My tour of coastal Uruguay took me along Uruguay’s coastal beach communities extending north from Montevideo to the border with Brazil. I first headed east from Montevideo until I reached Punta del Este. I then went due north from Punta del Este up the coast towards Brazil.
I generally ride the buses in order to get the feel of the countryside. It is always the least expensive and the many competing bus companies keep the schedules full and the options plentiful. I took a city bus for about $.50 USD to the Tres Cruces Terminal where all lines connect.
I had previously contacted an expat group that was having a luncheon and was invited to attend, so my next ride was on a highway bus to Atlántida. I left the bus at the highway that they call the IB. It stands for Interbalnearia which is a highway serving resorts and towns on the ocean. I walked three blocks into town and arrived right at the restaurant where the group met.
The first expat I met said he had a hotel and I could stay there if I wanted. His hotel was a few miles out of town and he said if I didn’t care for it he could bring me back to town. It seemed like a good idea and it worked well for a few days, but I stayed in town when I returned to have both experiences. The high season just ended, but there was plenty of activity to entertain me.
Lots of beach restaurants and grills called parrilladas are available even when the crowds have left. The grilled meats and sausages are very different from the U.S. Different cuts of meat and local sauces make it an experience that you will try often.
Punta del Este
I wanted to go further up coast to two other places I had visited on a previous trip, so I decided to head for Piriapolis. Unfortunately, I stood on the IB for nearly two hours and the only bus to stop was going to Punta del Este, so I went with the flow.
There was no place to check a schedule so I learned a valuable lesson. Never get off a prior bus without getting some details about how the next buses operate. It didn’t hurt me, but I was not able to do what I originally planned.
I arrived in Punta del Este. Punta is like Miami Beach in the 70’s. It is not overbuilt yet, but in the near future I think the skyline will be full. Sky cranes and construction equipment are everywhere. Growth is in the air.
Anyone who sees the enormous “fingers” sticking out of the sand would know immediately that you were in Punta del Este. It is a jet set rendezvous for Europeans and South Americans. Private jets and large yachts complete the scene and spell money.
I like to direct my friends to inexpensive, but clean hotels, so while in Punta I highly recommend Hotel Marbella for about $50 USD per night including breakfast and Wi-Fi. For even a cheaper stay, I recommend the clean “Top Hostel Agupy” with various types of rooms and dormitories. The hostel has multiple common areas, an included breakfast, and it’s one block proximity to the beach. All of that makes it desirable at half the cost. Hostels in South America are not the worn down versions you might see in Europe or the States.
One other thing I like to mention when I find them are non-tourist lan with superior food at moderate prices. I am accumulating a list of these restaurants slowly, but “El Tonel” in Punta fits the bill. I ate here twice this time, and three times on a previous visit.
I watched many tourists by pass “El Tonel,” but the locals filed right in. I’m still trying to identify the characteristics that make this an outstanding value. However, two of those characteristics are the moderate prices and the excellent food that represents the region. This place is a parrillada of local renown.
My main goal of on this coastal run of Uruguay was to return to Piriapolis. I had a wonderful experience there the previous year, so I wanted to revisit and see if it still thrilled me.
I wasn’t disappointed. Piriapolis has the charm of Punta with a marina and extensive walkway on the seafront. Its marina serves sailors arriving from Argentina and it lies on a stopover by the Auto Rally of Uruguay that has a 60-80 course to run.
I arrived at a time when the Auto Rally of Uruguay had a stopover in Piriapolis. While announcers blared information over the speaker system, cars were washed clean of mud acquired on their cross country journey.
The drivers in their fire proof jump suits were celebrities greeted, cheered, and asked to sign autographs by the crowd. The crowd snapped many pictures of these sports stars with their non-smiling poses.
The overland sport which takes days to complete is a popular sport as evidenced by the large crowds who watch. The numerous vans and campers follow these teams through the country and will meet up with them at each scheduled stop.
Piriapolis has a long malecon with walkers, runners and sightseers at all times of the day and night. Midnight strollers are common due to the late evening meals which start around 10 o’clock. The streets are always bubbling with crowds.
A large mountain is at the northern end of town, and it provides a mirador to see far to the North of Punta and beyond and South to Montevideo.
Expats in Atlántida
Many of the expats have cash businesses serving one another and the local population with skills they have used all their lives. But also the new environment has encouraged many to start up new services that they develop here.
One of the successful expat strategies is to have a home in Atlántida or on the beach. This may also serve as a business location.
As a secondary matter, they also buy chacras which are small farms. These can be used for growing vegetables and fruits for sale or personal use. They raise their own cattle and poultry for the same reasons.
There are many affordable opportunities that exist in Uruguay. You have choices from the large city life of Montevideo with its cultural advantages and the rural life of the farm. Land and resort possibilities provide a wide variety of life styles for those looking for a change of pace.
Denis was born in Chicago 1942 to a second generation Irish immigrant family. Educated at Jesuit Loyola Academy, Wilmette, Illinois; Marquette University, then Marquette University Dental School. Retired after 45 years dental practice. He enjoys golf, sailing, and canoeing the wild and pristine waterways of Northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Many years of international travel have led him to a second career in writing. You can find his blog called “Vigor” at www.quora.com or at http://daincolgate.wordpress.com/.