Dead. Cold. Boring. Closed. Non-existent.
These are among the politer adjectives a fashionable Argentine will deploy if you ask her to describe the Uruguayan coastal resort of Punta del Este in the low season. Not being a brutal sort, she won’t tell you that you are committing a serious, perhaps irreparable, sociocultural faux pas by visiting Punta outside January and February. (And even the latter is considered a bit déclassé by the true puntaphile). But the implication is there.
Call us contrarian, but we don’t agree with this assessment. There are a number of good reasons, some general and some particular, why visiting Punta out of season isn’t the world’s goofiest plan.
The beach at Punta del Este – Photo by Ilkerender on Flickr
Climate, Cliffs and the Price of Croissants
Let’s start with the general reasons. First, the weather. It’s certainly true that if you intend to visit Punta in spring, winter or autumn, you should prepare yourself for cold, wet and generally crappy weather. On the other hand, fine and sunny days are rather common in (say) August. And if we had a third hand, we could point out that wet and windy days are rather common in (say) January. You get the idea. This isn’t the Caribbean, and an unpredictable climate is the off-season traveller’s friend.
Then there’s the region’s natural beauty. When the January-or-nothing folks tell you that this splendid stretch of the Uruguayan coastline “doesn’t exist” after February, they’re not suggesting that it vanishes off the map entirely, or that it becomes invisible to uncool people in the same way that Hogwarts is invisible to Muggles. They simply mean that there will be no more branded parties or thong-of-the-year fashion parades, and that Parada 6, which had been sponsored by some telecommunications conglomerate, will revert to being simply Parada 6. Some travellers find that they are able to cope with such privations.
Finally, there’s the (admittedly tedious) cost-benefit analysis. Punta del Este is expensive in January and February – and for good reason. It keeps the riffraff out. And by riffraff we mean people who baulk at the idea of paying more for a croissant some beach vendor has rummaged around for in his wicker basket than they would for the same item in a pavement café on the Champs-Élysées. If you belong to this species of tightwad, you might like to know that hotel rates can plunge by as much as 400% in the low season.
Rainy Day, Dream Away
Now for some more specific reasons why you might want to cross the Río de la Plata in (say) April or November.
The main rap against low season tourism in Punta del Este has always concerned the lack of decent year-round accommodation. The last couple of years, however, have seen the emergence of several properties in the area that might justly be called “destination hotels” – industry jargon for the kind of lodging where you can have a fine old time even when it’s belting it down outside.
Dining Area – Photo courtesy of Fasano Las Piedras
The most recent of these (opened in early 2011) is Fasano Las Piedras, the first venture outside its homeland for Brazil’s Fasano Group. Located 6km inland from La Barra, one of Punta’s most popular and lively sub-resorts, Las Piedras comprises thirty-two pillbox-shaped bungalows dotted over 480 hectares of rolling pasture alongside the Maldonado River. Its shared amenities seem to have been designed with Don and Betty Draper in mind. Don can footle around on the Arnold Palmer-designed nine-hole golf course (due to open in 2012) while Betty chooses from 20 types of massage and nine bath rituals in the spa. Later they can meet up for old-fashioneds, martinis and international cuisine in one of the property’s two restaurants. While they’re doing this, their dog can take advantage of the Fasano’s VIP programme for pets, which includes bespoke menus and a gift bone on arrival.
Aside from its inland location amid lush countryside and its “year-roundedness”, Estancia Vik, a short drive from hyper-trendy coastal village José Ignacio, is something completely different. Like many of the best and most of the worst projects, it answers a question no one had ever thought to ask: namely, what would happen if you opened a dude ranch and then got a load of contemporary artists to do it up for you? The results in this case are stunning: twelve unique suites, each decorated by a local painter, incorporated into a maze of arcades and sculpture patios, all converging on Pablo Atchugarry’s 3.5m marble totem (pictured). All that and great staff, terrific food, and as much horse-riding as your hamstrings can handle.
Sculpture patio at Estancia Vik – Photo by Matt Chesterton
Of course, even the most relaxed hotel can’t offer its guests the same measure of freedom they’d enjoy in a rented apartment, so consider the latter option when planning your low-season Punta jaunt. If you can’t find your dream beach house on Oasis Collections’ Punta website, you haven’t spent enough time dreaming about beach houses. So what if many of the restaurants are closed? Go get yourself some just-netted fish in José Ignacio, take it back to your pad, and grill it on the parrilla. If that’s not a “wish you were here” moment, what is?
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