The international jet set has been attracted to the Uruguayan Coast for decades, leaving the Northern Hemisphere’s cold and grey cities in the winter for sunny, bustling Punta del Este, Uruguay’s most famous beach town, filled with casinos and resorts. But, there’s much more to the Uruguayan coastline. Travelling 40km north of the Punta del Este city center you’ll reach José Ignacio. Think of it as Punta’s younger, hipper and more relaxed sibling.
Located in a small peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean, José Ignacio was a quiet fishermen village before it was made a hip destination by argentinian celebrities around the 1960’s. Lately, it has become the place to be (and be seen) during South America’s summer (a few years ago I actually bumped into Keanu Reeves in a restaurant). However, it still holds that little village charm with less than 300 people living there off season. In fact, one of the perks of José Ignacio is that you can walk almost anywhere: shops, restaurants and beaches. ¿Who wants to spend their summer in the car?
Jose Ignacio has 2 beaches, one on each side of the peninsula. The “La Mansa” beach which means “the calm” is filled with fishermen boats, has a breathtaking view of the sunset and a more relaxed vibe. The “La Brava” beach or “the rough” is wide and long making it ideal to surf and take long walks. It also has beach clubs and a younger crowd.
José Ignacio is home to many iconic restaurants. La Huella, located beachside on the Brava and described by its owner, Martín Pittaluga, as “organized chaos” serves fresh fish, sushi, ceviches and grilled south american classics both for lunch and dinner. Yes, it’s always full and be prepared to wait at least 15 min to be seated, but it’s totally worth it. AYNI TIP: for dessert order the dulce de leche volcano, thank us later!
A newer addition to the gastronomic scene of José Ignacio is the beautiful Mostrador Santa Teresita, a mix between coffee shop, deli and bar that offers 90% vegetarian dishes, owned by internationally renowned Chef Fernando Trocca. You can enjoy food in place or you can take it away and enjoy it by the beach.
At night and if you do have a car, a great option is to go to Marismo, located a few km away from the village center in the woods of Arenas de José Ignacio. Enjoy a candle lit, barefoot dinner of wood oven grilled dishes. We highly recommend the black croaker with roasted vegetables.
Our personal favourite to stay in José Ignacio is the small and quiet Posada del Faro, located in the Mansa Beach. It offers simple yet comfortable bedrooms, a gorgeous pool overlooking the Bay and an amazing garden to practise yoga, read or enjoy a drink at sunset. Other options include Casa Suaya in the Arenas de José Ignacio neighbourhood (car needed) and Playa Vik, an avant-garde design hotel located in Playa Mansa with an infinity pool and ocean view rooms.
In José Ignacio you won’t find the big european luxury brands (Valentino, Louis Vuitton, etc.) as in Punta del Este. Here, it’s all about casual, low key style. At Panorama José Ignacio, a concept store curated by its owner Maria Lee, you’ll discover a carefully selected range of clothes, jewellery and accessories handcrafted in South America.
Right in the José Ignacio Square is Mutate, a furniture, clothing and accessories store with a nomadic and cosmopolitan spirit.
Avoid the super high season from December 20 until January 15. Your peace and quiet will be disrupted by traffic and over crowded beaches and restaurants. We recommend visiting in early December or during February to fully enjoy the good weather and calmer vibe.