Long referred to as the Monaco of South America, Punta del Este, Uruguay, and its surrounding countryside is an internationally recognized resort for adventurers, the jet set, and polo players and fans alike. Located on the Atlantic Coast in the Maldonado province of southeastern Uruguay, this peninsula and city is only 140 kilometers east of Uruguay's charming capital of Montevideo.
Boasting a long list of famous residents and visitors over the years, including Katy Perry, Willie Garson, Keanu Reeves, Richard Nixon, and the King and Queen of Spain, it's safe to say there is something special about Punta del Este.
The countryside around the city is dotted with small coastal towns providing havens for artists, celebrities, polo players, and more. Just 40 minutes outside the city of Punta del Este is the town of Jose Ignacio, which is home to numerous polo clubs and is the destination of choice for many professional polo players and fans looking to fully immerse themselves in the polo culture of the area.
When to Visit
Image: Sunset on Jose Ignacio
With a climate of pleasant summers and cool winters, the best time to visit is during the South American summer from late December through to the middle of January. February boasts the warmest temperatures and is one of the most popular months to visit. However, around the New Year is always an exciting time to visit as the jet set and polo crowd migrate for their holidays before heading north to Palm Beach for the polo season. It's been said that the area's guest list during Christmas and New Year's week can truly be a who's who of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and the entertainment industry.
Polo to Watch
In recent years, Punta del Este and its picturesque countryside have become a popular vacation spot for polo fans and players alike. It's also becoming an increasingly popular host destination for polo tournaments. This year, the Polo Agency has organized no less than six tournaments which will run from late December through to mid-February. The schedule offers something for everyone, including women's only tournaments, mixed tournaments that cater to all levels of players as well as professional exhibition matches. Even more exciting, from the 4th to the 9th of January 2024, the Abierto de Polo del Uruguay will take place at the Punta del Este Polo and Country Club which is set to showcase Uruguay's top polo talent.
Learn to Play
Punta del Este is home to numerous estancias and polo schools where experienced players and beginners alike can try their hand at the sport of polo.
One of the area's most popular polo estancias is the picturesque Estancia Vik which is home to both a polo school and a boutique hotel. Uruguay's best polo players are on hand to teach guests about the sport of polo and guide them through their very first lessons. The on-site polo field is well regarded as one of the best in South America and offers unparalleled views across the lagoon to the Atlantic Coast.
For those looking to fully immerse themselves in the polo culture and the countryside, the Estancia's Polo Package offers a 6-night stay at the hotel including two polo lessons daily, gourmet customized meals, and more. The Estancia also plays host to some of the premier polo events of the local season, attracting both locals and the jet set. Events at Estancia Vik are recognized as the social events of the season and are not to be missed.
Punta del Este and its surrounding countryside truly have something to offer everyone, from the bustling downtown offering world-class shopping, dining, and galleries to the small towns along the coast harboring artists and celebrities alike.
Image: Rally Museum Credit: DFLC Prints
For those who enjoy art, Punta del Este delivers in leaps and bounds. The world-famous Ralli Museum features sculptures by Salvador Dali as well as works by Fernando Botero and other European and Latin American works. Visitors can also see the famous sculpture aptly nicknamed 'the Fingers' by Chilean artist Mario Irarrazabal, which many say is a warning to visitors of the sea's unpredictability.
While the city itself is renowned for its twenty miles of beaches and exciting nightlife, just outside the city limits lay a host of other attractions. The region is a popular whale-watching spot, and whales can be observed from June to November along the Atlantic coastline. The nearby Isla de Lobos (Island of Wolves) is home to the largest colony of sea lions in South America, which is worth a visit for those interested in experiencing the area's local wildlife.
Image: Los Dedos sculpture Credit: Daniel Zappe
If beaches and surfing are more of interest, nearby Playa Brava is one of Uruguay's best beaches and offers world-class surfing. Lessons are available here and at the neighboring Playa el Emir. Located on the west side of the peninsula is the aptly named Playa Mansa ('calm beach'), where beachgoers can catch one of the world's best sunsets.
The Maldonado region's climate lends itself to winemaking and is one of the top wine regions in Uruguay. Home to wineries of all sizes, the most popular ones to visit include Bodega Oceanica Jose Ignacio, Bodega Garzon, and Vina Eden, located just minutes outside the city. Offering vineyard and winery tours, olive oil mill tours, as well as gourmet food and wine tastings, this is a must-visit for those who enjoy the finer things in life.
Image: Bodega Garzon Winery Credit: Nicholas Dalessandro
It's often said that the best way to truly explore the Punta del Este region is to rent a car and explore the countryside to experience the coastal towns and unique 'beach meets ranch' culture of the area that is so popular with the polo crowd and jet set alike. From picturesque coastlines and artist havens to big city nightlife, dining, shopping, and of course, polo, Punta del Este is a must-visit destination.