This coastal Uruguayan village has been a destination for wealthy expats for years, many of whom have constructed homes in the area. The eclectic mix of people from around the globe is expressed in the equally diverse architectural styles. All of the homes here are adorable, from all-white homes reminiscent Mykonos to more linear, terraced buildings with great ocean views from each floor. Instead of soda or Starbucks, everyone sips yerba maté out of gourds with silver straws. A bombilla is more than just a straw though, it’s a pressurized extraction filter for this pre-Columbian herbal brew. Maté is a drink to be shared among friends, and locals tell me it’s even more nutritious than green tea. The relaxed pace of life here and leisurely meals will have you questioning the frenetic pace of American city life in just a few days. Here’s what to do when you get there.
Stay: Everyone talks about the Vik properties, which are certainly stunning — but with a price tag to match. If you’re not European aristocracy, there are several other boutique hotel options. There are no large chains here, so each property has its own personality and distinctly thoughtful service. Posada del Faro is on the mansa side of the beach, which is the tamer side for swimming and with great sunset views. The pool here is so nice that you might not even make it to the beach, and the living room and library inside feel like a super stylish home. There’s even a fully stocked DIY honor bar. Continental breakfast can be taken in your room or anywhere on the property at your leisure starting at 9 a.m. with no ending time because hey, this is South America.
On the fiercer, windier brava side of the beach is La Posada Club de Mar, where the sun rising from the sea each morning will wake you if you forget to draw the blinds.
Eat: If you’re trying to get in touch with somebody and they aren’t answering their phone, chances are you’ll find them having a great time at perennially crowded Parador La Huella. The beachside vibes here are as good as the fish, vegetables and steaks coming off the parrilla (like the fish below). Pair the fresh, flavorful food with a glass of Bodega Garzónalbariño, my new favorite white wine. (Pro tip: If you can’t make it to Uruguay, chef Alejandro Morales and owners Martín Pittaluga and Guzmán Artagaveytia are opening a second restaurant, Quinto La Huella, in Miami next month. It’ll be interesting to see how they channel the laidback charm of their bustling beach shack to the fifth floor of the new EAST, Miami hotel.) At number 11 on the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, it’s the top-rated restaurant in Uruguay and it’s refreshing to see a casual restaurant with outstanding food receive international acclaim.
Another cute beachside restaurant is La Susana. It’s a little calmer, and you can dig your toes into the sand and stay a while. Creative dishes include an ensalada gazpacho (pictured below), a refreshing layer of gazpacho tossed with all of the soup ingredients in unblended form for a panzanella-style soup-and-salad combo. The local fish is excellent both raw (in ceviche and tiraditos) and grilled a la plancha. Save room for house-made ice creams and sorbets for dessert.
Do: Start your day with a walk on the beach, followed by a class at The Shack Yoga, run by American Isabella Channing. She started the studio a few years ago and it’s become a daytime meeting point for the welcoming and tight-knit community. Styles range from Ashtanga to Vinyasa, with a rotating roster of teachers and classes taught in English and Spanish. After class, swing by La Panadería de la Mama around the corner for a fresh-baked breakfast, or Rincon Verde for fresh-squeezed juices.
See José Ignacio by horseback with Haras Godiva. During the day, traverse the rural landscape with a friendly guide to the sandy dunes of Laguna Garzoón and ride into the refreshing Atlantic breeze along the beach. If you want an adrenaline rush, they’ll even let you gallop without a helmet. Upon return, they’ll provide refreshments, including freshly grilled ham-and-cheese finger sandwiches. Full moon rides are available too, and you’ll arrive at the beach just in time to see the moon rise over the sea.
Shop: The selection of South American designed furniture and home decor mixed with vintage pieces at Santas Negras (pictured below) incite dreams of buying a house and staying a while. Don’t miss the selection of vibrant merino wool sweaters and ponchos in the back, all designed by the boutique owner, Paula Martini, and hand-knit by local women. La Esteña is another unique design shop with furniture and home decor designed and curated by Martin Gomez, a local architect who has designed many of the homes in Jose Ignacio and Punta del Este.