinery.

01 of 12

Attend Casapueblo’s Sun Ceremony

Club Hotel Casapueblo in Punta del Este
Javier Pierini / Getty Images

A surrealist house-castle by the sea built by Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, Casapueblo hosts a daily ceremony to bid farewell to the sun at dusk. A recording of Páez Vilaró reading an original poem to the sun plays over a loudspeaker on one of the terraces as guests watch the orange orb descend into the Atlantic. Páez Vilaró built Casapueblo with gleaming white stucco and concrete over 36 years, modeling it after the nest of the hornero, a local bird. Its thirteen stories contain a hotel, restaurant, exhibition space of Páez Vilaró’s works, and a shop selling prints of his paintings. Located in Punta Ballena about 8 miles from Punta del Este, you can reach it by car, bus, or bike.

Casapueblo, 20003 Punta Ballena Departamento de Maldonado, Uruguay
02 of 12

Take a picture with La Mano

The Hand of Punta del Este
Vipersniper / Getty Images

Go to Playa Brava next to Parada 1, and you’ll see a giant hand emerging from the sand. Called La Mano ("The Hand"), it was created in the 1980s by Chilean artist Mario Irrazábal as part of a sculpture exhibition. Made of concrete, steel, metal mesh, plastic, and degradation-resistant material, the hand can appear white or gray, depending on the light. Free to visit, it is open to the public for photo opportunities—visitors can even climb on its thumb. The sculpture represents several things, including coming to life, as well as a warning of the risk of drowning for those venturing into the strong waves behind it.

Stop 1 Brava, Punta del Este, Av. Eduardo Victor Haedo km 162.500, 20001 La Barra Departamento de Maldonado, Uruguay
Phone +598 93 324 497
03 of 12

Hang out at the cat cafe

Adrianuzca's Cat Cafe

Courtesy of Adrianusca's Cat Cafe

Just three blocks away from Playa Inglesa, Adrianuzca’s Cat Café acts as a cat shelter and adoption center, where patrons can pet the fluffy residents while sipping cat-themed espresso-based beverages. Most of the seating is in the cat room where several felines zip around the ceiling ledge, sit in small chairs, and munch on cat food. A small cat-sized door leads to the shelter, ensuring the cats can come and go as they please. Several rules are also in place to provide a safe environment for the cats. Visitors can adopt the cats or simply play with them while they enjoy their drinks and food.

Juan Gorlero 535, 20100 Punta del Este Departamento de Maldonado, Uruguay
04 of 12

Swim with sea lions at Isla de Lobos

Sea lions on the rocks, Isla de Lobos, Uruguay
ElOjoTorpe / Getty Images

A tiny island just off the coast of Punta del Este, Isla de Lobos holds the world’s second largest southern sea lion colony (about 1,500) and one of the tallest lighthouses in South America. The island, part of the protected Coastal Islands National Park, can only be visited by a tour which leaves from the Punta del Este Harbor in the early afternoons. Though tours don’t stop on the island, the boat anchors off the shore, allowing attendees to swim with the playful sea lions. You’ll also be able to see some of the 250,000 fur seals that reside there, as well as elephant seals, and Southern right whales. Tours cost around $50, can be booked onsite, and last two hours.

Isla de Lobos, 20100 Punta del Este Departamento de Maldonado, Uruguay
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05 of 12

Tan at Bikini Beach

View of Bikini beach, Punta del Este, Uruguay
ElOjoTorpe / Getty Images

Layout on one of Punta’s top-notch beaches: kite surf-happy Playa Brava, the calm lake-like shore of Playa Mansa, the clothing optional Playa Chihuahua, or the tiny Playa de los Ingleses. A little outside of town in Manantiales however is the hottest spot to tan: Bikini Beach. Here fashion shows, aerobics classes, and jet ski’s zipping along the horizon make for a party atmosphere. To make the experience quintessentially Uruguayan, drink a mate as you laze on the sand.

Bikini Beach, 20002 Manantiales Maldonado Department, Uruguay
06 of 12

Learn pirate history at the Sea Museum

Museo del Mar sealife exhibit

Courtesy of Museo del Mar

A natural history museum with over 5,000 specimens of aquatic life from all over the world, the Museo del Mar ("Sea Museum") provides a multi-pronged approach to learning about the ocean, its inhabits, and its visitors. Divided into four halls, each contains a different focus: marine animals, sea snails, pirates, and the history of beaches in Uruguay and the surrounding countries. Whale skeletons, coral, shark jaws, seahorses, and many different kinds of colorful shells are displayed throughout, along with an onsite aquarium and kid-friendly activities. Open year-round, it’s located in the nearby surf town of La Barra.

Romildo Risso, 20001 La Barra Departamento de Maldonado, Uruguay
Phone +598 4277 1817
07 of 12

Go surfing

Windsurfing in Punta del Este, Maldonado department, Uruguay
ElOjoTorpe / Getty Images

Punta de Este is one of Uruguay’s most popular surf spots. Windsurfers, kite surfers, regular surfers, and standup paddleboarders can be seen riding the waves along Punta’s coast, as well as the surrounding beach towns throughout the year. You can rent surf equipment and take lessons in multiple kinds of surfing from several schools in the area. Escuela de Surf Dedos, next to Parada 1 on Playa Brava is one of the easiest to access in summer months, while Shaka’s Windsurfing School in La Barra offers year-round activities and even group water sport trips.

08 of 12

Bike along the coast

Cyclists on the Streets of Punta del Este, Uruguay.
Natalia SO / Getty Images

Ruta 10 hugs the coast on either side of Punta del Este, passing through beach towns to the east and west, perfect for exploring on two wheels. While some hostels and hotels will rent bikes directly, it’s also possible to rent from bike companies like Rent a Bike Punta del Este and Specialized Punta del Este for the day. For those who want a cycling competition, the Grand Fondo Movistar holds two races of 50 and 100 kilometers (31 and 62 miles) on a loop course through and around Punta each November.

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09 of 12

Walk through Fundación Pablo Atchugarry’s sculpture garden

Fundacion Pablo Atchugarry

Courtesy of Fundacion Pablo Atchugarry

A 74-acre sculpture park wraps around the Fundación Pablo Atchugarry, displaying seventy works by Uruguayan and international artists. Walk around the park, then explore the rest of the compound containing exposition rooms, an auditorium, an open-air stage, a restaurant, and a classroom where art classes are held. Created by the contemporary Uruguayan sculpture Pablo Atchugarry, the space also contains his workshop and many of his marble sculptures. Exhibitions by well-known, as well as new artists fill the rooms, and in the summer, the foundation hosts concerts as part of the Music between Art and Nature Festival.

10 of 12

Roll the dice at Enjoy Punta del Este Casino and Resort

Conrad Hotel and Casino, Punta del Este, Uruguay, February 2009
Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

Play in a poker tournament or gamble at the 550 slot machines at Enjoy Punta del Este Casino and Resort. Located across the street from the beach, guests can bet at the 75 table games, swim in the waterfall-accented pool, or watch one of the live evening shows. (Past acts have included the Argentine acrobatic aerial group Fuerza Bruta and Brazilian superstar Anitta.) When evening falls, head to the onsite Ovo Nightclub for dancing or eat dinner at one of the resort's seven restaurants.

Parada 4 Playa Mansa, Rbla. Claudio Williman, 20100 Punta del Este Departamento de Maldonado, Uruguay
Phone +598 4249 1111
11 of 12

Picnic at Isla Gorriti

View of Gorriti Island and Pan de Azucar Hill from Punta del Este harbor, Uruguay
ElOjoTorpe / Getty Images

If you tire of Punta’s party vibe, pack your lunch and take the 15-minute boat ride to Isla Gorriti to picnic on its peaceful beaches. Though small, the landscape changes quickly here, with walking trails leading through forests, an English cemetery, and the ruins of an 18th century Spanish military battery. Of the two beaches, Playa Puerto Jardín is the calmer one more suited to picnicking, plus the rocky point of Punta Perdida’s nearby, prime for fishing or contemplative stares out over the ocean. In high season (December to February), boats leave Punta’s harbor for Isla Gorriti about every 30 minutes.

Gorriti Island, Uruguay
12 of 12

See Dali at the Ralli

The Ralli Museum exterior in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
David Forman / Getty Images

Step inside the Museo Ralli, a small museum in Punta del Este’s Beverly Hills neighborhood, and you’ll immediately be greeted by a metallic figure of Salvador Dali’s creation. The museum has a whole exhibition on Dali, as well several temporary exhibits and the work of other contemporary Latin American artists, like the plump statues of Fernando Botero and Enrique Campuzano’s see-through woman painting. The museum focuses on European artists as well, with a permanent exhibit displaying European paintings from the 16th and 18th centuries. Free to enter, it’s open every day but Monday during high season.

Los Arrayanes, 20100 Punta del Este Departamento de Maldonado, Uruguay
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The 12 Best Things To Do in Punta del Este, Uruguay