• Coastline Rio’s ravishing rival
  • Coast life Sun, sea and six-packs

A magnet both for tousle-haired, lean-bodied surfers and Cavalli-clad millionaires, Punta del Este is Uruguay’s hedonistic hotspot, famed for its flawless beaches and glittering late-night scene.

This strip of land separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Río de la Plata may be narrow, but it packs a lot in: beaches worthy of a film-set, populated with bodies beautiful; wave-side restaurants serving platters of grilled meat from the parilla, fried calamari and jugs of chilled clericó; and glamorous clubs that don’t get lively until at least 1am. A bendy bridge (surely inspired by the surrounding white-tipped waves) connects Punte del Este with La Barra, a laid-back surfer-magnet with its own cluster of boutiques, bars and, of course, yet more stretches of sand. Once a fishing village, this luxurious resort is the coastal getaway for wealthy South Americans, who flock to its shores between mid December and mid January – turning it into a mini Rio or St Tropez for a few months. If you want the sand and surf to yourself, head here out of season and experience the resort at a more temperate tempo…

Do go/Don’t go

Come here in March or April for warm water and less crowds; peak season (mid-December until mid-January) is lively to say the least.

Getting thereView map

  • Planes Fly into Carrasco International Airport at Montevideo | and drive or take a bus to Punta del Este. Alternatively | land in Buenos Aires and hop on an hour-long connecting flight to Punta del Este – fly with Pluna | a stylish new airline (www.pluna.aero).
  • Boats You can take the high-speed ferry to Colonia or Montevideo and pick up your hired car from there (www.buquebus.com).
  • Automobiles It’s definitely worth having a car so that you can traverse wide swathes of land and seek out your favourite pocket of the coast. The capital | Montevideo | is a two-hour drive away.
  • Taxis Taxis are expensive; hiring a car or scooter is a more economical way to get around. If you do need a lift, try Conrad (+598 (0)42 490 302), Parada La Barra (+598 (0)42 771 122) or ask your hotel to call a local firm for you.