Considered to be the Hamptons and St. Tropez of South America, José Ignacio and Punta del Este are part upscale hideaways targeted to the elite, part casual beach towns with a bohemian sensibility. Perfect for couples, families, adventure seekers, and art lovers alike, the activity options are endless—just like the great meals, conversations with new friends, and exceptional wines. Although December through February is the ideal peak time to go, you can extend those months by a few (on either end of the spectrum) to take advantage of better deals and less crowds. Just be sure to give yourself enough time to visit—with leisurely days at the playa and pool, day trips to nearby towns, shopping excursions, and all-afternoon lunches at beach clubs, the hours pass quickly.
Sunbathing is a given, so be sure to partake in this favorite activity at their greatest beaches. La Brava and La Mansa are tops, but other strong contenders are La Posta del Cangrejo (with small waves for small paddle boarders) and Bikini Beach (located in between La Barra and Manantiales).
Book a VIK Retreat
With three distinctly different properties in the area, there’s no better place for a getaway than a Vik Retreat. Choose from the equestrian ranch-themed Estancia Vik, nestled-in-the-dunes Bahia Vik, or low-key beach house Playa Vik, which undoubtably boosts the premiere infinity pool out of the group. Praised for their striking architecture, impeccably professional staff, and eclectic South American art collections, they are unparalleled in their pursuit of excellence. And in addition to being connoisseur art collectors and renowned hoteliers, owners Carrie and Alex Vik are also winemakers cut from another cloth. They set out to make some of the most elite wines in the world and the results are bordeaux-ish reds—VIK, La Piu Belle, Milla Calla—that are compelling pairings with regions’s signature asado fare.
Hang Out at Beach Club La Susana
La Susana is the type of place you go for lunch and wind up spending all day. Between the laidback toes-in-the-sand vibe, energetic crowd, live music, and delicious food, there’s a lot to love. There’s also a lot to love on the menu. Order the ripe local tomatoes with burrata, shrimp tartare with avocado and jalapeño, and salmon prepared over a wood fire with roasted sweet potatoes. Then wash that all down with chilled rose and white wine Clericos (South America's version of sangria).
Go On a Shopping Spree
Given the boho-chic aesthetic that’s blatantly visible throughout José Ignacio and Punta del Este, tourists usually spend a good deal of time perusing the bungalow-esque stores that cover a sizable amount of turf. Expect boiled wool sweaters in beautiful designs from local vendors at Osklen, woven textiles, artisan ceramics, and decorative objects at Sentido, leather goods and traditional ponchos at Manos del Uruguay, and brand name retailers on La Rambla William. There’s also Plaza de los Artesanos for arts and crafts you can’t find anywhere else.
Take a Day Trip to Garzón
Located near the southeastern coast of Uruguay, approximately 45 minutes from José Ignacio, you’ll find Bodega Garzón. Step foot inside this world-class winery set upon 524 acres of manicured vineyards, and you’ll never want to leave. Esteemed Chef Francis Mallmann’s restaurant is found here—conceptualized around his famed live-fire cooking style—and you’ll be able to sample award-winning wines as you take in sweeping panorama views of the brooks, mountain ranges, and of course, the vines. Sip Tannat, Albariño, Pinot Noir Rose Single Vineyard, Reserva, and Estate varietals while savoring dishes like burnt eggplant with yogurt cream and dried tomato and catch of the day with broken potato. Don’t even think about leaving without taking a bite of his grilled pineapple dessert.
Squeeze in Some Adventure
Uruguay may be small in comparison to other South American countries, but it doesn’t feel that way with countless miles of pristine sand, land, and water to take advantage of. When you’re not busy swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, you can spend your mornings playing golf at La Barra Golf Club, improving your downward dog in yoga at The Shack, horseback riding and mountain biking on the infinite dirt roads and cow paths all around Estancia Vik, or at the José Ignacio Lagoon, which is known for its prime real estate for kite surfing.
Learn About Aquatic Wildlife at Museo del Mar
If you’ve never been to a sea museum, Punta del Este is the place to do it. Although bad days are rare in paradise, there’s the off-chance you could encounter a hazy morning or rainy afternoon here and if that’s the case (or you’re just traveling with kids and family), this is the ultimate solution. In addition to the exhibits featuring taxidermy, insects, strange creatures, skeletons, fossils, and shells, there’s also rooms that explain the fisherman way of life and the festivals they celebrate. A don’t miss experience hands down.
Witness the Burgeoning Art Scene
Aside from the one-of-a-kind works lining the walls (and dining room halls) of the most luxurious properties in José Ignacio and Punta del Este, there are plenty of native artists for aficionados to get to know through the local galleries, parks, and museums. Must-see stops are the Fundacion Pablo Atchugarry (a sculpture park in a garden setting where artist Pablo Atchugarry often hosts events throughout the year), Galeria de las Misiones in José Ignacio, Galeria Sur and La Pecera in La Barra, and the Ralli Museum in Punta del Este. Also, if you can time your stay to when the Este Arte Art Fair is happening, even better.
Enjoy a Meal at Hot Spot La Huella
There’s no shortage of worth-the-wait restaurants in these parts (such as Marismo, La Bourgogne, Narbona, La Table, La Caracola, and Mostrador Santa Teresita), but ask any local, and they’ll tell you not to miss Parador La Huella for its ultimate beachside location and versatile menu that features everything from sushi and tapas to the beloved milanesa. Go for lunch or dinner, and stay for the epic people-watching.