If machismo makes you squeamish, a beer gut or cellulite burdens you or you hold any strong Marxist beliefs, this article may not be for you. The posh South American resort of Punta del Este seems to ignore every economic crisis in Latin America; it has been the playground for Latin America’s rich and famous for decades, with a few Italian playboys thrown in for extra fun. The women are gorgeous and barely dressed; the men are over-tanned, rich and, well, let’s say extremely appreciative of feminine pulchritude. You can almost smell the money burning and the pheromones wafting through the Atlantic breeze.
The north of Punta is filled with some of the finest residential areas in South America, boasting homes belonging to South American politicians, actors, models and television personalities. With its distinctive "mound landscapes", this area of the Maldonando Region is a haven for sycophantic tourists. Rather expensive golf and tennis clubs can also be found in this vicinity, but most are for members only.
If you are heading for the beach and want to fit in, be sure you are wearing the latest in swimwear, a bit of bling, chic shades, and for any woman over 15, full makeup, and if necessary, breast implants. Once you stake out your spot, lay down a designer towel and prepare to watch and be watched. You can choose to check out the surfers on the Playa Brava, the one with the distinctive hand-statue reaching out of the sand, or the yummy mummies (and daddies) on the more family-friendly "Mansa" side of the pennisula.
The tip of the point is host to a daily outdoor market, where handmade sweaters, jewellery, handbags, belts and other souvenirs are displayed well into the evening. Competing for shoppers’ attention are the sweet sea lions that beg for fish just outside the market stalls. Their homes are the protected islands of Isla Gorriti and Isla de los Lobos, both of which were threatened by a huge oil spill a few years ago. Boat tours leave daily in the high season, and this will probably be the only time you can see any creatures much over 150 pounds cavorting in the waters of Punta.
In the high season, Punta is not for those in search of tranquillity. The beaches are packed, day and night. With the crowds come the all-night parties, the roar of motorcycles, scooters and Chelsea tractors, and the thump of dance music from seaside bars. Restaurants don’t open for dinner until 9:00 pm, fill up around 11:00. Bars and nightclub doors open after 10:00 pm; parties within go until sunrise. It’s great if you’re in a festive mood – the restaurants are often Michelin starred, the nightclubs top notch, and both welcome everyone from trannies to grannies.
Peace of mind can be easily found at the nearby beach of La Barra. This beautiful inlet, which flows from the back bay area of Maldonado out to the Atlantic Ocean, is the locals’ secret retreat where they withdraw to when Punta’s frenzy becomes a bit overwhelming. It’s idyllic – open miles of white beaches perfumed by pine-scented breezes. It is most famous though, for its spectacular sunsets. In fact, the sunsets are so jaw-droppingly gorgeous, they are often appreciatively applauded by their spectators. You see? Even nature puts on her finest in Punta.