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Punta del Este beaches
Widely described as the St Tropez of South America, this millionaires' playground for well-heeled South Americans is a vibrant beach resort. Known for its beautiful people and energetic nightlife, the resort boasts pristine sandy beaches, great restaurants and a temperate climate. Golf, tennis, sailing, surfing and whole host of other activities are also available. While incredibly expensive to most Latin Americans, it's more manageable for Europeans to splash out and feel like they are living the high life without breaking the bank.
There are several beaches to choose from and holidaymakers tend to beach-hop during the day depending on surf conditions. Playa Mansa can be found on the Rio de la Plata side and has gentler conditions compared to Playa Brava on the Atlantic coast. Attractive beaches are dotted along the coast either side of Punta del Este. Going east Las Delicias and Pinares are beautiful but relatively quiet beaches. On the west side, Bikini and La Barra are the party beaches where the jetset come to swim and sunbathe. All have beachside restaurants of varying size and exclusivity. Most are patrolled by lifeguards in the busy summer season. Surfing, windsurfing and snorkelling are popular activities.
A boat trip to Isla Gorriti, just 2km (1 mile) across the sea, has more lovely beaches and old fortifications. Isla de Lobos lies 8km (5 miles) from the city and is home to one of the largest sea lion colonies in the world.
The lighthouse, 'Faro de Punta del Este', is a famous landmark and easy to spot towards the end of the peninsula. A real must-see is the Museo del Mar (Calle de los Corsarios), which houses a quirky collection of whale skeletons, turtle shells and other marine oddities. Casapueblo (Ruta Panoramica, Punta Ballena) is the former home of famous Uruguayan artist Carlos Paez Vilaro. Now a modern art museum, it is one of the major landmarks of the city with its Gaudi-esque architecture.
Aside from the beaches, children can amuse themselves at Parque El Jagüel, Avenida Aparicio Saravia, near the airport, a playground with wooden play equipment and animal figures. There is also a large zoo, the Parque Municipal Zoológico Medina, Camino Medina, Ruta 39, San Carlos, which has interactive exhibits. There is a large range of activities available to families including horse riding, bike hire, windsurfing, surf lessons and even a go-kart track in Maldonaldo.
Cerro Pan de Azúcar, at 339m (1,112ft), is the third highest hill in the country. Situated just inland from the coast at Piriapolis, it is possible to walk to the top via stairs on its southern side. As well as breathtaking views from the top, there is a large cement cross with stairs inside which visitors can climb. Also possible in a long day, is a trip to the historic city of Colonia with its beautifully restored old buildings, fortifications and churches.
La Mantra, Ruta 10 km, La Barra de Maldonado, is Punta del Este's latest super-luxury resort. Hollywood stars and supermodels are among the clientele so be prepared to dress to impress if visiting the casino or trendy Lido nightclub there. Lo de Charlie, Calle 12, 819, is one of the city's most expensive restaurants and lives up to its reputation with a cosy atmosphere, huge portions and delicious food. A gastronome's delight. Smart clothing is essential.