José Ignacio, Uruguay
José Ignacio, like most of the beach towns near Uruguay’s Punta del Este, is a former fishing village. This one grew up and became incredibly stylish. It has galleries, restaurants and a very understated see-and-be-seen culture. Barefoot, sunkissed and tousled friends and families enjoy quiet time on the town’s two beaches, one with barely a wave in sight and the other for those who like to jump in the surf. What makes José Ignacio special, in addition to the white sand beaches and high-end restaurants nearby is the lack of pretension. Even the houses in the town, many of them second or third homes to the wealthy, have an understated sophistication, and it’s a pleasure to walk through town eating ice cream as you pass by blooming hibiscus in every color.
Further on from the town is the hamlet of Garzón, down a dirt road, where Francis Mallman has opened a winery and restaurant that’s on everyone’s must-visit list. Some of Uruguay’s best wines come from Bodega Garzón and Mallman’s restaurant, like his others in Mendoza (Argentina) and Colchagua (Chile) attract people from all over for carefully curated, colorful food that is ultra fresh and shows off his unpretentious style.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Uruguay’s nearly unexplored northeastern coastline has much to offer. Continue from José Ignacio to Laguna Garzón, with its circular bridge for kitesurfing, or to Garzón for horseback riding, birdwatching and kayaking. Or head north to Punta del Diablo for surfing, or up across the dunes to Cabo Polonio, the tiniest and most laid-back of all of Uruguay’s fishing villages, where a resident pod of sealions loll on the beach and in season, whales can be seen from the shore.
When to Go
We recommend visiting November through March.
How to Arrive
Los Angeles: 10 hrs 45 min New York: 10 hrs 40 min Miami: 8 hrs 20 min London: 14 hrs 45 min
Good to know
Language: Spanish Currency: Uruguayan Peso (UYU) Visas/fees: Travel to Uruguay does not require a visa for US/US/EU/CAN/AUS travelers.
Tips from our Team
The tour in Colinas de Garzón is one of the best presentations on olive oil production that we have seen. This a a must visit for anyone visiting Punta del Este!
Be sure to experience the incredible views of the coastline from Alto de la Ballena’s tasting room. Be sure to try their Merlot!
We are a big fan of Francis Mallman, and his restaurant El Garzon lives up to it’s great reputation.
Ready to go? Here’s what to pack
Punta del Este is a sunny beach town with a bohemian vibe. Trade your work suites for bathing suits and don’t forget the SPF.
- Bathing suits
- Lounge clothing
- Walking sandals
- Sunblock and sun protection
Where to stay: Overnight Recommendations
Estancia VIK is perfect for visitors who seek a luxury hacienda experience close to the delightful small boho chic town of José Ignacio. The Estancia, which is set slightly inland, has handsome polo fields, and plays host to some important matches. For those looking for the full Estancia VIK experience, there are twelve suites, each individually appointed, with art, sculpture, natural materials, stylish fireplaces and views of the river or landscape. Many rooms can be reconfigured from king to double twin, and a few can also house additional guests. The hotel’s common areas are lovely, and include a gym, spa and outdoor pool, interior patios and a comfortable living room for whiling away the hours, or perhaps you’d rather check out the hotel’s wine cellar.
Estancia VIK’s renowned restaurant “El Asador” features family style, three-course meals based on the most traditional of Uruguayan food, with locally sourced ingredients and both beef and lamb. After all, el asador means “the grill.”
At Playa VIK’s property located in the town of José Ignacio, you can choose from one of six modern, beachfront casas (villas) or three suites, all artistically furnished and appointed, featuring the work of local artists. The casas have multiple bedrooms in different configurations to fit different groups, and all have terraces. Some also have fireplaces. This intimate, luxury beachfront hotel, has an infinity pool overlooking the ocean, which is where a great number of the ingredients for their gourmet meals come from. Their restaurant, Cielomar (which combines the words for sky and ocean) serves multi-course, family-style meals from their cozy dining room with ocean views. Before or after the meal, enjoy a cocktail in their stylish lounge and take in the masterpiece that is the architecture and art collection on display here. Photos by the infinity pool reflecting the sky and with the ocean as a backdrop are also recommended.
Restauranteur and hotelier Rogério Fasano, known for his luxury properties in Brazil, fell in love with the area around Punta del Este, and decided to build on 1200 acres of preserved land in La Barra, just to the northeast of the hubbub of Punta del Este. This luxury getaway overlooks the Maldonado River, and features an award-winning design by architect Isay Weinfield, which combines facades of concrete, wood and glass with terraces that are cantilevered over the unspoiled landscape. Choose from a bungalow or a deluxe room, all appointed with colors, textures and furnishings chosen to convey the vibe of the hotel, which is simultaneously sophisticated and laid back. Common areas are plentiful, or if you like your travels a little more active, borrow a kayak to paddle the river, or go horseback riding on the grounds. Beach access is close at hand, and a sunset cocktail on the beach is a great end to the daylight hours.
The combination of sophisticated and laid back extends to the restaurant, where Fasano serves haute cuisine in an informal environment, using the best Uruguayan ingredients to cook Italian food, in a nod to a country that has contributed so much to Uruguay’s history, right down to the locally-pressed olive oil on the tables.