Punta del Este vs Copacabana

Thanks to myriad things to do in addition to the ever-present party scene, Uruguay’s elite Punta del Este has the lead over fabled Copacabana when it comes to attracting the fun-loving set.

Sailing boats on a white-sand beach at Punta del Este
Sailing boats on a white-sand beach at Punta del Este


LOCATION Punta del Este occupies a peninsula in southern Uruguay, which is 86 miles (139 km) east of the capital, Montevideo
DAYTIME TEMPERATURES Jan: 77°F (25°C); Apr: 68°F (20°C); Jul: 57°F (14°C); Oct: 63°F (17°C)

For decades, Punta del Este has been a haven for the rich and famous. This glamorous resort – a collection of fabulous beaches, elegant hotels, and stylish restaurants, clubs, and bars – has long been synonymous with champagne, celebrities, and fashion chic, but at the same time has remained firmly grounded, attracting visitors from all walks of life.

Unlike Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, which these days has few cards to play, Punta del Este manages to combine serious partying and a carefree attitude with plentiful things to see and do.

Activities range from sailing and surfing to horse-riding, archery, and volleyball. There’s a casino, a lighthouse, and the iconic Casa Pueblo, an extraordinary house and “living sculpture” built over a 36-year period by the Uruguayan painter and sculptor Carlos Páez Vilaró.

Close by there’s also an aquarium, a zoo, several quaint seaside towns, and picturesque hills that boast fantastic trekking routes. In fact, it’s likely that there are more things to do in and around Punta del Este than any other resort in Latin America.

But don’t let these sights and activities distract you for too long from the resort’s stunning beaches. It is here, perhaps more than anywhere else, that Punta del Este really shines. There are more than a dozen beaches on this fashionable peninsula, all of which have a very different character.

Take your pick from white- and golden-sand beaches, sheltered coves and wave-battered shores, water- sports hubs and sunbathing areas, secluded bays and party beaches. Even the rowdiest beaches are clean and safe, day and night, and all boast excellent facilities. It’s no surprise that savvy Brazilians,

Argentinians, North Americans, and Europeans looking for the good life now head to Punta del Este instead of their own resorts, which aren’t exactly second-class spots themselves.

Punta del Este has year-round appeal. In the high season, which runs from December to March, the resort’s classy clubs and popular beaches host endless parties, which rarely begin before midnight, and the atmosphere is electric. There’s no shortage of glitterati types here, drawn by the alluring beach and party lifestyle.

The crowd is a mix of the young and beautiful, who frequent the beaches and bars, a wealthy, older generation in their yachts, and energetic types, who spend their time on the water and in the hills. In the off-season, the resort might be quieter, but it remains enticing. Those who long for the wild nights of summer should not despair – there’s still plenty of partying to do at this time just up the coast in Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

Whether you’re in search of high times and endless nights, solitude and surf, or anything in between, you can’t do better than Punta del Este.


THE BUILD-UP Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana, known for its golden arc of sand and glitzy beach lifestyle, is probably the most famous beach on the planet. Other beaches boasting fun, sun, and sand have to compete with its legendary reputation, and more often than not come up short.

THE LETDOWN In recent years, Copacabana’s reputation has suffered greatly. It has rampant crime (generally theft), polluted water, beach vendors who are difficult to fend off, overcrowding, and – for women – a likelihood of receiving male attention, whether desired or not.

GOING ANYWAY? If you do go, choose the right stretch of beach for you. Some spots are ideal for surfing but nothing else, others are family-oriented and others are good just for sunbathing, but none are chic and all are crowded. Leave your jewelry, watches, cell phones, and cameras in your hotel.


Getting There and Around

It couldn’t be easier to reach Punta del Este. Rent a car in Montevideo, which has an international airport, and head east on the motorway. You’ll be there in 2 hours or less.

Where to Eat

Punta del Este has restaurants for every budget and taste. For the best international cuisine and people-watching in an elegant, hip setting, try the award-winning Novecento, but reserve well ahead.

Where to Stay

The epitome of luxury in Punta del Este these days is the sophisticated Mantra Resort.
It’s everything you could imagine and more, right on the coast and yet tucked away from the crowds. Book at least three months in advance.

When to Go

Punta del Este’s high season is between December and March, when it is most crowded. A better option is to visit in either October and November or April and May, when it is less expensive and less crowded.

Budget per Day for Two

You should allocate at least US$300 per day to travel here in style; Punta del Este may not be cheap, but it’s worth every penny spent.


PUERTO ESCONDIDO, OAXACA, MEXICO Tired of the mega- hotels and commercialism of Vallarta and Acapulco? Puerto Escondido (meaning “hidden port”) is, as its name implies, off the beaten track, but it still boasts a great party scene.

SOUTH BEACH, MIAMI, FLORIDA The young and beautiful now call South Beach home more than any other beach in the USA. The nightlife (and beach life) here is second to none and the time to visit is now, before it achieves superstar status.

COZUMEL, YUCATÁN PENINSULA, MEXICO If you want (or can stand) non-stop partying for the 30-and-under set, then look no further than this year-long party island, which is on the “quiet” side of Mexico’s most famous resort, Cancún.

SALINAS, SANTA ELENA PROVINCE, ECUADOR A relative newcomer to the beach-party sweepstakes, Salinas is an up- and-coming South American destination for those who want fun in the sun, away from the usual suspects.

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