The Top Things to See and Do in José Ignacio, Uruguay

Theres plenty to do in the coastal town of José Ignacio, Uruguay
There's plenty to do in the coastal town of José Ignacio, Uruguay | © Kseniya Ragozina / Alamy Stock Photo
Will Lees

As you pass through the center of Punta del Este, first impressions are that it’s upscale and busy. As you cruise through La Barra, just outside Punta del Este, it might not feel like your thing if you don’t like surf towns. However, if you’re looking for something so relaxed it makes you remember what absolute silence and tranquility is like, then you should be headed for José Ignacio in Uruguay – and here is what to do when you arrive.

1. Enjoy the view from the Lighthouse

Architectural Landmark

FYC69T Lighthouse in Jose Ignacio
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
The city’s main landmark is the photo-perfect José Ignacio Lighthouse, placed to warn maritime travelers of the rocky outcrop just below. A number of the small coastal towns in Uruguay have similar lighthouses like this one, which you can enter and climb the spiral stairs inside to get a great panoramic view of the coast and the petite town from the circular balcony.

2. Relax at Playa Brava

Natural Feature

2A8H884 Punta del Este, Uruguay. August 28, 2018. La Mano (The Hand) is a sculpture in Punta del Este by Chilean artist Mario Irarrazabal.
© Jorge Burneo / Alamy Stock Photo

The attraction of coastal towns is their relaxing feel, attributed in large part to the sensation one gets from a day at the beach. Head down the sloping roads towards the water’s edge and to the east of the lighthouse, and you will meet a tight cove and long, bending beach littered with people enjoying some time in the sun. After all, that’s why you’re here.

3. Surf at La Barra

Architectural Landmark

2DG9NW3 La Barra Beach, Punta del Este, Uruguay
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

If you want to get your blood pumping a little, and see somewhere new, you can jump on one of the buses heading west towards Punta del Este, or even the capital of Montevideo, and jump out in the chill surf town of La Barra. Just 10 minutes outside Punta del Este, you will instantly notice the surf vibe, with surf shops where you can buy and rent boards to head out into the swell and take your best shot at catching a few rolling waves.

4. Spend a day at the José Ignacio Lagoon

Natural Feature

S20441 Sunset, Jose Ignacio, Uruguay
© sil.ravela / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

The lagoon bearing the same name as the town also bears the same tranquility, and you can make a peaceful day of it by renting a bicycle or going on a horseback ride to the lagoon. Have a picnic, walk around the lagoon and swim your day away until you head back with the beautiful sunset in your sights.

5. Dine at Parador La Huella

Restaurant, Contemporary, Seafood

BFMA2N La Huella, Jose Ignacio, Uruguay
© Mark O'Flaherty / Alamy Stock Photo
Most people agree it’s the best restaurant in town, especially if you’re looking for fresh seafood. You can be seated on their patio, almost within arm’s reach of where your meal comes from. Enormous, grilled octopus tentacles, fish of the day spiced and grilled on the open flame and traditional, hearty plates like steak and fries or milanesa – it’s all here, and it’s all tasty.

6. Stroll among sculptures at the Fundación Pablo Atchugarry


2CFJ9MG Gold Bear. Fundacion Pablo Atchugarry Maldonado Uruguay
© Vanessa Volk / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s so much to see – from an exhibition building to an auditorium, an open-air stage, a space for art classes and a collection of work by Atchugarry, the abstract sculptor. The art-filled site is a delightful space. Don’t miss the artist’s workshop and the sprawling Sculpture Park, where local and international artists’ work is dotted around the greenery.

7. Hang out at La Susana

Bar, South American

2CCTHTR View of Playa Mansa Punta del Este, Maldonado, Uruguay
© Vanessa Volk / Alamy Stock Photo

Welcome to the place to see and be seen among the dunes of Playa Mansa. On the western side of José Ignacio, La Susana Beach Bar and Restaurant woos guests with its killer combo: a dreamy beach location and specialty cocktails such as Clericó, a wine-based punch served by the jug. Sit in the shade of a bamboo pergola or recline on a comfy sofa while the micro-bikini-clad crowd poses up a storm.

8. Shop at Sentido

Shopping Mall

You’ll have no trouble finding a gift at this sweet homeware and gift shop. Everything’s on sale, from books and jewelry to candles, fabrics and furniture from all over the world. In a great spot on Calle Los Cisne, in José Ignacio’s shopping district, it’s not far from the beach, so pop in and pick up a beach read if you’ve left yours at home. And once you’re all shopped out, grab a coffee in the cafe and admire your wares.

9. Practice yoga at the Shack

Yoga Studio

Bahia Vik Jose Ignacio Uruguay
Courtesy of Bahia Vik / Expedia

Where better to practice your yoga flow and meditation than at this beachside multidisciplinary wellness retreat, housed in one of the country’s hippest boutique retreats, Bahia Vik? Check in for a night and you’ll get to choose between art-filled suites and standalone bungalows with floor-to-ceiling windows. All are set among the dunes close to Playa Mansa, and you’ll be able to practice daily Vinyasa yoga in a serene wellness space, styled with the natural hues of rattan and honey-wooden floorboards.

10. Picnic at Bodega Garzón


2A3HNPB vine plantation hills, trees, clouds on the horizon, Garzon, Uruguay
© Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo

This sustainably designed world of wine was the first sustainable, LEED-certified winery outside North America. It’s surrounded by scenic terraces in Maldonado, close to Punta del Este on the east coast. There’s a vineyard tour and now a luxurious members-only Garzón Club with glassy facades – great additions to the 120-seat restaurant overlooking the surrounding countryside, hills and vineyards. Come for picnics among the vineyards, hot-air balloon rides and lashings of Reserve Albariño, fragrant with aromas of white peach, citrus fruit and jasmine.

Jo Fernandez-Corugedo contributed additional reporting to this article.

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