Insiders Guide to Punta Del Este

Uruguay might be South America's best kept secret. To Americans, that is!

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Uruguay, a small country neighbored by Brazil and Argentina, is South America’s best-kept secret.  A handful of Argentines, Brazilians, Chileans and non–South Americans in the know popping in to enjoy the pristine beaches, the atmospheric cities, the huge steaks and the happening nightlife.

When the Uruguayan peso crashed, this place has become a whole lot more affordable and Americans got curious. They came, loved it and went back home to tell their friends. Who came, loved it and went back home to tell their friends.

For us, Uruguay was an escape from manic Buenos Aires. An escape from the hustle and bustle, a beach holiday. Not knowing much about Uruguay...not even knowing exactly how to get there. Do you take a bus? A boat? Where do you go? Montevideo or Punta del Este?

We opted to visit Punta del Este, a beach resort town with a beautiful, sophisticated majestic sight. Many call it the Monaco of South America.

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The best way to get to Punta del Este from Buenos Aires is via boat-to-bus. Like many visitors, you can take a boat from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and a bus Montevideo to Punta del Este. In total, it is about a 3-3.5 hour trip.

Since we visited towards the end of their summer season (mid-April), finding a hotel was very simple. We stayed at Golden Beach Resort & Spa, which is considered a "splurge" at $120.00 USD a night. Nice hotel, directly across from the beach on the costa brava side of the peninsula.

It is good to know that Punta del Este is a very small town that sits on the very tip of the most eastern point of Uruguay on a peninsula. It is easy to get around by foot, so no cars are really necessary. You may opt for a bicycle, but everything is walkable. Being a peninsula you have two coastlines, one of them is pretty quiet and calm (called "mansa"), and the other one is windy, with some surf spots (called "brava").

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Famous beaches include La playa de los Dedos (The finger beach), which is near the main street in Punta del Este, close to a surf spot, and it has a giant hand emerging from the sand. In La Barra the Bikini Beach is famous because of the models and famous people that go there. The endless beaches, beautiful seaside mansions, tree-lined streets, chic boutiques, stylish people.

Casapueblo is a beautiful resort-museum near Punta del Este in the small town of Punta Ballena, Uruguay. From Punta del Este bus terminal, ask for a bus to Punta Ballena. Tell the driver that you are getting out at this destination. 

This Gaudi-esque beautiful masterpiece was created by Uruguayan artist Carlos Paez-Vilaró in a kind of mediterranean surrealistic architecture, making the whole place to look like a giant sculpture. He is the father of one of the survivors of the infamous plane crash on the Andes.

Visitors can stay here in one of the 12 rooms and 56 apartments with a terrace where you can enjoy a view of the blue sea and magnificent sunset. Rooms start at $150.00 USD--but do reserve ahead of time since they tend to book fast.

If you aren't staying here, you can still access the hotel and art gallery. Admission is $5.00 USD and it is open from 9:00am till sunset.

Insiders Guide to Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is the capital and largest city of Argentina, and the second-largest metropolitan area in South America, after Greater São Paulo.  We think it's time to stop calling Buenos Aires the "Paris of South America." As anyone who's been here will tell you, this city has a spirit all its own.

Spend a day visiting the city's many fine museums and the amazing Recoleta cemetery, then hit the modern Puerto Madero neighborhood at night to take your pick of the city's coolest restaurants and clubs. Get ready to explore the vibrant unknown, this time by the way of Buenos Aires.

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Insiders Guide to Buenos Aires

Eat Well

Cabaña Las Lilas: If you are looking for some of the best steak in South America, Cabaña Las Lilas is a Buenos Aires institute in Puerto Madero. A bit on the pricer side for Buenos Aires standards, but well worth it. The service is excellent and the portions are large. Anyone who visits Buenos Aires will tell you to come here. Do and you'll know why!  What to try: The morcilla (blood sausage) was delicious and the mollejas (sweetbreads), which were thinly sliced and then sauteed until crispy at the edges were delightful. For a main course, the Medallon de Lomo was tender, flavorful and cooked to perfection. To finish up, they bring you shots of Limonello and Grapa, which hit the spot. Cabaña Las Lilas, Alicia Moreau de Justo 516 (Puerto Madero), Buenos Aires C1107AAL, Argentina; www.laslilas.com

Juana M:Tired of meat? Located on the edge of the Recoleta neighborhood, Juana M has the best salad bar in the city that comes with anything that you order. We loved it here so much that we ate here twice on our trip. This was one of our favorite spots. Everything comes a la cart so if you want any sides other than what comes with the salad bar make to order it too. Prices are very reasonable. Juana M, Carlos Pellegrini 1535 - Retiro, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Olsen: Probably one of the most beautiful restaurants in Buenos Aires. Olsen's has a really pleasant terrace, and even in the cooler evenings it is nice to seat there as there are outdoor heaters. You are easily transported to a place different than Buenos Aires, or South America for that matter. Olsen is known for their vodkas and their drinks. We didn't know anything about Scandinave food and we loved it. If you like seafood, this place is worth checking out. Ask for the crab spring rolls for starters and the white salmon for a main course...it is worth it! Olsen, Gorriti 5870, Buenos Aires 1414, Argentina

Live Well

Floralis Generica: This giant metal mechanical flower is a short walk from the Recoleta cemetery and worth a visit. The size is quite impressive and is situated in s nice park with plenty of places to relax. There is no entry fee.

Casa Rosada: The government’s executive branch is housed in this building, a strange mix of various architectural styles, perhaps best known for the balcony from which Evita rallied the working class crowds.

Plaza de Mayo: The political center of the country, this famous plaza is the location of the well-known balcony of the Casa Rosada from which Eva Peron addressed adoring crowds of workers.

Calle Museo Caminito: Colorful and traditional, this walkway in the La Boca area is dominated by tango dancers and artisans.

Cementerio de la Recoleta (Recoleta Cemetery): The Recoleta Cemetery was opened for ordinary people in 1822 but as Recoleta’s reputation improved, so did that of the cemetery. Now many presidents and historic figures important to Buenos Aires history are buried there like the beloved Eva "Evita" Peron

El Ateneo Grand Splendid: Situated in an old theater, El Ateneo is one of the most popular bookstores in Buenos Aires.

Overrated and worth avoiding...

La Boca O.K. well it is worth checking out but keep in mind that this place is a tourist trap. It's like visiting San Francisco and going to Fisherman's Warf or New York City and going to Time Square. Be careful of pick-pocketers...  Other Tourist Trapsworth skipping... Calle Florida, San Telmo, Cafes at Calle Caminito