Day 1: José Ignacio, Manantiales and La Barra
Start your journey on the east coast, and drive to José Ignacio, the chicest beach town in Uruguay, where you can spend the morning on the paradisiac beach. The sun in Uruguay is brutal, and it’s best advised to avoid it from 11am to 4pm.
At around 11am, head to La Huella, a world famous restaurant right on Jose Ignacio’s beach. Have an amazing early lunch, avoiding the crowds that usually form later in the day. It’s best to order many plates to share, specially with seafood.
After lunch, you can walk around the quaint town (with good hats on as there’s little shade) and go to the lighthouse to enjoy panoramic views. The next destination will be Manantiales, but instead of going straight there, go through El Chorro so you can make a stop at the Pablo Atchugarry Foundation.
Pablo Atchugarry is a famous contemporary Uruguayan sculptor, and his foundation consists of three gallery spaces and an impressive sculpture park. You can see moving exhibitions, a permanent collection of Atchugarry’s sculptures, and the tastefully curated sculpture park, which balances the styles of the sculptures by artists from all over the world with the breathtaking natural setting.
After the visit, head to Manantiales’ main street and have one of the succulent crepes at Crepas if you’re in need of a snack. Walk down to Bikini Beach, one of the most popular beaches in Punta del Este. You can spot surfers (or surf yourself) and stay for the sunset party at the beach bar.
After sunset, have dinner at Cactus y Pescados, an amazing restaurant close to the beach, or the renowned No Me Olvides. No Me Olvides has literally the best pizza that you will ever have in your life (ok, maybe just in Uruguay), good drinks and a lively atmosphere. Leave room to have ice cream for dessert in Volta, which has the tastiest ice creams in Punta del Este.
There are some hotels and Airbnbs in Manantiales where you can stay, but if you’re up for moving on (recommended) take a very short drive to La Barra and check out some of the great bars in and around the vibrant main street. You can also go back to Jose Ignacio (these are all a very short distance away), and stay in the luxurious Playa Vik.
Day 2: Punta del Este City Centre & Punta Ballena
Wake up and drive straight to La Barra – you can have breakfast in one of the many coffeehouses there (Medialunas Calentitas has the tastiest milkshakes and delicious mini croissants).
You can go to Montoya Beach if you fancy a swim or a surf, and at around 11am head back to the main street, well equipped with a hat and good sunscreen. Take your time to walk around, do some shopping and check out the restaurants. There are many places with different cuisines to choose for lunch, but a light one is especially recommended for today.
After lunch, cross the fancy bridge that leads to Punta del Este city centre. Visit “The Hand”, the characteristic sculpture of Punta del Este by Mario Irarrázabal, that depicts five fingers coming out of the sand. You can have a stroll on Brava Beach and then walk around the city centre, where you will find streets with luxe brands and the famous Gorlero Avenue.
Head to the port at around 4pm, and go on either a fishing or a sea animals sightseeing boat trip (book in advance). The sightseeing trip is particularly good because you visit a big island, home to a colony of sea lions, and sometimes you see dolphins and whales. You can also go by boat to Gorriti Island, right across Punta del Este, perfect for exploring and sunbathing.
Drive to Punta Ballena along the beach promenade, admiring the scenic view. Punta Ballena has an incredible 360 degree viewpoint, absolutely perfect to watch the sunset.
Have dinner at the restaurant in Casapueblo, a former art studio, turned museum, turned hotel, designed by the famous artist and architect Carlos Paez Vilaró. The terraced restaurant is splendid, and a great opportunity to admire the unique honeycomb-shaped building, and its museum, from the inside.
A dinner alternative is to head down to the other side of Punta Ballena where there are several places to choose from. Medio & Medio is particularly good, and sometimes offers jazz shows and other live music. You can also have dinner at Casapueblo and go to one of those places for a drink or dessert.